The Havre High wrestling team has already cemented itself as a bona fide dynasty when it comes to Class A state championships. The Blue Ponies and head coach Scott Filius have easily won the last three state titles, and in each of the last two years, the Ponies have broke the Class A scoring record in doing so. But as the Ponies prepare to go after a fourth straight state championship when the Class A state wrestling tournament begins Friday morning in Billings, making history won't be as easy this time around. The Ponies are looking to equal Sidney's feat of four straight state titles (2003-2206), but with how this season has transpired, that goal is anything but a forgone conclusion. Belgrade pushed HHS to the brink of the Ponies not capturing the divisional championship last weekend in Livingston, and the Panthers qualified all 18 of their wrestlers, while HHS is only taking 14 grapplers to state. And with strong teams from Corvallis, Ronan, Polson, Laurel and Frenchtown possibly taking points away from the Ponies, things could be very tight when championship night rolls on around on Saturday. Sill, Filius says the Ponies have been out to defend what's theirs all season long and nothing has changed. "At the beginning of the year they knew it wouldn’t be as easy as years past," Filius said. "But we just won the Central A title and they saw they could still compete with Belgrade after losing to them twice. “I don’t think the expectations or confidence has changed," he added. "The kids we do have, we have great faith in and they worked hard. In my experience, if kids work hard good things happen. We are in the same boat we were in a year ago.” Indeed, the Ponies may not be bringing the overall depth to Billings that they have in years past, but they certainly are loaded with talent, and this HHS team has 14 kids who are all capable of getting on the medal stand. And it starts with senior returning state champions Kent Pattison (36-3) at 152 pounds and Mitch Schnittgen (33-3) at heavyweight. Both wrestlers captured magical state titles a year ago, and both are out to become Havre's latest repeat champions. The Ponies also have two more wrestlers ranked at the top of their respective weight classes in Duell Stadel (32-1) at 112 pounds and Eli Hinebauch at 145 pounds (36-3). Stadel is a heavy favorite to win a state championship after finishing third a year ago, while Hinebauch is hoping to become the fourth member of his family to strike gold in Billings. As a freshman, he finished second at state a year ago. "You would like to think that they (Pattison and Schnittgen) could go down their win it again," Filius said. "And the kids we had get second and third, we would hope their expectations are to go down and step up a notch too. I have a whole pile of kids we are expecting to do well. We had seven kids win divisionals and if you win divisionals, you would like to think you could win any division you are in." And that's what the Ponies are hoping for. Even without the overall depth - the Ponies are only doubled up in one weight class this year, they expect all of their grapplers to score multiple points this weekend. Along with Havre's top four grapplers, seniors Brett Normandy (32-9) at 125 pounds and Tyson Gruber (30-14) at 140 pounds should also have strong odds to make it to the finals. Normandy has placed the last two years for HHS, including a third-place finish a year ago. And despite not competing last season, Gruber has been stellar for HHS this year. Freshman Gilbert Bara (19-11) has also come on strong as of late and could make plenty of noise in the 122-pound class, as could sophomore Dillon Seely (34-13) at 130 pounds. Zack Smith (26- 12) will help HHS at 119 pounds. In the upper weights, the Ponies will look for big things out of sophomore Casey Schaub, who finished third at state as a freshman. Schaub (27-11) wrestles in one of the toughest weights in the tournament with the likes of twotime state champion Brock Picard of Polson and Kyle Sweedman of Libby, but he's proven to be one of the top grapplers in Class A all season, so a shot at a state title and another medal is more than likely. Kameron Pribyl (26-15) will go for HHS at 160 pounds. Pribyl is another veteran to the state meet and should score well for the Ponies this weekend. Josh Salapich (28-15) will wrestle at 189 pounds, and he competed at state as a sophomore. Rounding out the HHS lineup is a pair of 215-pounders. Jared Ruttkofsky( 21-14) and Kolton Lodge (21-21) both came out of the Central A meet to compete for the Ponies, and Ruttkofsky has been to the state meet as a member of the Chinook wrestling program. "We would have like to see all 18 get to state, but I'm really proud of the ones who made it," Filius said. “I don’t think I had a negative note coming out of the divisional tournament. You know except for my heart bleeds for the couple of kids we wanted to see get through, but all 14 kids that are going are wrestling very well. Kolton Lodge is a big improvement," Filius said. "He spent most of the time at jv level but has come along as of late. Last season he won one match, and this year he has won 23 and made it to state. Kolton is a bright spot. He gets to go to state, and hopefully he will get there and compete as well as he can.” Of course, despite dominating performances in each of the last three years, nothing is a given on the mats of the Billings Metra. The Class A meet is loaded with stars and defending champions. Havre has two of its own, while Cody Ishler of Frenchtown (112), Tyler Stedman of Frenchtown (119), Cameron Neiss of Ronan (130), Tucker Taylor of Belgrade (152), Picard and Mickey Cheff of Ronan (152) are all back to try and win multiple state titles. And with the team race being as close as ever, the early rounds and the consolation bracket could make or break the Ponies' chances this weekend. Havre's first-round matches include Bara taking on Laurel's Jon Verlanic, Stadel against Jake Kemison of Butte Central, Smith against Jordan Delp of Hardin, Normandy facing Robert Nalewaja of Miles City and Seely against Logan Fisher of Frenchtown. Gruber will square off against Jacob Lenegar of Dillon, Hinebauch will face Quincy Jessop of Corvallis, Pattison will face David Anderson of Frenchtown and Pribyl will take on Tanner Benedict of Whitefish. Schaub will face Tyler Wheeler of Ronan, Salapich will meet Kody Berset of Libby, Ruttkofsky will square off against Rigo Ibbara of Libby, Lodge will take on highly-ranked Kelly Houle of Columbia Falls and Schnittgen will meet Wolfe Zinke of Whitefish. "If we wrestle to our abilities it will all take care of itself. If everybody contributes we will be just fine.," Filius said. "The coaches have taught the kids all they can at this point. From here on out it is all up doing what they know, conditioning and confidence. A lot of it is having confidence in yourself, confidence in your teammates, confidence in your coaches and confidence in your conditioning. There is a gut check in those tough matches and if the kids believe in the work they have done and what they have done for their teammates, it’s a whole lot easier for them to dig down and find something. "We started the year with the expectation of that’s what we are going to do (win state again)," he added. "And I think we still feel that way." The 2010 state tournament begins Friday morning and runs through Saturday night at the Billings Metra.
Ponies chase more history in Billings
Havre High wrestling team guns for a remarkable fourth straight state championship this weekend
Published: Thursday, February 11th, 2010
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