Simply put, the Havre High Blue Pony wrestling team is ready to go.
It may have been a while since HHS has made newspaper headlines, but with a brand new season set to start Friday afternoon, the Central A Ponies have been hard at work. And ever since they won their fourth straight State A wrestling championship back in February, the Ponies rigorous offseason has hopefully set the ball rolling in the direction of yet another state title.
Today and Saturday the Ponies will start their season with the Havre Invitational at the Havre High gymnasium. Today’s action will start at 1, while action will continue on Saturday at 9 a.m.
“There is only so much improvement you can do in the room on your own,” Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. “You have to test yourself against competition and we are really looking forward to starting the season. During the high school season you get so much improvement in such a short time, it makes it fun. We did go down to Denver, CO., and we’ve done a lot of wrestling over the summer and this spring. We have actually put in as good of off season as we have any year. We have had a lot of kids on the mat getting better.”
And making up this year's state championship hopefuls are several new and familiar names.
While Kent Pattison and Mitch Schnittgen, both being two-time individual state champions will be missing, so will Brett Normandy, Normandy playing a huge role in the Ponies' last four team tittles. But Tyson Gruber is also gone after graduation, and will be missed after really coming on strong his senior year.
“They (Pattison, Schnittgen and Normandy) were kind of the bread and butter of the team for last couple years,” Filius said. “They were all just very hard working kids and gave a lot. And Tyson Gruber put himself all the way into the state finals last year, and that really showed his athleticism. Gruber was just explosive and fun and had a great attitude.”
But the luxury of Havre wrestling is that the Ponies can often reload with new and returning talent.
Senior Duell Stadel is a returning state champion at 119 pounds and leads the way for the Ponies. But two returning juniors should also play a role in the Ponies' success this season. Eli Hinebauch took second at state a year ago and Casey Schaub has a third and fourth-place finish under his belt
Other familiar names include seniors Josh Salapich (189/215) and Jared Ruttkofsky (189/215), sophomore Gilbert Bara (112) and juniors Kolton Lodge (285), Dillon Seely (135), Kameron Pribyl (152) and Dustin Seely (125).
And making up some of the new and up and coming HHS wrestlers will be freshman Nate Kennelly (98), Thomas Gruber (125), David Borris (140), Jacob Williams (152), Zack Canning (160) and Dustin Odegard (189), sophomores Zack Plum (145) and Riley Labuda (130), and junior Patrick Kinniburg (171).
HHS may not be as stacked full of veteran seniors and juniors like the Ponies have in recent years, but they bring back another talented roster. And if they can wrestle like they are capable of, it should be another good season.
“I think we have an exciting group of kids based on their potential,” Filius said. “If we do what we are capable of we can have a lot of fun. Based on two weeks of practice and the fact that they are willing to work hard everyday, they are all going to be fine.”
HHS is going to be tested this year.
Like always, they have a very tough schedule. But jus as it is has done so often, hopefully it will keep the Pony wrestlers steadily improving, as divisionals and state get closer and closer with each dual and invitational.
The Blue Ponies will see very good talent this year, especially when they attend the Mining City Duals in Butte, the CMR Holiday Classic in Great Falls, the Cut Bank Invite in Cut Bank and the Missoula Invite in Missoula. But the Ponies will also have some challenging duals ahead of them including duals against Lewistown, Great Falls, CMR and Conrad/Forsyth, a dual that is new to this year.
“We wrestle all of the Great Falls and Class AA schools as well as all of the tough Class B and C schools,” Filius said. “Our schedule has always been tough and it’s a big reason why our kids succeed.
“And I don’t focus on the rest of those (goals) throughout the season,” Filius added. “You always want to win everything you go to, but realistically, duals like the Mining City Duals where it is seen duals for every kid, the idea is that every kid will get better. If you come out of something like that with every kid improving, you are happy no matter where you place. I don’t state goals all year long except for where we want to be in the end.”
HHS will be at home only four times this season. First will be the Havre Invite, then on Jan. 25 to face CMR, Jan. 28 to face Conrad/Forsyth and finally on Feb. 5 for divisionals.
But this weekend’s action will begin on Friday at 1 p.m. and will continue on Saturday at 9 a.m.