There’s no question the Havre Blue Ponies have had a stranglehold on the Central A Division when it comes to wrestling. And with the Ponies set to host the 2011 Central A Tournament on Saturday at the HHS gymnasium — it would seem like a sure thing it’s going to stay that way.
But the Central A has become a much deeper and more talented division as a whole in the last few years, and this Saturday’s meet should reflect that well.
The Ponies barely edged Belgrade for the divisional title a year ago, and it’s the Panthers, not the Ponies who come into the postseason ranked No. 1 in Class A. And with Lewistown bringing a host of talented grapplers to also take spots in the coveted Class A state meet, scoring will be very tight this weekend in Havre. But HHS is still the king of the mountain when it comes to Central A wrestling, and the Ponies are as talented as ever, and they are on their home mats this weekend. And with several teams pushing to take their Central A thrown away, Havre will certainly be motivated to not let that happen on Saturday.
Here’s a brief look at the visiting teams for Saturday’s Central A Meet
Belgrade challenged Havre for the Central A title a year ago and pushed the four-time defending state champion Ponies a week later at the state meet. And this season, the Panthers returned almost all of the 18 wrestlers they sent to state a year ago. They’ve also beaten HHS twice in duals, although both scores were close and tournaments are a difference animal all together.
But the difference between this Belgrade team, and the Panthers of the past is experience. They have the most depth in the division, but they also have a ton of veteran wrestlers. The Panthers bring a returning state champion to Havre in 119-pounder Bryce Weatherston, who won at 105 a year ago. Jordan Malarchik (171) and Austin Reyher (215) were state runners up a year ago and Levi Cade (189) finished third. And with the likes of Justin Ricker (171) and Bryce Akers back, plus a deep roster, the Panthers certainly look like they can score enough points to unseat the Blue Ponies in their own gym.
Lewistown has had a strong season, thanks in large part to a stout returning group of state placers from a year ago. It seems it would be hard to replace a three-time state champion like Ryan Martin, but the Eagles may be a deeper team this year than in any of Martin’s four years. Two reasons why are stars, Connor Malone (160) and Rex Martin, (152), Ryan’s younger brother. Malone is the defending state champion at 160 pounds and Martin placed third at state a year ago.
The Eagles also bring another standout in top-ranked Tre Yeager at 125 pounds as well as stars in the making John Chamberlain at 130 pounds and Andrew Olsen at 98 pounds.
Livingston may not have the depth of a Havre or Belgrade, but the Rangers too have improved their wrestling program over the last three years. Livingston has sent several wrestlers to state in recent years, and although their numbers won’t stack up to the top three Central A powers this weekend, they will take points away from those schools. One to watch this week for the Rangers is 189-pounder Skylar Carroll, who comes to Havre ranked second in Class A.
Browning has had success in the upper weights in recent years, and although the Indians don’t have any ranked wrestlers heading into Saturday’s divisional meet, they have good numbers and they’ll certainly present tough first-round matchups for plenty of the top-seeded individuals.
Butte Central Maroons
Butte Central is an unknown quantity when it comes to Central A wrestling. In the past, the Maroons have fielded teams which don't have the numbers of other programs, but do have quality grapplers. This season, the Maroons are again low on numbers, and have just one wrestler entered in Saturday's tournament. But whoever is competing for Butte Central will certainly not be an easy opponent.
The 2011 Central A meet will get underway Saturday morning at the HHS gymnasium, with the finals scheduled for approximately 1:30 p.m. The top four individuals from each weight class will advance to next week's state tournament in Butte.
Note: For more on the Blue Ponies and the Central A Tournament, see Friday's Havre Daily News.