For a lot of wrestling programs the divisional tournament is a great ordeal, but for the Havre High Blue Ponies, a program that has captured four straight Class A state championships, this is just another weekend of preparation.
Havre will host the Central A divisional tournament on Saturday at the Havre High gymnasium. Wrestling will begin at 9:30 a.m.
The Blue Ponies have dominated the Central A wrestling scene for the last decade. And for the last half decade, the Ponies have dominated all of Class A.
The overwhelming success of the HHS program has changed the goals a bit. It is no long enough to win a tournament here and there throughout the season. It is no longer enough to hope to compete at the divisional tournament and it is no longer enough to just hope to win divisionals. Everything the Ponies do from the offseason through the regular season is all in preparation for one thing, the state tournament.
“When I first got to Havre years ago,” Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. “They put a lot of emphasis on divisionals and not a lot on state. But I haven’t changed my philosophy, divisionals is a stepping stone and will continue to be a stepping stone and our goal is still state.”
But that doesn’t mean the Ponies wouldn’t love to grab another Central A title. Especially with a very young roster this season, there are a lot of kids who are just beginning to fill their wrestling trophy cases.
And if the Ponies could defeat the rival Belgrade Panthers, the win would be even better.
“I would be shocked if their expectation wasn’t to go out and win divisionals and state,” Filius said. “That’s what they have been working for and made part of their goals.”
Both the Ponies and Panthers are open at 98 pounds, and the Panthers are open at 112. But forfeits shouldn’t come into play this weekend as they will matchup in 13 weights. The Ponies know the Panthers are talented, and HHS just has to wrestle to their ability and they should be ok.
“We have 13 weights where we match up with each other so we just have to strap it on and go,” Filius said. “We just have to wrestle to our ability and I will be happy.”
Havre and top-ranked Belgrade are the two favorites to win the Central A this season, but also competing will be the Browning Indians, Lewistown Golden Eagles, Livingston Rangers and Butte Central Maroons.
Belgrade finished behind Havre at both divisionals and state a year ago, but have been favorites to dethrone the Ponies all season long.
The Blue Ponies house a very young roster this season. But if the Ponies are known for nothing else, it’s their ability to produce some of the best wrestlers in the state each and every season.
This year's roster has been led by veterans Gilbert Bara (112), Duell Stadel (119), Zack Smith (130), Dillon Seely (135), Eli Hinebauch (145), Kameron Pribyl (152), Casey Schaub (171), Jared Ruttkofsky (189) and Josh Salapich (215) who has gone 29-10 this season. Pribyl has gone 33-6 so far this season and Smith has gone 31-10.
Bara has gone 32-10 this season and was No. 1 at divisionals last year. Seely (33-9) also finished No. 1 last year, as did Ruttkofsky (21-8). Stadel has gone 32-0 this year and is also a returning No. 1 finisher as is Hinebauch who has gone 32-1 this year. Schaub (20-2) finished second a season ago, but has a very good shot at first this year after overcoming early injuries.
The up-and-comers have also wrestled well this season.
Nate Kennelly (105) will enter the tournament with a 15-15 varsity record, while Thomas Gruber (105) enters at 26-12, Tyler Adams (HWT) enters at 29-12.
Dustin Seely (125), Riley LaBuda (140), Jake Williams (152), Grant Pattison (160), Dustin Odegard (189) and Kolton Lodge (HWT) have seen limited varsity matches this season, but have come on strong as of late, earning spots on the divisional team.
But young or veteran, the bar is set for all Havre High wrestlers and they all should look to grab No. 1 spots.
“You put that expectation on all of them,” Filius said. “I have some kids that are going to have some easier competition than others, but you certainly don’t want to drop that expectation because a kid has it tough. I would expect we would have a few surprises.
“We’ve gone through all of the young guy stuff,” Filius added. “And in just the last few weeks have really shown a lot of maturity. We have been wrestling really hard and I think this group of kids is going to surprise some people.”
Havre will host the Central A divisional tournament on Saturday at the Havre High gymnasium. Wrestling will begin at 9:30 a.m.The finals are set for around 1:30 p.m. The top four wrestlers from each weight class will advance to next week's Class A state tournament in Butte.