Just when people thought the Havre High wrestling team's run might be coming to an end, the Blue Ponies did it again.
In fact, the Central A Ponies did it for the ninth straight time.
On Saturday at the Havre High gymnasium, the Ponies hosted the Central A Divisional tournament and grabbed the No. 1 spot with 280.5 points. HHS edged out top-ranked Belgrade which finished second with 263 points, while Lewistown was third with 200, Browning was fourth with 70, Livingston was fifth with 49 and Butte Central was sixth with nine points.
After the preliminary matches were wrestled, and prior to wrestling the fifth-sixth, third-fourth and championship matches, the Ponies trailed the Panthers by 20 points in the team standings. The Panthers sat at the top with 227 points, while the Ponies trailed with 207.
But the matches HHS needed the most, they won. Heading into the championship matches the Panthers had 12 grapplers competing for a title, while the Ponies had eight. But when it was all said and done, the Panthers had four kids grab individual titles, while the Ponies earned seven.
In all, HHS pushed 17 of their 18 kids into the state tournament next weekend, grabbing seven No. 1 spots, one No. 2, six No. 3’s and three No. 4 finishers.
“It was kind of cool,” Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. “Belgrade had 12 in the finals and we had eight. We knew we had to win more than they did in the finals and even though they had us outnumbered, we were able to do that. It was a lot of fun.
“You don’t want to bask in it too much because we have our work cut out for us next week,” Filius added. “But right now the biggest thing I am excited about is our freshman. We had one second and four thirds and that’s pretty exciting for those young kids to come out and perform like that.”
Freshman Nate Kennelly (105) finished in second place after losing to Belgrade’s Lyle Degen by an 11-0 major decision. And freshmen Thomas Gruber (125), Jacob Williams (152), Dustin Odegard (215) and Tyler Adams (HWT) all finished in third place. Gruber went 3-1 and finished the day with a pin over Browning’s Alex McAdam, while Williams went 2-1 and finished the day with a 6-2 decision over Livingston’s Jordan Tillett. Odegard went 3-1 and finished with a pin over Livingston’s Sam Bennin, while Adams went 3-1 and finished the tournament after earning a 6-3 decision over teammate Kolton Lodge.
But the Ponies also got two more third-place finishers and three more fourth-place finishers.
Sophomore Grant Pattison (160) finished in third after going 3-1 and earning a technical fall over Lewistown’s Ethan Blythe in the consolation match. Senior Jared Ruttkofsky (189) also finished in third going 3-1, but ended his afternoon with a forfeit win over Browning’s Ethan Foote who was sent to the hospital earlier in the tournament with a dislocated elbow.
Sophomore Riley LaBuda (140) grabbed a No. 4 finish and Lodge (HWT) also grabbed a No. 4 finish after finishing 2-2 and dropping the consolation match to fellow Pony Adams. Junior Zack Smith (130) also finished in fourth with a 2-2 record, but fell to Belgrade’s Zac Brady in an 8-3 decision to end his divisional tournament.
Junior Dustin Seely (125) also competed on Saturday. He went 2-2 in the tournament and grabbed a fifth place finish.
The second, third and fourth-place matches were huge in the Ponies' victory on Saturday, but so were the seven No. 1 finishers. The wins came at the end of the day when the Ponies needed them the most, and really boosted the HHS squad past the favored Panthers.
Amongst the individual champions were sophomore Gilbert Bara (112), senior Duell Stadel (119), junior Dillon Seely (135), junior Eli Hinebauch (145), junior Kameron Pribyl (152), junior Casey Schaub (171) and senior Josh Salapich (215).
“This just shows that everyday no matter what we put in the hard work,” Salapich said “We go in the room and our coaches keep us going no matter what, even if we are down or have lost one (tournament or dual). They just keep pushing us and make sure we come out with the best possible chance we could have.
“This feels great,” Hinebauch added. “Especially because where we have been all year, second behind Belgrade. We have been working hard all week and we just had the most intensity at the end. The same thing happened last year when we were down; we stepped it up in the finals and pulled it off.”
A season ago the Ponies edged out the Panthers in almost the same situation as this year. But instead of 14 kids making the state tournament, the Ponies overcame a season of doubt and now have 17 wrestlers making the coveted trip to Butte this weekend.
“It feels good,” Dillon Seely said “This really boosts our confidence heading into next week (state) now. It just feels really good and just shows that we always come out and compete as hard as we can.
Coach Filius was proud of the efforts, but is still focused on the goal of a fifth straight state title.
“It’s nice to set the stage for state,” Filius said. “The work is half done, but this week was in preparation for next week (state), and if we keep that in mind and take advantage of what we were able to do then we should be in good shape.”
HHS grabbed the No. 1 spot at the Central A divisional tournament and earned state berths for 17 of their 18 competitors. And the Ponies will get a shot at a fifth straight Class A state title when they compete in Butte on Friday and Saturday.