The Class B-C portion of the Montana All-Class State Wrestling Tournament always has its own type of excitement. But this weekend in Billings, there is even a higher anticipation than usual.
Highlighting the B-C tourney is Chinook senior Ben Stroh, and two other B-C wrestlers looking join the elite group of Montanan’s who’ve won four straight state championships. Stroh isn’t just looking to do win his fourth, but he’s also looking to continue his impressive unbeaten streak, which dates back to his sophomore season, as well as his streak of wins by pin, which is nearing 100 matches now. The B-C tourney will also feature Conrad’s Luke Schlosser and Glasgow’s Luke Zeiger, also attempting to become four-time state champions.
But Stroh and the group of three-time’s is only one of many great Hi-Line story lines heading into the state tourney, which gets under way Friday morning at the Billing’s Metra’s Rimrock Auto Arena.
In fact, the arena itself is a major story. It was two summers ago that the Metra was ripped apart by a rare but powerful tornado, and the damage was extensive enough that the state tourney had to be moved for the first time in 22 years. The 2011 state tournaments were split up, with the Hamilton hosting the B-C event.
It was in Hamilton that Chinook won another Class C state title, while Stroh and teammate Jorrell Jones captured individual state championships for head coach Perry Miller. Jones is out to repeat at 215 pounds and is looking to cap off a perfect season — something Chinook did two years ago when Ben Stroh and brother Robert, who will eventually wrestle together at the University of Wyoming, did when they both went undefeated in the same season.
Aside from Jones and Stroh, the story with the Beeters is, can they repeat as state C champions? It was four years ago that the MHSA starting awarding a Class C-only trophy at the state meet, and Chinook has won three of those trophies. But this season, the Beeters have to contend with Cascade-Simms, a tough co-op. Drummond will be another tough team for Chinook to beat, but the Beeters should have an advantage in depth.
Stroh and Jones are heavy favorites to win state titles, which will give Chinook a big leg up in the Class C race. Cord Anderson could also contend for a state title at 171 pounds, and he is a strong contender to get on the medal stand, if nothing else. Robbie Klingaman could also give the Beeters a boost. Though he wrestles in Stroh’s 189-pound class, Klingaman could definitely earn big points for the Beeters, as could Donovon Moon, who will compete in a wide-open 98-pound bracket. Geoff Qualls, at 125 pounds, is the Northern B-C champion and should also contend for a spot in the podium by the end of the weekend. Flint Brewer and Austen Connor will also compete for the Beeters this weekend.
Another big story from the Hi-Line this weekend is the Harlem Wildcats. And the question is, can Lyle Faulkinberry’s team get over the hump and into the trophies in the B-C meet? The Wildcats have been close the last two years, and though they graduated two-time state champion Trent Jones, this weekend may be Harlem’s best shot.
The Wildcats bring a trio of state championship contenders into the B-C tournament, led by Teague Jones at 112 pounds. Jones burst onto the scene a year ago, capturing the 105-pound title, and he’ll look to win his second-straight this weekend. At 105 pounds, sophomore Shay Snider is the favorite and has been ranked No. 1 all season long. But Snider, who finished second a year ago at 98 pounds, has been injured the last three weeks and will enter the tournament as the No. 4 qualifier from the Northern Division. Chris Schupe has a chance to win a state title as well. Schupe is in at 140 pounds, and he finished fourth at 140 a year ago.
But it’s not just the individual medals Harlem is chasing this weekend. The Wildcats are determined to bring a trophy home from Billings. Forsyth, the defending B-C state champion, and former four-time state champs the Glasgow Scotties, are expected to duke it out for the title this weekend, but the Wildcats have enough depth to keep pace. It will all depend on how many Harlem wrestlers can stay in the tournament and can get on the medal stand. The wrestle-backs will be key to whether Harlem ends up with a trophy or not. But there's no denying, the Wildcats have a team assembled which can bring a trophy back to the Hi-Line.
This weekend’s Harlem lineup also includes Gus Taylor, who could conceivably meet Snider in the 105-pound title match, as well as Brendan Johnson at 125 pounds, Deon Hammett at 130, Denton Cornell at 160 pounds, Cody Blackcrow, who has a strong chance to place at 215 and heavyweight Seth Adams.
Speaking of heavyweights, a pair of Chester/J-I heavyweights lead a strong Hawk contingent to the state meet. C/J-I has enough firepower to make the Class C trophy race interesting, especially with heavyweights Shalon Norvick and Jake Fritz. Meanwhile, Leonard Pugsley will look to place at 145 pounds, as he comes in as the Northern B-C champion, while Erik Kelly could get on the medal stand at 140 pounds.
The Big Sandy Pioneers also have solid entrants this weekend. Jace Solf captured the 160-pound divisional championship, while Lane Martin (189), Kasey Martin (145) and Colter Darlington (215) and Dusty Gasvoda (145) bolster the Pioneer lineup.This is the largest group of Hawks and Pioneers to qualify for state in quite some time.
So, with the B-C state tourney set to get under way Friday morning, the mats will certainly have a Hi-Line feel to it. Harlem and Chinook going for trophies, Stroh looking to make history, Jorrell Jones and Teague Jones looking to go back-to-back, the story lines are endless. It’s going to be an exciting two days of B-C wrestling in Billings.
The 2011 All-Class State Tournament gets underway Friday at 9:30 a.m. at the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings. The tournament will run through Saturday night.