After finishing the state tournament in second place last year, it is tough to label that a down season. But after finishing as the state’s No. 1 team for four consecutive years prior to that second-place finish, the Havre High Blue Ponies were definitely less than satisfied last February.
This year, the Central A Ponies are poised to make yet another run at state supremacy.
HHS will take on the best of the best in Billings Friday and Saturday at the All-Class State Wrestling Tournament, which returns to the Billings Metra after a one-year hiatus.
Claiming the conference title again this season was a big step for the Ponies. They proved they are still one of the best teams in the state, and did so in dominating fashion. All 19 of the Pony grapplers earned their way into the state title, something Havre hasn’t done for several years, even during their four-peat as state champions. And now with the state tournament the only thing remaining on the Ponies calendar, they are excited to be making the trip and to get another shot as the top Class A team in the state.
“You can’t really make an honest run at a state title if you can’t win your division,” Havre High head coach Scott Filius, who's led the Ponies to seven total state titles said. “That was the first step. And I think everybody is excited. It is nice mixing the young with the old, and our older kids are confident, and our younger kids are really excited to be there. Every year is a new year, but I think it is always exciting to make a run at the title.”
Though Havre is being recognized as one of the top contenders this season, thePonies have plenty of company by some other very talented teams.
Laurel may be gaining the most attention this season, as the defending A champs, while Corvallis and Sidney aren’t far behind. Corvallis and Sidney have made huge strides from last year to now. Corvallis finished fifth and Sidney finished ninth last season.
“They all have strong coaches,” Filius said. “And the coaches have put the time in to build a strong program. That is what it comes down to, when they have talented kids they do well, and all four of those team have a group of kids this year that are pretty competitive. It is a pretty fun year actually, I think Laurel is slightly favored because they have more kids coming back, I think it will be a little bit of a mix.”
Teams like Belgrade, Glendive, Polson and Glendive can’t be counted out either, as they all finished in the top 10 last year.
And it is going to take a solid performance out of all 19 HHS wrestlers to find success. Making the trip will be Grayson Brenna (98), Dylan Stewart (105), Nate Kennelly (112), Dustin Seely (119), Gilbert Bara (125), Thomas Gruber (130), Gunnar Aageson (130), Matt Emge (135), Dillon Seely (140), Jordan Schroeder (145), Eli Hinebauch (152), Jayson Kohler (152), Kameron Pribyl (160), Grant Pattison (171), Jace Billy (171), Casey Schaub (189), Tyler Adams (215), Dustin Odegard (215) and Kolton Lodge (285).
No matter who the Ponies run into, they have to know they will be a worthy opponent. And whether it is Brenna or Stewart in their first state tournament ever, or it is Hinebauch, Pribyl or Schaub, seasoned veterans, they have to execute at a very high level this weekend.
“We have to be able to score on the edge,” Filius said. “We have to be able to score at the end of periods and we have to have good mat sense. We can’t just stop wrestling on the edge, but by the end of the year we should be sharp, and that is stuff we have worked on all year. Hopefully it shows through.”
And Filius thinks quite a few of his wrestlers have a shot at placing or even wining an individual titles this year. Brenna, Stewart, Kennelly, Gruber, Hinebauch, Pribyl, Pattison, Schaub and Adams all won the division this year and have wrestled well all season long. HInebauch is a defending state champ and Schaub and Pribyl have been to finals night before. If they continue to wrestle to their potential, they have to like their chances.
“I would think that any of our kids who won divisionals have a chance,” Filius said. “Our division isn’t the strongest, but our seniors who won titles should definitely be in the hunt.”
All the pieces are coming together for the Blue Ponies to make another solid run at state this year. They are hungry after last years’ second place finish, and have found a lot of success this year, from both their young and older wrestlers. Now coming off of a weekend where they won the Central A, as well as placed all 19 of their wrestlers into the state tournament, all that is left is for the Ponies to execute how they have been all year long.
HHS will compete at the state wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at the Rimrock Auto Arena at Metra Park in Billings.