By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The Havre Blue Ponies wrestling squad, the No. 1 team in the state according to a preseason coaches poll, will strike out at home to open its season.
"The kids have put in a great off-season," said head coach Scott Filius. "It's the best production from a group of kids that I've had in the off-season."
Seniors Willie Hulett and Nick Newell, juniors Jordan Anderson, Cody Hanson, Nick Holt, Aaron Jensen, Chad Maney, C.J. Reichelt and Travis Velk, and sophomores Ryan Chagnon, K.P. Fisher, Chad Hedges, Jacob Szudera, and Cliff Springer will wrestle varsity this winter.
The Blue Ponies, the defending Central A division and State Class A champions are returning seven state placers and two finalists from last year's tournament team.
Hulett, who will wrestle at 171 pounds, finished fourth at the state tournament last winter. Hulett only wrestled in two tournaments last season, divisional and state, and has stepped into a senior leadership role for the Blue Ponies.
Newell, who will wrestle at 105 pounds, finished fifth at state in 1998.
"Nick has looked just tremendous in practice," Filius said.
Holt, who will wrestle at 130 pounds, finished second last year and sixth in 1998 at state.
"He is about as hot as any kid we have got right now," Filius said about Holt. "He is looking sharp right now."
Maney will wrestle at 125 pounds. He finished sixth in 1998 and 1999.
"He has placed at state the last two years," Filius said. "He hit some camps and put in a good summer for us."
Fisher, as a freshman, placed fifth at state. He will wrestle at 152 pounds this year.
"K.P. has got a great attitude," Filius said. "He had a great year in the weight room, and he is getting stronger."
Hedges, as a freshman, was a state finalist last year. He finished second in the end, and will wrestle at 119 pounds this winter.
Szudera finished fifth at state last season, wrestling at 135 pounds.
"I expect good things from Hedges as a sophomore," Filius said, "and Jacob is really physical and looks good."
While Chagnon lettered last season, he will wrestle varsity for the first year at 98 pounds for the Blue Ponies.
"I don't see anyone else at 98 pounds who can get him," Filius said.
Hanson, who wrestled varsity on and off last season, will wrestle at 140 pounds, and Jensen, who wrestled varsity his entire freshman year and has lettered during the past two years, will wrestle at 145 pounds. Reichelt, in his first year on varsity, will wrestle at 189 pounds. Springer will get the go at heavyweight, and Velk at 112 pounds for Havre.
"I'm looking for a lot of those juniors to blossom for us," Filius said. "Where the juniors go, the team will go."
Anderson, during his first year on varsity, looks to defend his spot against sophomore Garrett Hanson.
"Both kids look really good in the early season," Filius said.
To kick off the 1999-2000 season, Havre will face the Park County Rangers from Livingston Friday, at 6 p.m., at the Havre High School gymnasium. Browning will face-off against Livingston at 8 p.m.
The home stand will end Saturday when the Blue Ponies host an 11-team tournament, featuring grapplers from all classes. Havre, Malta, Chinook, Big Sandy, Choteau, Shelby, Browning, Valier, Lewistown, Livingston, and Box Elder will be represented on the mats.
Malta boasts a two-time defending State B champion wrestler. Scott Riggin of Chester looks to be tough on the mat and Lance Nelson of Big Sandy, a state finalist, will also be strong in the early season. Box Elder, in its first year with a team, will wrestle a junior varsity schedule Friday night.
The action Saturday begins at 9 a.m. at the high school.