By Kim Staudinger
Three Havre High wrestlers will get their chance to defend their number one ranking starting today at the state wrestling tournament in Billings.
Jeff Hedges, Chad Hedges and Garrett Hanson have been ranked first nearly the whole season and recently each captured divisional crowns at last weekend's Central A Divisional Tournament in Livingston. Jeff Hedges wrestled at 105 pounds, Chad Hedges at 130 pounds and Hanson at 171 pounds.
Also taking individual titles in Livingston were Mike Schnittgen at heavyweight and K.P. Fisher at 152 pounds.
Two Ponies wrestlers will make their first trip to the state tournament juniors Adam Jensen and Chad Zuelke. Jensen placed third at the divisional tournament last weekend and will take to the mats at 140 pounds. Zuelke also took third at divisionals and will wrestle at 145 pounds. Jensen's first-round opponent is the fourth-place wrestler out of the western division, B. Johnson from Libby. Zuelke faces Mike Mikesell from Ronan, also the fourth-place wrestler from the west.
The nine other Havre wrestlers have all made appearances at the state tournament before, but not all from Havre. Drew Harlow, who placed fifth at divisionals at 125 pounds, wrestled for Browning last year and did not place at state. Heavyweight Mike Schnittgen wrestled for Chinook last season and also did not place at state. Schnittgen will face the sixth seed from the western division in Micah Van Gilder from Hamilton, while Harlow will face the first seed from the east, Matt Maxwell. Harlow defeated Maxwell two weeks ago.
Nick Johnson, wrestling at 189 pounds this season, made the trip to state last year as a heavyweight and did not place. Johnson's first-round opponent is Gary Melby from Sidney, the third seed from the east. Sophomore Kevin Velk is the only other Havre wrestler who has wrestled at state without placing. Velk made the trip as a freshman at 105 pounds. Velk faces B. Killen, the fourth seed from the east in the first round.
Jeff Hedges, Chad Hedges, Jake Szudera, Fisher and Hanson have all previously placed at state.
Jeff Hedges, wrestling at 105 pounds this year, placed sixth last season at 98 pounds. Jeff Hedges will face Corvallis' R. Evenhoff, the fifth seed from the west, in the first round.
Senior Chad Hedges placed second at state as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and second last season as a junior at 125 pounds. Chad Hedges takes the top seed into the state tournament and will face the fifth seed from the west in D. Lautaret from Whitefish.
Szudera will wrestle only his second tournament at 135 pounds, matching up with G. Gassett from Libby. Gassett is the fourth seed from the western division. Szudera placed fifth at state as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and fifth last season as a junior at 140 pounds.
Fisher moved down two weight classes from last years state tournament for this year. Fisher placed fifth at state as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and second last season at 171 pounds. Fisher wrestles Curtis Flesche from Ronan, the sixth seed from the west, in the opening round.
Hanson, who wrestled at 160 pounds last season, takes the top ranking in the state into the state tournament and will face Shawn Smith from Ronan in the first round. Smith is the sixth seed from the west. Hanson placed third at state as a junior.
Havre head coach Scott Filius said his team has the ability to place most of his wrestlers, but said the more important thing for his wrestlers is to get as many pins as they can. Teams receive bonus points for pins, and with state being such a tight race, Filius said the outcome will be determined by whoever has the most pin points.
"We have four different kids who have been ranked number one during the season," Filius said. "We have five kids that have the ability to be state champions. It's going to come down to pin points and the kids that don't place, do they score points for you before they go out."
Filius said he thinks four teams are in contention for the title this year Polson, Corvallis, Havre and Dillon.
The Ponies are searching for their illusive second straight state title. Havre has won three state titles in the last five years and has placed second and third in the other two years.
"The kids are ready. I'm ready. We'll go out and see what happens," Filius said. "I feel pretty good about our chances."
Other Hi-Line wrestlers going to state are: John Wicks from Chester; Tom Cochran, A.J. Cochran and Donald Bear from Harlem; and Thomas Maddox, Danny Skoyen, Howie Miller, Eric Hinebauch, Clayton Parsons, Jeremy Painter and Ben Parsons from Chinook.