By George Ferguson
Earlier in the week Havre High wrestling coach Scott Filius wasn't really sure what kind of a team he was going to have as the Ponies prepared for the opening weekend of the 2002-03 season.
After two days of competition, Filius can feel pretty good as his team routed Livingston on Friday night in a Central A dual match and then placed second at the Blue Pony Invitational on Saturday among some very stiff competition.
On Saturday, the Great Falls High Bison lived up to their reputation as one of the top wrestling programs in Class AA by scoring a team-high 259 points at the 130-team invitational. They placed nine wrestlers in the finals and won six of those matches. The Ponies finished a solid but distant second place with 190 team points. Lewistown finished in third place and CMR was fourth.
Filius was very pleased with his squad's efforts. The Ponies had two wrestlers in the finals and also had seven others in the consolation matches.
"I was very pleased with the tournament," Filius said. "Our guys came out and competed very hard and wrestled very well. We had a very good day."
Individually, the day belonged to Jeff Hedges. The junior 112-pounder breezed to the final round, where he was matched up with Bison freshman sensation Kody Tolliver. The match was a very highly anticipated bout, and Tolliver and Hedges didn't disappoint. The contest was tied at three points apiece late into the third period when Hedges scored a quality two-point escape. He was then able to hold Tolliver off for the final 25 seconds to get the win.
"Jeff wrestled really well and the final was very exciting," Filius said. "Tolliver is a great kid and a great wrestler. I think they are going to develop a very good rivalry."
Freshman Grey Chagnon was the only other Havre wrestler to reach the finals at 98 pounds. He fell in his championship match to Bison standout Shane Grever. Grever scored a pin just 40 seconds into the match.
At 119 pounds, Havre's Kevin Velk took fourth place, falling to Chinook's Curt Solberg. Josh Landgraf lost a 7-2 decision to Shelby's Joren Bonerud in the 125-pound consolation match. At 140 pounds, Rick Griffis scored a 5-4 decision over Lewistown's Phil Rinaldi. At 145 pounds, Chad Zuelke was forced to forfeit his third-place match because he had wrestled the limit of five matches on the day. At 160 pounds, Daine Solomon lost 9-3 to Great Falls High's Chris Cory. In the 171-pound consolation match, Chad Seely defeated Grant Terry of Lewistown 7-3, and at 189 pounds Nick Johnson lost to Brandon Odegard of CMR by pinfall at the 46-second mark.
Filius thinks his team competed very well given the competition, and he saw some very good things out of his wrestlers.
"The guys all wrestled really hard and that is very important right now," Filius said. "And the other thing is that they all got in a lot of matches and gained good experience.'
Friday night the Ponies didn't waste much time in taking a commanding lead against Livingston. The Ponies fell behind 7-0 after Chad Zuelke and Matt Springer dropped the first two matches of the evening. But Havre reeled off six straight wins, including three straight pins in the first period by Solomon, Seely and Nick Johnson. Bill Zuelke got the fourth straight win for the Ponies and Grey Chagnon put on a dominant show in his first varsity match with a 17-2 decision at 98 pounds. Jeff Hedges also racked up 17 points in the first period of the 112-pound match with Ryan Whitford. Hedges later pinned Whitford at the 1:54 mark. Nick Leyba and Rick Griffis finished the scoring with pins in the first period in the final two matches of the night giving the Ponies a convincing 44-19 win.
All in all, Filius felt pretty good about the entire weekend.
"This is about a good of a start as I could have asked for," Filius said. "Hopefully, we'll continue to work hard and keep improving on this."
The Ponies will return to action Thursday and spend three days in Butte. On Thursday, Havre will face Central A foes Dillon and Butte Central in separate dual matches. On Friday and Saturday, the Ponies will compete in the prestigious Mining City Duals.