If the way a prep wrestling team starts a new season is any indication on how the season will end up, then the Class A Havre Blue Ponies should be very excited.
The Ponies, along with 14 other teams, made their season debut in Havre over the weekend, and as the host team, the Ponies stole the show at the Havre High Gymnasium when the annual Havre Invitational concluded Saturday evening. The two-day tournament began Friday afternoon and wasn’t over until more than 300 matches were in the books.
Havre finished in first place with 282.5 points. That bettered last season’s performance when the Ponies took second place. The Class AA Great Falls High Bison, the defending state champions at that level, finished in a close second place with 272.5 points, and the Class AA CMR Rustlers finished in third place with 181.
“We got a bunch of good quality matches, and all of the kids competed hard, so I was very pleased,” Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. “I really liked the fact that our kids competed when they were ahead and when they were behind. Once you get kids to do that, then you can work on your reshot, and your hand control, and all of that stuff. And we will work on that, but I am pleased with the effort.”
The rest of the field was competitive over the two days, but struggled to keep pace with the three powerhouse programs. Cut Bank finished in third place (87), while Browning finished in fifth (80), Butte finished in sixth (70), Libby finished in seventh (55), Glasgow finished in eighth (45), Chinook finished in ninth (33), Lewistown finished in 10th (31), Fort Benton finished in 11th (29.5), both Big Sandy and Chester/J-I finished in 12th (3), and Malta finished last.
The Blue Pony coaching staff was excited to get out of the practice room and into competition, and for the first time out, there isn’t much to complain about.
On the road to posting more than 282 team points, the Ponies put 10 kids into the finals. They grabbed five individual championships, five second-place finishes, three third-place finishes, two fourth-place finishes, and five fifth-place finishes.
Keegan Kennelly (106), Grayson Brenna (120), Dylan Stewart (126), Jace Billy (195), and Tyler Adams (220) all won their finals matches, while Tate Munyan (98), Logan Pleninger (113), Thomas Gruber (132), Parker Filius (138), and Jake Williams (170) all came close, but landed just short in their finals matches.
Kennelly was able to pin Butte Central’s Bryce Noctor in 2:55, while Brenna pinned Great Fall High’s Tyler Meyer in just one minute of action. Stewart pinned Kenton Evans of Great Falls High in 5:00, while Billy earned a 7-1 decision win over CMR’s Payton Sexe, and Tyler Adams earned a 4-0 decision over Great Falls High’s Eric Weaver. The five title winners were all undefeated on the weekend. The Ponies went head-to-head with Bison six times in the finals, splitting at 3-3.
But the Ponies were able to stay out in front in the team totals with five more individuals in the finals — 20 total compared to the Bison’s 15.
“I would say it was (a good team start),” Tyler Adams said. “I think that is what any team would like to see. Personally, for me, I just wanted to come out and see what I needed to work on, but for the other guys too, I would say that is the same, the first weekend out we just needed to see where we could improve. I think I need to work on my pace; I wrestled too slow in some matches, and need to come out with more intensity. It is early in the season, but we got off to a good start.”
In the championship round, Munyon lost an 18-0 major decision to CMR’s Deven Altenberg, while Pleninger lost a 10-4 decision to Butte Central’s Clay Stillwagon. Gruber lost to Great Fall High’s Tommy Mcmillen in a 6-3 decision, while Filius lost a 3-1 decision to GFH’s Austin Shupe, and Williams lost a 7-0 decision to GFH’s Cody Henderson.
Both Gruber and Filius nearly added two more individual titles to the total, but ran into two of the state’s best. Gruber lost to Mcmillen after giving up a last-second reversal during Friday’s round robin match, and couldn’t quite get past him Saturday. And in his first-ever high school match, Filius ran into Class AA state champion Shupe Friday, losing in overtime after giving up a takedown. Filius also competed hard in the chipper, but Shupe escaped the HHS freshman with another narrow decision.
“That is great for us,” Coach Filius said. “Anytime you run into a kid that is going to compete all six minutes then that is what we are after.”
In third-place matches Kody Pribyl (145) won on a pin in 34 seconds, Dustin Odegard (170) won on a 6-2 decision, and Travis Adams (HWT) won on a pin in 1:44.
Jase Stokes (152) lost after being pinned in 2:03, while Skylar Powell (220) lost in an 8-3 decision. But in fifth-place matches the Ponies went undefeated. Dane Flammond (126) won with a pin in 2:16, Gunnar Aageson (145) won an 8-5 decision, Jared Laux earned a pin in 2:35, and John Chinadle (195) earned a pin in 1:22.
Havre High's Logan Pleninger, top, battles a Glasgow rival during a during Saturday's Havre Invitational wrestling tournament at the Havre High gymnasium. Pleninger finished second at 113 pounds, helping the Ponies win the team title over Class AA rivals Great Falls High and CMR.
“It felt good to get this good team start,” Kennelly said. “I got rid of some of my butterflies. I did wrestle some over the summer so I came in feeling alright, but it is good to really start up again. I think we all just came out fired up and ready to go. That is pretty much all you can do in the first weekend, just come out and try your best.”
All of the veteran Blue Ponies did what they were expected to do, but the new and up and comers also stepped up. Freshmen Munyan, Flammond, Parker Filius, Stokes, Powell and Laux all had very good HHS debuts. And sophomores like Kennelly, Pleninger, Pribyl and Travis Adams all had outstanding showings in their encore appearances.
“We have been taking that class of freshmen and sophomores around for a long time and they are deep," Coach Filius said. “We knew we had talent there, so that isn’t new to us. But our older kids did what we expected and I was pleasantly surprised with some of our young guys, but I expect all of our guys to compete.”
After the two-day, season-opening tournament at the HHS gymnasium, the Ponies will get right back at it this weekend. Thursday in Butte, the Ponies will compete at the Butte Central Mixer. Friday and Saturday, the Ponies will remain in Butte for the always-tough Mining City Duals.