With another season beginning with the Havre Invite, the Havre High Blue Pony wrestling program found themselves starting off the season with another team victory.
Friday and Saturday, the Central A Ponies hosted the Havre Invite at the Havre High gymnasium. HHS grabbed the No. 1 spot with 334.5 points. And Lewistown finished second with 167, while Malta followed with 144 points for a No. 3 finish. Cut Bank finished fourth with 106, Chinook finished fifth with 104, Browning finished sixth with 85, Chester/J-I finished seventh with 55, Shelby finished eighth with 17 and the Butte Central junior varsity finished ninth with 16.
It was another good outing for the Ponies while they set out to capture yet another Class A state championship, but the annual invitation did take hit in numbers this year.
"The numbers were down," Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. "But the quality is still there. Chinook still brings some tough kids, Cut Bank still brings some tough kids and Lewistown still brings tough kids. We are pleased and it's always nice to have one in your own place. Normally we get another match or two per kid, but it is what it is.
"The Havre Invite is a good test and it puts things into perspective going into the rest of the season," Havre High junior Zack Smith added. "Right now we are looking pretty strong and we are just excited for this year to take off."
And despite the numbers being down, this was good start for the Ponies.
HHS had 13 kids in the championship round on Saturday. Six individuals claimed No. 1 spots and seven more finished as the No. 2. The Ponies also had two third-place finishes, two fourth-place finishes and two fifth-place finishes.
Individual champions included sophomore Gilbert Bara (119) who earned a 4-2 decision, senior Duell Stadel (125) who earned a fall in 3:26, Smith (130) who earned a 9-1 major decision, junior Dillon Seely (135) who earned a 2-0 decision, junior Eli Hinebauch (152) who earned a fall in 2:58 and freshman Tyler Adams (285) who earned a 6-0 decision.
"Getting a win helps tremendously," Smith said. "It gives you a boost in self confidence that you need and really points you in that positive direction you are looking for.
"We worked pretty hard these first couple weeks," Hinebauch added. "And we are going to just take what we learned this weekend and go back to the wrestling room and fix what we need to fix. I know we have a few things to correct, like getting in better shape, but other than that we looked pretty good."
Second-place finishers included freshman Nate Kennelly (105), freshman Thomas Gruber (119), freshman David Borris (145), junior Kameron Pribyl (160), junior Casey Schaub (171), senior Jared Ruttkofsky (189) and junior Kolton Lodge (285).
Finishing in third place was sophomore Grant Pattison (152) and senior Josh Salapich (215). And sophomore Zack Plum (145) and freshman Jacob Williams (152) finished in fourth, while junior Dustin Seely (125) and freshman Dustin Odegard (189) both finished in fifth place for the Ponies.
Filius said there were no surprises this weekend.
The kids who are known for their wrestling abilities did what they were supposed to, but HHS also got a lot of production from its younger talent as well as its much improved wrestlers this weekend.
Overall four sophomores and five freshman placed in the top five this weekend.
"By in large," Filius said. "I think the best thing was, and it didn't really surprise me, was how that freshmen class competed. I was real pleased with those kids as a whole. We've got some real good experience with our younger kids. And from our older kids from about 189 up, we've also got about five kids there that wrestled very well. They have really taken a big step from last year to this year."
Filius and the Pony grapplers were proud of their win over the weekend, but nobody is satisfied just yet.
And with a long road full of tough competition hopefully leading to another state championship, Filius said the Ponies are headed back to practice to work on conditioning and mental toughness.
The Ponies are back in action on Thursday, when they will take to the road and attend the Butte Central Match-Up in Butte. Then Havre competes in the prestigious Mining City Duals in Butte on Friday and Saturday.