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Daniel Horton Column: Heartache is part of wrestling's big stage

BILLINGS — One thing I noticed the state wrestling tournament does not lack is emotion. Some athletes and teams show it more than others, but everywhere I looked, it was there.

If a kid lost a match he thought he should have won, there was anger. Headgear takes a lot of abuse after a loss. Or if a kid won a big match, there was excitement and happiness, with plenty of fist pumps, high fives, and hugs to go around.

Havre High's Keegan Kennelly is emotional following Saturday night's 98-pound Class A state championship match at the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings.

But there is also sadness, or I guess more accurately labeled, there is heartbreak.

I have come to realize that high school wrestlers put in more time to achieve success than maybe any other prep athlete. There is no doubt that being a successful wrestler means living a certain lifestyle, filled with year-round workouts, camps, and diets. Wrestlers put their bodies through things most people aren't willing to do, thus making every win rewarding, but also making every loss devastating.

Havre High freshman Keegan Kennelly was just moments away from earning an individual state title at 98 pounds on Saturday in the Class A state tournament at the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings.

Kennelly won three straight matches to get into the Class A state finals over the weekend. But in one of the most important matches of his career thus far, Kennelly wasn't able to come away with a win.

"That is what I trained all year for," a devastated Kennelly said. "And that was my goal. I just didn't come away with it, so I have to work even harder next year. I will be back. I will be working really hard this summer, trying to get that state title next year."

In the 98-pound chipper, Kennelly was pinned by Butte Central's Clay Stillwagon in 4:24. The fall came after Kennelly trailed 4-2 through the second period and had to try for a takedown in the third. Kennelly has been wrestling for 10 years, and was nearing the end of a great freshmen season. He had only lost three matches all season prior to Saturday night, and a state title would have been a dream come true.

Unfortunately, Kennelly displayed the heartbreak I saw a lot of over the weekend. But his passion for the sport of wrestling was also apparent, as even in a loss, Kennelly literally left it "all" on the mat.

"I am proud of my finish," Kennelly said. "Clay (Stillwagon) is tough, but I just really wanted that state title. I was really focused coming into the weekend. All I thought about every day was taking it one person at a time. That is what you have to do to get to the state finals and get the title."

It was obvious that the emotion Kennelly showed after his loss came from his love and passion for wrestling. And getting the chance to talk to one of the hardest working freshman in the state, he has me believing he will be No. 1 on the podium next season.

And lucky for the rest of the Blue Ponies, and Havre fans, Kennelly is the future of this program, and will be a well known name for the next three years.

"He is a great kid," Havre High head coach Scott Filius said. "He (Kennelly) comes in as a freshman and he wins the Rocky Mountain, he wins the CMR Holiday Classic, and comes down here and has his heart broken. But that is what this sport does; it puts a thick skin on you. It is always tough to lose, but you can't appreciate the winning if you don't get thumped every once in a while."

I saw first-hand the emotions of the state tournament.


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