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Ahead of divisionals Havre heavyweight Austin Ratliff is on the rise

Havre's drive for a sixth straight Class A state title begins with the Eastern A in Belgrade


February 2, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High's Austin Ratliff, left, takes down a Great Falls High opponent during the 2017 Havre Invitational. Ratliff has come on strong for the Blue Ponies this season, and will be a major factor in Havre's quest to repeat as Eastern A champions this weekend, as well as Class A state champions next week in Billings.

For the Havre High wrestling team, the success or failure of a season is judged by what is done at divisionals and state. That's just the reality of winning the last five Class A state championships.

But after another impressive regular season, the Blue Ponies run at another state championship starts Saturday in Belgrade, at the Eastern A Divisional tournament. The action will begin in the morning, with the championship matches to take place in the late afternoon.

"I would like all our kids to set themselves up well for next week at state," HHS head coach Scott Filius said. "Some of those will need to be on the top of the podium and some of those kids just need to get on the podium."

While the state championship will be decided next weekend in Billings, at the All-Class state tournament, who competes at state and where they sit in the bracket is decided this weekend. In Class A, there are two divisional tournaments, the Eastern A and the Western A. The top eight wrestlers in each weight class at each tournament will advance to state, but the higher the finish at divisionals, the better seed a wrestler gets at state.

Seeding at state is a big deal and the most important aspect of the divisional tournament for Havre, which is hoping to quality all 16 of its wrestlers for state. But with the Eastern A looking deeper and more competitive than in years past, it might not be so easy.

In addition to qualifying wrestlers for state, the Ponies will also be looking to win their third consecutive Eastern A championship. Havre first competed in the Eastern A two years ago, after the Central A and the Eastern A merged into one wrestling conference and since then, the Ponies have reigned supreme. Yet, with the rise of Sidney, a team that defeated HHS twice in head-to-head duals, winning the tournament for a third straight time is no bargain.

"It will be a two-team race, I'm sure, at divisionals between us and Sidney," Filius said. "And it will probably be about the same thing next weekend. But we are looking forward to it, it's going to be a fun challenge."

After the graduation of four-time state champions Parker Filius and Jase Stokes, along with four-time medalist Dane Flammond, the Ponies, understandably, haven't been quite as dominant this year as they have been in the past. Yet, they have held steady as the second-ranked team in Class A behind Sidney and with a lot of young guys who are still growing and developing, seemingly by the tournament, Havre is still a very dangerous team.

As far as growth goes, perhaps no one on the Havre wrestling team has grown as much as Austin Ratliff has this season. The junior, who finished fifth at divisionals a year ago and missed the podium at state by one match, just captured his first individual high school title last weekend at the Malta Invitational. That was the peak of an ascension that has been going on for weeks, as Ratliff had steadily climbed the Class A wrestling poll and is now the third-ranked heavyweight in the state.

"I think a lot of it has really been mental for me," Ratliff said. "I have been pushing past the point where I usually break and now I feel like I can push past that now that I have gotten older."

Ratliff said taking first in Malta, which he did with a slew of impressive victories, validated the hard work he and the coaching staff have been putting in this season.

"It was really great to see all the hard work I have been putting in pay off," Ratliff said. "And I really appreciate all the hard work that the coaches have put me through and keep putting me through to help me keep going."

Heading into the Eastern A Divisional, Ratliff will be looking to wrap up a spot at the state tournament for the second straight season, but he won't be satisfied just reaching the podium. He said his goal is to find himself at the top. Yet to do that, he will have to deal with the pressure of wrestling at divisionals, where losing at the wrong time could mean the end of the season.

"It is really nerve racking," Ratliff said. "But you can't let it get to you. Either way, win or lose, it helps you build your foundation for when you are in that situation later on. I just know that if I go out there and wrestle in between my lines and wrestle my match, I will get better from it and start seeing more podium time."

If Ratliff is going to reach the top of the podium at the Eastern A, he will need to knock off a couple of high-ranking heavyweights along the way. Keegan Mires of Glendive, who was the top-ranked heavyweight at one point, could provide a stern test, but barring an upset, Ratliff could end up facing the current No. 1, Ryan Horner of Sidney in the finals. The two have met multiple times this year, but Ratliff hasn't defeated him, something he hopes to get a chance to change in Belgrade.

"I can pretty much beat everyone in Class A heavyweight, but there is a guy from Sidney (Horner) that has been giving me problems," Ratliff said. "Every time I have wrestled him, I have been pretty tired, but I am hoping that's what happens. We will see, but I will be ready."

Joining Ratliff in Belgrade Saturday will be former state champions and current top-ranked wrestlers Martin Wilkie (145) and Tyler Schaub (205). Freshman Mick Chagnon will make his first divisional appearance at 103 pounds, followed by Cameron Pleninger (113), Dylan Young (113), Ryan Stewart (120) and Quinn Reno (120). Reno is another defending state champion, who will also try to win a second straight divisional title.

Lane Paulson, a runner-up at state, will go at 138 pounds and Connor Harris will wrestle at 152. Taylor Gopher and Carson Lunak will both wrestle at 160 pounds and at 170, Havre will have both Mason Dionne and Jazz Schroeder. Brayden Stadel will round out the roster at 182, with Ratliff anchoring at the heavyweight spot.

That is the tentative lineup for the Ponies if Mark Ramirez is able to wrestle at 126 pounds, but due to injury, his status is up in the air. If he is unable to wrestle, Filius said Reno may bump up to 126 and some others could move weight classes.

"If Marc is gone there are no guarantees," Filius said. "It's kind of all up in the air."

Havre will seek its third consecutive Eastern A title Saturday in Belgrade.


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