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New Season, New Blue Ponies

A lot has changed in the Havre High wrestling program, but, the Ponies still aim to be their dominant selves


November 29, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High's Martin Wilkie, left, wrestle in the 2018 Class A state tournament back in February. Wilkie is looking to become Havre's third four-time state champion, while he and the Blue Ponies also start a new year this weekend with a new head coach in Beau LaSalle. Havre will also be gunning to get back the Class A state title this season, and the Blue Ponies will definitely be one of the teams that can knock off defending state champion Sidney.

Over the last two decades, the Havre High wrestling program hasn't changed much. The Blue Ponies have cycled through a lot of wrestlers, but the results have pretty much been the same.

Now, the Ponies will try to maintain their level of success, only instead of trying to do it with new wrestlers, Havre will try to do it with a new head coach, as Beau LaSalle gets ready to embark on his first season at the helm for Scott Filius, who stepped down after last season.

Now, after putting in six years as an assistant coach and an offseason full of work, LaSalle will take the helm at his first tournament this weekend with the Havre Invitational, which starts Friday and concludes Saturday at the HHS gymnasium.

"I think our focus is going to be the same as it has always been," LaSalle said. "We want to be competing to be one of the best teams at the end of the season. I think that has always been the goal and that will continue to be the goal for us. We don't want that to ever change. That is always going to be the expectation for us."

While the Ponies will open the season without Filius as their head coach for the first time in two decades, Havre will also open the 2018-19 season without the title of defending state champion for the first time since 2013, which is when Havre won the first of five straight state championships. That run ended last season however, as Sidney reclaimed the title from HHS, which finished second just ahead of Lewistown at the state tournament.

"Sidney had a really great year," LaSalle said. "They are going to be a tough again. But I am not really focused on them, much. We are thinking more about what we need to do in order to improve and get better. But it will be exciting to get a chance to compete with them again at some point."

The Ponies will be battling Sidney for the Eastern A title and possibly the state title in February, but the two teams will also meet in Havre for a dual Dec. 20. Havre will also travel to Lewistown that same week to dual the Eagles (Dec. 18) setting up a week in which the Ponies will dual the two other top-three finishers at state last season.

Beyond that, Havre will take on its usual schedule, which will include defending its title at the Mining City Duals. Havre will also take part in the Tri-State Wrestling Tournament in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, while some wrestlers will take part in the CMR Holiday Classic.

"In the first part of the season, we really want to try and peak at the Tri-State," LaSalle said. "We are trying to focus on our conditioning more at the beginning of the season, too, but peaking for that tournament is a focus for us."

LaSalle may be taking on his first head-coaching job but as a long-time assistant, he said he feels ready for the challenge. One thing that will help is a veteran lineup that features three-time state champion Martin Wilkie, who will look to become just the third wrestler in Havre High history to become a four-time state champion. Wilkie will wrestle at 145 pounds.

The rest of the lineup also features a number of wrestlers with previous success at the state tournament. Lane Paulson, who will wrestle at 138 pounds, and Cameron Pleninger, who will start at 120, have both made finals night at the state tournament before, while Marc Ramirez (132), Mick Chagnon (103) and Connor Harris (152) are others who have placed previously.

LaSalle said some of the spots in the lineup still need to be finalized, but others that should be in the lineup consistently are Austin Ratliff in the heavyweight division and Taylor Gopher, who will wrestle at 170 pounds. Another returner in the higher weights is Brayden Stadell, who is back at 182 pounds. Hunter Velk will wrestle at 113 pounds

In addition to the returners, the Ponies have some freshmen to be excited about, starting with Riley Pleninger (103) and Kendall Pleninger (126), followed Dominic Perkins at 120. Joining Ramirez at 132 pounds are Randy Tommerup, Devin Nelson and Isaiah Tracy. At 138 pounds alongside Paulson are Wyatt Hansen and Shaun Head. Orion Thivierge is another name to watch at 152 pounds, and joining Ratliff in the heavyweight division will be Isaiah Stiffarm and Derek Olson.

"I think we have a good group of kids back," LaSalle said. "I think we have some good numbers. We have a big freshmen class and we have some big kids, which will be nice because we needed some more big bodies."

After the holiday break, the Ponies will compete in the Cut Bank Invitational and also the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic, another prestigious meet, and maybe the most well-known wrestling meet in Montana outside of state wrestling. A few weeks after that will be the Eastern A Divisional, which is Feb. 2 in Miles City. The All-Class state tournament will be Feb. 8-9 in Billings at the Metra.


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