Chris Peterson's final thoughts on state wrestling week
Last updated 2/12/2019 at 8:59am
I’m not a big fan of Skip Bayless. In fact, I kind of despise him. But he often talks about becoming a prisoner of the moment and of all the things he says, it’s one of the few that actually makes sense.
Sometimes, we can become a prisoner of the moment. It makes perfect sense when you think about it because the things we have seen most recently are fresh in our minds. History is what it is — history. But as a fan of history and a sportswriter, I can’t help but make comparisons. It’s part of what I like about sports. Don’t tell me that LeBron doesn’t want to be better than MJ and we know how driven Tiger Woods was to be better than Jack Nicklaus.
For some people, greatness is the goal and to be sure, not everyone thinks that way. Not every kid that grew up golfing posted pictures of Nicklaus’ records on their wall, aiming to one day beat them. Tiger Woods did that and he almost (maybe might still) passed Jack.
The point of all this is that some people are wired differently and the more I am around Martin Wilkie, the more convinced I am that he is one of them. The other one I’ve known is Parker Filius. In terms of drive, work ethic, talent and dedication, Wilkie and Filius are two peas in a pod.
This past weekend, Wilkie did what we all expected him to do — he won his fourth state championship — and he did it in a truly dominating fashion. None of his opponents stood a chance. They knew it and so did he. That’s not to say he was overconfident — far from it. But to be sure, Wilkie carried a quiet confidence with him, just like Parker did, just like all great athletes do.
And over the weekend, it was on full display. Wilkie has always wrestled his best when the lights shine bright and they don't much brighter than at the Metra, especially when you are trying to become a four-time state champion. Before this weekend, only 32 individuals in the history of the state had ever done that and it can add an extra layer of pressure to an event that is already filled with it.
But the greats thrive off of pressure and Wilkie did what he does. Those were the exact words Havre head coach Beau LaSalle used to describe Wilkie after one of his tournament victories this season because, with Wilkie, he was great so often, we came to expect it, maybe we even took it for granted
Well, we shouldn’t take it for granted because the kind of display Wilkie put on this season and over the past four years isn’t something we are going to see often — maybe never again. When it comes to being the greatest wrestler in the history of Havre High, that’s a tough distinction to make and to me, there is no way anyone could every knock Filius off that pedestal. However, Wilkie certainly stands alongside him and Jase Stokes and plenty of other greats such as Evan Hinebaugh and Matt Schnittgen two of Havre’s greatest three-time champions.
Like Bayless says, I don’t want to become a prisoner of the moment, so for now, all I will say about Wilkie is that in my humble opinion, he is as good as any wrestler to ever wear a Blue Pony singlet.
Certainly, I could be wrong and that’s another thing about sports that make them great. Sometimes, we think we know something, only, it turns out we don’t. This happens to me routinely, because no matter how much we want to predict, sports are unpredictable and that’s why they will also be the greatest reality TV show there is.
At the same time, after watching the Ponies put together another stellar performance at the state tournament, one that featured a second state champion in Mick Chagnon, a second-place trophy in the team competition, five finalists and eight podium finishes, I thought I would share some observations or things I think I know. So here goes:
Even though Connor Harris didn’t a win a state championship this weekend, I think he’s going too. As LaSalle said, getting third three years in a row is impressive, but Harris is good enough to be a state champion and in all honesty, he barely missed it in Billings. Had he scored one more takedown in the semifinals, he would have gotten another shot at John Mears of Belgrade, a wrestler he beat just a few weeks ago.
Doing it again would have been a tall order but it’s not out of the question. Either way, Harris seems like a guy that will deliver as a senior, even though the pressure will be on. LaSalle knows a thing or two about that. When he wrestled for the Ponies, he reached the podium and the semifinals three times before getting to the finals and winning. Harris reminds me of him. A guy that you always thought was going to be a state champion and when it became crunch time, LaSalle delivered. I think Harris will too. Cameron Pleninger is someone to watch too.
Another thing I think I know is that when he’s all said and done Mick Chagnon could have quite a legacy at Havre High. He certainly looks to be a good bet to be a four-time placer after winning a state championship this past Saturday as a sophomore and after just one loss in the 103-pound weight class this season, it’s easy to be bullish on his future. Chagnon reached the semifinals as a freshman but just missed out on the chance to be a four-timer, however, if he can win two more titles, he can still carve out quite a legacy for himself.
While having guys like Harris, Pleninger and Chagnon back next season is going to be huge, the Ponies are also blessed to have LaSalle as their head coach. Coaching means a lot in high school and, to be honest, at any level and in LaSalle, Havre got a good one. He knows what it takes to win at state and after working under Scott Filius, LaSalle is no stranger to winning championships.
With Sidney looking incredibly strong, it might be a bit before the Ponies reach the top of the podium again, but as I said, I’ve been wrong before. What I do know, is that with LaSalle, Havre wrestling is in very good shape. He’s smart, driven, dedicated and he has control of the room, as well as the respect of his wrestlers. When it comes to Class A wrestling coaches, Sidney’s Guy Melby is in a class by himself among the active guys, but at the same time, Havre fans should feel fortunate to have LaSalle.
Last but not least, one thing I know is that I enjoyed watching Austin Ratliff as much as anyone this weekend at the state tournament and really, all season long. He went from being a kid that had never placed at state, to finishing within a takedown or two of winning a state championship. His growth this season on the mat was evident and his hard-nosed attitude was infectious.
In previous years he may have been timid, but last weekend, Ratliff was tenacious. He attacked, he battled and he just about won a state championship. He didn’t and that’s fine too because sports isn’t always about winning. A big part of high school athletics is learning and growing as a person and by the end of the state tournament, you could clearly see that even though Ratliff didn’t win a state title, he still walked away from Blue Pony wrestling as a champion.