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Havre High matmen will be tough in an unusual season

 

Last updated 12/30/2020 at 8:05am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Kendall Pleninger, right, and the Havre Blue Ponies are set to begin the 2021 wrestling season with two duals Saturday in Miles City. The season is normally a month old now, but COVID-19 forced a delay to the start of all winter sports.

It's been a long wait, but high school wrestling is finally here. And that is music to the Havre Blue Ponies' ears.

After a delay to the 2020-21 winter sports season, the Blue Ponies will take to the mat Saturday when they travel to Miles City for a pair of Eastern A duals. And those matches are going to kickstart what is sure to be another exciting year of HHS wrestling.

Last season, the Ponies made a lot of progress on the mat, pushing plenty of grapplers to the 2020 Class A State Tournament, where now-graduated Connor Harris and now-junior Orion Thivierge, who will be returning to the mat for another shot at a state title, were crowned state champions. It was a good season for HHS, which finished tied for third overall.

And Havre head coach Beau LaSalle is very glad to be back on the mat for the new season. Of course, the season itself will look different. Not only did it not start on time due to changes brought on by the coronavirus, but tournaments will not be allowed this year, and dual meets can consist of no more than four teams.

"It's kind of getting to be that part where you hear it from every coach and it sounds like a broken record, but it's just a day-by-day thing," LaSalle said. "We're excited to get the opportunity to have a season and compete. It's going to be a little different because we don't have tournaments, which is the bulk of our schedule. We're in a dual-meet format as far as week in and week out. We're making the best of the situation as we can and we're excited to get out on the mat and compete."

The Ponies are excited to compete, and they should once again be tough from top to bottom.

Returners to the mat this season include seniors Mick Chagnon and Hunter Velk, juniors Riley Pleninger, Kendall Pleninger, Thivierge, Dominick Perkins, Randy Tommerup, Wyatt Hanson and Shawn Rowlatt, and sophomores Kale VanCampen and Zale Thomas. Newcomers to the Blue Pony grapplers are Alliyah Stiffarm, Maleigha Fuzesy, Daniel Edmonds, Braydon Knoles, Clara Laird, Jacob Kunz, Andrew LaRoque, Landon Caplette, Tristan Stygles, Carson Harris, Mason Wilting, Brisbin Reiter, Brooklyn Nelson and Jerry Kirkaldie.

Another big difference this year for Havre, and the rest of Montana is that girls high school wrestling is now an official sport, with the Blue Ponies having four girls out for the team. Girls have always competed in high school wrestling, and during the regular season they'll still compete in the same duals with the boys. However, the girls will have their own state tournament at the end of the season.

As for the schedule this season, the Ponies will be competing in a different format. There are no tournaments in the regular season, only duals. Havre opens the year against the Miles City Cowboys and the East Helena Vigilantes Saturday in Miles City. After that, the Glasgow Scotties and the Cut Bank Wolves are next on Jan. 8 in Glasgow, the Hardin Bulldogs and Livingston Rangers on Jan. 9 in Livingston, and the Lewistown Golden Eagles and the Bulldogs are up Jan. 16 in the Havre High Gymnasium. The East vs. West duals in Lewistown are Jan. 22-23, the Lockwood Lions and Vigilantes in Helena's eastern faction Jan. 30, the Cowboys and Sidney Eagles Feb. 6 in Sidney, the Scotties and possibly the Cut Bank Wolves Feb. 9 in Havre and the Golden Eagles and Billings Central Rams Feb. 13 in Havre, with Feb. 20 open as of right now. The Eastern A Divisionals will be Feb. 26-27 in Sidney and the 2021 Class A State Tournament will be March 5-6 at a to-be-determined location.

Again, no regular season tournaments will be strange for Havre, but LaSalle sees a lot of tough competition all over, especially with the slew of road duals.

"I think the toughest thing for us, and it's no different than what basketball does every year, we are competing mostly against the Eastern A," LaSalle said. "There's some long road trips along the way. It's just a little bit different for us as far as week in and week out type of thing. Most of the time we're on the road a lot and all over the state. It'll make the weekends a little bit shorter but packed into one day. The nice thing out of it is that we get to compete at home a bit more. We got some good dates scheduled for home, so it'll be nice to be in our own gyms and sleep in our own beds. We don't get to do that usually."

There are a lot of things to look forward to, for sure, but with the sport being full of contact, the Ponies will be joining the battle to fight the spread of COVID-19, with guidelines and expectations set for all teams competing this season. It is going be different and there will be a lot at stake day in and day out, but LaSalle knows that his grapplers have risen to challenges like that many times before COVID-19 came along.

"Unfortunately, the fans will be limited," LaSalle said. "It's made things a lot different. Harder in some respects that just be able to reach the kids, since they're not in school every day, is keeping tabs on them and them being able to keep tabs on each other. Usually they're good at getting on one another in school and things like that, but with them being split up, we don't get that every day. They do a very good job and we have a great group of kids. It's just a little bit different and a little bit harder, but with safety precautions like wearing our masks and sanitizing, we've done a pretty good job of that."

With that, the Havre High wrestling team will be roaring and ready to compete on the mat against Miles City at noon and East Helena at 2 p.m. Saturday in Miles City.

 
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