If you read my column in Friday’s Havre Daily News, then you know I didn’t see a single second of the 2013 Class A state wrestling tournament this past weekend in Billings. All I saw were a lot of names and numbers on a computer screen, as well as thousands of tweets Friday and Saturday.
However, now that the event is over, and the Havre Blue Ponies are home with the school’s 10th state championship in hand, it’s time to give my final thoughts on what was a remarkable state tournament, and one I didn’t need to see with my own eyes in order to know that.
And when reflecting on a state tournament with so many exciting moments and story lines, I would be remised not to start with Havre High head coach Scott Filius. Saturday night’s win over Sidney was Filius’ eighth state championship with the Blue Ponies, the only program he’s ever been the head coach of. That’s a remarkable feat and one that should be recognized over and over again.
The consistency in which Filius has molded his program with is amazing. The Ponies have been on the trophy stand every year for the last 10, and they haven’t finished outside the top five in the last 13 years of state wrestling. That’s truly incredible, and the run starts with Filius. The wrestlers come and go, and they’ve been great, but the excellence that Filius has maintained at HHS has been truly impressive, and the Havre wrestling community is lucky to have someone like him.
Speaking of Sidney, it must have felt like old times inside the Metra this weekend. By the time Saturday morning rolled around, only Havre and Sidney were in contention for the Class A team title. Again, I wasn’t there to witness it, but I bet it was pretty fun.
In Class A, Havre and Sidney have been it for years, and they’ve been going at each other for years. Yes, Laurel had a nice run recently, Corvallis has been good too, but really, for more than a decade, Class A wrestling has been about Ponies and Eagles, and that’s it and that’s that.
So this weekend was a return to that, and I can only imagine the Sidney fans cheering against Havre kids as the tournament cheering against Havre wrestlers as the tournament unfolded. That’s not a knock on Sidney fans either, that’s just the intensity of the rivalry, and you’d only understand that intensity if you’ve been inside the Metra on a Saturday when the Ponies and Eagles are in contention like they were this past Saturday.
In my book, it’s as it should be and I for one am glad the rivalry between Sidney and Havre re-emerged this weekend.
Next on my list of things I didn’t get to see, but was utterly impressed with was the performance of Havre High’s freshmen. Overall, you don’t see such a young team dominate a state tournament like the Ponies did this weekend, as Havre will return 15 of the 17 wrestlers it took to state.
And a big part of that domination was the Pony freshmen, with Keegan Kennelly placing second at 98 pounds, Logan Pleninger finishing fourth at 105 pounds, Kody Pribyl placing third at 140 pounds and Travis Adams placing sixth at 215. What a great job by a group of wrestlers who have only been in high school since August.
And I hear rumors that Havre has yet another impactful group of freshmen coming in next year, so don’t think for one second the Blue Ponies are going anywhere.
There’s also the side of the state tournament that I’m almost glad I didn’t see. And that’s the heartbreaking side. Wrestlers work tirelessly , day-in-day-out for the chance to compete on the biggest stage at the Metra. And when they get to that stage and fall short, it’s as much anguish as a 14-18 year-old kid should ever feel.
And in the sport of wrestling it happens every year. For several HHS grapplers, it happened this weekend. Kennelly’s loss at 98, Tyler Adams’ loss in the 215-pound championship match and Thomas Gruber losing back-to-back matches in the semifinals and consolation semifinals by a combined four points. It doesn’t get any more devastating than losses like that, and I know from covering so many state tournaments, and wrestling being an individual sport first, for a moment, it was probably hard for those kids to get excited about the fact that they were all major players in Havre’s team title.
When you see it with your own eyes, your heart can’t help but go out to those kids.
But here’s the good news. All three I mentioned will be back in 2014, and they need look no further than teammate Grayson Brenna for motivation. Brenna felt that anguish, losing in the 98-pound final as a freshman. One year later, he’s a state champion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kennelly, Gruber and Adams are all standing at the top of the podium next February in the Metra.
And if getting on the podium is one of the ultimate goals for each wrestler, the Ponies sure did a good job of that this weekend. Pacing 11 wrestlers overall is a remarkable feat in itself, and couple that with the fact that all 17 HHS wrestlers won at least one match, and you’ve got the makings of a historic state tournament. This Havre championship was truly a team title.
And as for me, I missed it all. At least in person. But I couldn’t be any less thrilled for the Ponies, for the kids, the coaching staff and for the community of Havre, which has so much pride in its wrestling program.
At the end of the day, Havre continued to cement its legacy as the premier wrestling program in Class A and in all of Montana — a legacy that has been built up for the better part of the last 15 years, and I didn’t need to be there to know it happened. The big trophy, the medals, the points and the wins speak for itself.
I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but what a weekend it was.