DILLON – Several wrestlers in the Western A Divisional Tournament inched their way closer to next week’s state championship tournament, while others saw the road to Billings grow longer by a consolation round or two.
Columbia Falls took the early lead in the team standings, pulling out to a 100-90 lead over Polson, but there is still a full day of wrestling to go, at Beaverhead County High, before anything can be decided.
Teams from Butte Central and Dillon made their mark by combining to push a handful of wrestlers into today’s semifinals, while leaving others to fend for themselves on the left side of the bracket.
Dillon was led by the trio of Kwin Stoddard (132 pounds), Brent Tezak (152) and Patrick Griffin (170). Tezak and Griffin are vying to repeat as state champions for the Beavers.
“We have a lot of young as well as some veterans but we want to send our whole team to state,” Dillon coach T.J. Nelson said. “We wanted to go 11 for 11 and send them all to state. That’s what we’re looking for.
“We’ve still got everybody in, so that’s a positive. We can still do it. We haven’t lost anybody. We want to put those three in the finals, which is less than we were hoping for, but we can bring a lot through the back door.”
Roy Russell, at 103 pounds, and 126-pounder Clay Fisher advanced to Saturday’s semifinals while representing Butte Central.
Each Maroon wrestler enjoyed a first-round bye, as did a majority of those competing at the tournament.
Russell then beat Stevensville’s Kellen Robbins, 13-7, in a quarterfinal match to advance to the semifinals.
Fisher followed a similar route to the semi, by beating Eli Taylor, of Whitefish, in a 7-3 decision.
Another Butte Central wrestler, Colton Stillwagon, found himself in a tough spot while trying to make his way through the 170-pound bracket. He went up against Dillon’s Griffin, who is merely chasing his second straight state championship.
Griffin was at the top of his game and wasted little effort in a major decision over the Maroon wrestler.
The loss dropped Stillwagon onto the consolation bracket but don’t be surprised to see him work his way back and earn a trip to next weekend’s season finale.
Tezak wasted little time in dispatching Polson’s Garrett Croft in the 152-pound quarterfinal match. Their match ended in 1 minute, 55 seconds and with Croft on his back.
Stoddard had to work a little harder than his Beaver teammates for a semifinal berth but his 9-2 decision over Hamilton High’s Adrian Garcia proved that he was up for the challenge.
Nelson is not taking anything for granted, nor are his semifinalists.
“They have tough matches coming up (Saturday),” Nelson said. “They’re going to have their hands full but they’re in a position to do it. They’re wrestling really well, they’ve had a good season and they’re continuing to do the things they’ve got to do. So they’ve given themselves the opportunity to do it but they’re definitely going to have a lot of challenges.
“(Tezak and Griffin) have an X on their back and people are gunning for them. A lot of times they’re getting their opponents’ best match. They’ve got to be ready to handle it and I think they’re getting ready to do that.”
A lot of Nelson’s focus, Saturday, will be on his wrestlers who are landed on the consolation side of the bracket on Friday night.
“They need to come and wrestle from whistle to whistle and be able to focus on the things that we worked on every single day, and continue to get better,” Nelson said. “We want them to take advantage of every situation on the mat and we’ll give them the opportunity to do that.”
The Top 8 wrestlers in each division will advance to the state tournament, so no one will be holding anything back when that first whistle blows on Saturday.
“The older kids have high goals and next week is the state tournament and that’s what they’re trying to get to,” Nelson said. “They need to be prepared to wrestle for it.”