BILLINGS – The downstairs corridor on the north end of MetraPark told the story.
Wrestlers of all weights, sizes and school populations sat quietly, distanced from one another.
Some had tears in their eyes, the result of coming up short on their dreams of winning a state title. Others looked stunned, as if they couldn’t believe those hopes had been derailed.
You could see the self-directed anger in some, who replayed their latest setback over and over in their heads.
Some accepted their fate and moved on, doing everything in their power to keep their respective seasons alive. While their dreams of a state title might be gone, their opportunity to take home hardware was still there.
“That makes it even harder, knowing that I could have won that match,” Butte Central junior Roy Russell said after coming up short on his goal. “I could have wrestled harder.”
This was Russell’s third straight trip to the state championships although the day started with his first-ever win at the two-day event.
After going two-and-out the last two years, he had expectations to get to the championship match of the Class B/C Championships.
His first match started with a technical fall (16-1) over Keith Pretty Weasel, of Hardin. His next match ended on the wrong end of a 17-13 decision to Polson’s Kedrick Baker in the quarterfinals.
“The second match was hard for me because I could have beat the guy,” Russell said of Baker. “That makes it painful but that doesn’t mean you stop and not try. For my third match, I could have wrestled better but I still beat (Whitefish’s Anwar Mirza).”
Though it was his third trip to the state tournament, it was the first time that Russell came in with lofty expectations and saw them crushed. Russell had no choice but to forget about the loss and start focusing on a trip through the consolation side of the bracket.
“In my opinion it’s harder than the actual match,” he explained. “If I had gone into my third match and continued to think about my second match, I would not have done as well. You need to think about it, see what you could have done and forget it and move on.”
The formula seemed to work for Russell, who bounced back to beat Mirza, 11-4, and will wrestle against Stevensville’s Caleb Olsen on Saturday morning. Olsen, like Russell, won his first match before being bounced to the other side of the bracket. The winner will be assured of at least a sixth-place finish.
Russell’s teammate, Clay Fisher, did make it through to the semifinal round after a pair of pins in a combined time of 4:14.
“Fisher has done really well,” Butte Central coach Robin Moodry said. “He’s in a good spot right now but he’ll have a tough match in the morning against the Hamilton kid (Bridger Williams).”
Butte High’s Jeff Queer and Kadin Schonsberg didn’t have to take the regrouping route to their goals.
Both wrestlers advanced to today’s semifinal round by scoring victories in their only two matches of the day.
Schonsberg, at 145 pounds, pinned Adam Hussein (Glacier) and Flathead’s Kenyon Fretwell. He will wrestle against Missoula Big Sky’s K.J. Swanson. Swanson brought a 24-1 record into the weekend.
“It’s not as hard as I thought it was going to be,” Schonsberg said of Day 1. “I was seeded really good for the tournament. (Saturday) is going to be a tough one.
“The drive is right theer. You want to see how high you can place.”
Queer, considered by many to be the favorite to win the Class AA heavyweight crown, admitted after his quarterfinal defeat of Flathead’s Alex Paul – a pin in 4 minutes, 49 seconds – that he’s been driven by fear this year.
“I’ve enjoyed all of the winning but I’ve always been in fear of losing,” he said. “It drives me to be more cautious on the mat when I’m wrestling and to always take what I can take on offense.”
That is essentially how his pin of Paul played out. Queer was getting the takedowns but when he was unable to turn his opponent over, he would let him up. After repeated attempts, he finally got Paul down on his back.
“It’s always the strategy: just take them down until I can get the pin,” Queer said. “Some kids are easier to do that to than others.”
Queer (28-1) will face Billings Senior’s Jarret Leinwand (15-5) in Saturday’s heavyweight semifinal.
Tyler Casey, who weighed in at 113 pounds for the Bulldogs, came within a whisker of joining Schonsberg and Queer in the semifinal round. He began the tournament with a pin of Glacier’s Caden Willis but came out on the short end of a 3-2 decision to Bozeman’s Sterling Quinn.
Casey remained alive in the consolation bracket and will wrestle again on Saturday.
Other Butte High wrestlers looking to keep their seasons alive are Gabe Tierney (120 pounds), Tyler Vetter (126), Willie Anderson (138), Quinn Sullivan (145) and Carl Anderson (160).
Dillon also made its mark on the list of semifinalists in Class A. The Beavers saw Brent Tezak (152 pounds and Patrick Griffin (170) advance, which isn’t much of a surprise. Both are defending state champions.
Kwin Stoddard (132), though not a defending champion, also reached the semifinals for the Beavers.
“It’s great,” Stoddard said moments after beating Colombia Falls’ Hunter Peterson in the quarters. “. It’s my senior year and I’m trying to do the best I can.
“I’ll have a big semifinal match in the morning (against Fergus’ Caleb Birdwell) but I’ve got to be ready.”
Other local Class A wrestlers scheduled to see action in the consolation bracket include Dillon’s Cooper Hoffman (138) and Butte Central’s Colter Stillwagon (170).
Anaconda had a rough go of things, sending only Colin Rogers to the semifinal round. The senior 113-pounder edged Ronan’s Spencer Staff by a 3-2 decision in the quarterfinals.
Teammate Brandon Bisch experienced the same fate by dropping a 6-4 decision in the quarterfinals. He bounced back and will be wrestling on Saturday as well, along with 152-pound fellow Copperhead Logan Danforth.
Whitehall’s Connor Johnson reached the quarters but lost to Eureka’s Hank Dunn in the quarters. He kept his season alive, however, with a win in the consolation bracket.
Trojan heavyweight Dawson Hoerauf lost in the quarters but rebounded and return to action on Saturday.