The Ronan High School wrestling team is looking to build on its tradition that dates back to the late 1960s when it prepares to host its 48th annual Montana Western Duals Friday at 11 p.m. at the Ronan Event’s Center.
“It’s a really big tournament for us and every tournament that we enter is a really big tournament for us,” Chiefs’ head wrestling coach James Muir said. “In this tournament, we have to wrestle our best and we are looking to take home a championship in our own tournament. It’s a big tournament and our players are looking to perform in front of their home crowd. With the win against Corvallis and Hamilton the following Tuesday, we now have a good head of steam and right now are where we want to be.”
According to Muir, the competition for the Montana Western Duals will give his young wrestlers great exposure as they prepare to start the second half of the season in the Western Montana Duals.
“We will have good teams that enter the ring that we haven’t seen yet,” Muir said. “Our guys can get in front of some new blood and we have a lot at stake wrestling in front of our home crowd. We are ready to get some good momentum rolling for us. It is really important right now (that we do well) coming into the decent break in competition and since we’ve had two weeks of no competition, it will be important to get back into facing some good competition.”
According to Muir, several teams will have great wrestlers and provide good competition including Columbia Falls, Frenchtown, and Townsend.
“Columbia Falls has 50 guys coming out (for wrestling),” Muir said. “Montana has 13 weight classes and they are four guys deep. That makes a difference. They have to battle hard for a spot on the team because they want to beat those other guys out. Columbia Falls has 850 students, Ronan has 310 students. We are getting half the students that they have and we still have only 25 guys in Class B-C. They are Class-A and have almost twice what we have population wise.”
Muir said Frenchtown is a “very good dual team” and is a “very solid” wrestling squad. He also said he felt Thompson Falls will be “formidable.”
Muir said he would like to see Chief’s wrestler Hunter Peterson, a 126-pounder, match up against Frenchtown’s Riley Gurr.
“I feel like he really matches up with Gurr and it would be a great wrestling match,” Muir said. “I can’t speak for it though that it will happen but if it does, Gurr and Peterson will impress the crowd.”
132-pounder Noah Cheff is coming off a small injury and cramping headed into the second half.
“Hopefully, he will be getting the ball rolling because he’s had a small injury and some cramping issues,” Muir said. “He will have some incredible opponents and hopefully get the second half started with a full head of steam.”
The Chiefs also have a successful 103-pound rotation, Zane Walchuk.
“All three of them battled like crazy in the weight room,” Muir said. “Literally, it’s a one point match between all three of them. There are some really good guys at 103 pounds. Caden Rhine has been doing really well. He’s a freshman and has been wrestling pretty solid and not making a ton of mistakes. Zane Walchuck was knocking on the door and there’s Shad Yen Croft. All three of them have great odds of winning the match.”
Edington paves the way for Chiefs’ wrestling tradition
Former Ronan High School Coach Dave Edington started the wrestling program four decades ago.
“I started the program in Ronan back in the school year of 1968-1969 and coached for 21 years, Edington said. “It was time to move on and let others have a chance. During that period of time, we won eight state titles. We were in Class-B-C and we got several second and third place trophies in 18 of those years. The lowest that we ever placed was fourth.”
The Chiefs will also have a Japan National Team participate as part of a cultural exchange program, something that Ronan’s Edington started years ago in junior high.
“Basically, years ago Ronan got involved in a cultural exchange and three different times over the years the Japenese teams came in,” Edington said. “Back in the 70s and 80s, that was kind of a dual set up where they would wrestle international style and they competed in the dual. There used to be teams from the Soviet Union and they wrestled a Montana All-Star team. The Montana boys did quite well and even won a couple of matches against Junior National Teams.”
Because they aren’t a Montana High School Athletic Association sanctioned team, they will not be able to be scored as a team.
“A number of years ago I served about 15 years and served as national junior chairman for US Wrestling,” Edington said. “Our committee and organization, which is in charge of wrestling for kids 18-and-under in the United States, set up the exchange and got an opportunity for kids to wrestle at the national and international level in Montana. That was my involvement.”
Edington said there is a difference in style between American wrestlers and international wrestlers and thinks this will offer a challenge for many competitors.
“They aren’t going to wrestle as complete as other teams that are entered in the tournament,”: Edington said. “They are going to be involved in good mixer matches and their individual matches against kids from other schools that want to wrestle. It’s optional for kids from Ronan, Arlee, Mission, to wrestle the Japan wrestlers. Most of the kids from Japan are fairly skilled wrestlers. This event should be fun for everyone.”