BILLINGS — For Ronan wrestler Noah Cheff, capturing the 132-pound Montana State wrestling title seemed like an elaborate dream far removed from a conscious state of reality.
Cheff just wanted to continue to participate in the sport that is interwoven in his family heritage to not only carry on the proud-honored family tradition of decades of excellence but also continue to be a part of the sport he has dedicated himself to for eleven years.
Prior to last season’s Divisionals, Cheff’s championship aspirations of becoming a four-time state Montana state wrestling champion and his desire be a part of the sport came to an abrupt halt when he suffered a sever concussion and seizures after wrestling up a weight class in a quad meet that included Florence, Big Fork, and Mission.
Cheff’s opponent from Bigfork committed what Cheff referred to as “an illegal move” when he pile drove Cheff’s head into the mat. This caused Cheff to suffer a severe concussion and seizures serious enough to not only hospitalize him for two and a half days but also was the catalyst for his parents contemplating his future involvement with the sport.
“I don’t remember hardly any of it and there is a video of the illegal move that he did,” Cheff said. “When we hit the mat all of his weight and my weight were placed on my head and my head was pile driven into the mat.”
As Cheff sat in his hospital room, his eventual reality of capturing the 132-pound Montana State wrestling title over Townsend’s Kameron Rauser in a 14-second pin Saturday at Rimrock Arena seemed more like a well orchestrated, semi-realistic script written by a Hollywood director.
At that point, Cheff just hoped to wrestle in any capacity.
“I guess it was kind of scary being in the hospital for two days and it was kind of a scary thought my career would be over,” Cheff said. “That is what made this year critical to wrestle at state. I was determined to come back. Ever since I was a little kid I was hoping to be a four-time (state champion) but being a three-timer would be super cool.”
Sparked by the incident, Cheff made his subtle return to the mat that went on without much fanfare starting at the Bob Owen Invitational this season in Polson.
“When I got back to Polson, it was nice to be back on the mat, relieving for sure that I was wrestling again, and that I was not done,” Cheff said. “I was super excited (to be on the mat) and it was a fun tournament. I didn’t place very well and ended up being an injury default because I didn’t drink enough water. I started cramping up and I defaulted (out of that tournament).”
Though Cheff said he was “happy” to be wrestling he also admitted that he desired more as the season progressed.
“I was having trouble in mid season right before our Western Montana Duals (in Ronan) when I started to click back to my old self before I had my accident and it was really nice,” Cheff said.
Cheff said he really started thinking about the possibility of a championship in the Western Montana Duals in Ronan.
“I actually pinned Rauser in the second round of the Montana Duals,” Cheff said. “I was expecting Quinn Whitmus because he beat him 12-4 in the decision and I was expecting a match at state. I pretty much pinned him in the second round. When I pinned Rauser, I realized he didn’t fight back. He didn’t fight back in the finals either. I was really surprised by that because if I were in that position, I would be fighting to death to get out of it.”
Cheff said he developed his confidence in the Divisional round last week at Arlee High School.
“I went on, had some other tournaments, won my decision, and got the quick pin award at the Divisional tournament,” Cheff said. “I realized at the beginning of the state tournament that everyone is tough and you can’t overlook anyone.”
Cheff credited his coaches James Muir and his father for instilling the mentality to be successful in the tournament.
“That 14 seconds was the fastest match in the finals and that was obviously unexpected going into the finals,” Muir said. “When you are in the finals, you are expecting a dog fight. You are ready to go three rounds and have to really earn it.”
Muir said he knew Cheff had settled the issue quickly.
“Noah just went out there, shot a double leg and defended the position where Noah is comfortable,” Muir said. “He threw his hips in, did a hip toss, put the kid on his back and knocked the wind out of him. He didn’t give a whole lot of fight on his back and it was over. That was an extremely exciting moment for his family and the coaching staff, that is for sure.”
Adding to the exclamation point of the victory was the fact that Cheff captured the title on his brother Happy Cheff’s 18th birthday.
“He just barnstormed through the state tournament,” Mission-Charlo Coach Lyle Cronk said.
Noah Cheff said he learned a lot about wrestling by watching his cousins Micky and Toby Cheff.
“I saw Micky recently, and they congratulated me and told me ‘good job,’” Cheff said. “It’s kind of like with Micky and Toby, we’ve won state and it’s like a brotherhood to a certain extent. It’s kind of unreal. When I was little Micky and Toby won multiple state champions and were both two-timers.”
Chef discussed his pride in his family tradition.
“It kind of puts a lot of pressure on you and it kind of doesn’t,” Cheff said. “You know you have the talent and background in this sport. I like having the heritage of wrestling because in my opinion, wrestling is the greatest sport and being a state champ is a dream come true.”