The Polson Pirates wrestling team competed in one of the most talent-rich brackets Pirates coach Bob Owen said he’s seen in years and 12 wrestlers qualified for state Friday and Saturday at Columbia Falls High School.
The 12 competitors will now compete in the Class A portion of the Montana High School Activities Association State tournament Feb. 9-10 at MetraPark Arena at Billings.
The Pirates qualified Bridger Wenzel, Parker Adler, Cameron Brown, Hunter Fritsch, Mateo Quinones, RJ Pierre, Maysn Cobb, Jarod Farrier, Kaleb Unger, Kedrick Baker, Jasper Drake and Noah Humphrey.
“This certainly beats our tournament and one of the toughest Divisionals in a long time,” Owen said. “There are certainly some tough teams in Libby and Ronan. They wrestled very well and that makes a huge difference. We wrestled pretty well over the weekend and the kids we qualified for the State tournament was a pleasant surprise. We were expecting 11 and we got one or two of these extra kids that we really weren’t counting on.”
The Pirates did well as individuals but only finished third as a team behind Frenchtown, who scored 246.4 points and Columbia Falls, who scored 214 points. The Pirates scored 211.5 points.
“Just having two open weights like that kills you,” Owen said. “We didn’t get that Croft kid back from injury and there was a backup in there at 160. That was a long shot when you have three weights and can’t score. We were right there in the team race and it was pretty tight.”
The Pirates’ Bridger Wenzel (132), Cameron Brown (145) and Parker Adler (152) all finished and captured first. Hunter Fritsch (170) finished second at Divisionals.
“I would say we felt like we could get one of these kids into the finals and at the tournament,” Owen said. “We let our guard down Saturday morning. We lost our first four and that took us out of contention for the team title. Three of them finished in third place and one of the four players didn’t set themselves up too badly for the State tournament.”
One wrestler that was no surprise to anyone was Adler. Adler, who lost to Belgrade’s Sawyer Deagan in last year’s 138-pound championship, has dominated the 152-pound weight class all season. His performance has made him one of the favorites to win State. His performance at Divisionals did nothing to change anyone’s projection, as it is a consensus among coaches that Adler is gunning for a State championship title.
“You never know and that is our best shot at a State championship,” Owen said. “Parker is our guy to beat and there are also three other individuals that have a great chance to win the State championship. You have to beat a tougher kid. Parker continues to be a monster, especially at the top position with pinning every opponent to take over our pin record in our high school. He’s our guy to beat at the State tournament at 152. The only guy that pushed him all year from Dillon wrestled in the finals overtime match and this time Parker pinned him. He was the only Class A kid that seemed to get close to him.”
Another Pirate wrestler that has positioned himself well headed into the state tournament is Bridger Wenzel.
“Bridger is in a good spot and he was beaten by just that one kid from Belgrade,” Owen said. “He beat Bridger twice this year and this time hopefully, we can turn it around.”
Last season, Cameron Brown overcame injury to wrestle in the State tournament. Brown, who turned in a courageous performance last year, has turned in State championship-caliber performances all season.
“Cameron really dominated his weight class but he has a kid at 138 moving up to 145 that is a state champion from Havre and they have not met this year,” Owen said. “Our seniors have a sense of urgency and Parker is always pretty dialed in. Cameron has been more dialed in than ever and he is all business. He knows what he wants out of this year and it’s fun to watch his progression.”
Hunter Fritsch finished second in Divisionals and last year at the State tournament finished second.
“We have to make some corrections headed into the state tournament because he will be up against a really tough group of kids. Whoever steps up is going to win that weight class.”
Wrestlers Mateo Quinones and RJ Pierre are both battling each other at the 113-pound weight class and are paired at the opposite end of the bracket from each other.
“They will be in opposite ends of the bracket from each other but they just might meet up later in the tournament because you never know,” Owen said.
Another wrestler that has punched his ticket to State that may not get as much ink as some of the more decorated wrestlers is Maysn Cobb.
“Cobb has had an excellent year and he’s gotten a little better each week,” Owen said. “He’s had a pretty tough road to hold and he is a good wrestler. He has four decent wrestlers in his weight class and he is third in that group. They have a great chance of placing this week and that will be good for the freshman.”
Other Pirates wrestlers that could contend for medals include Jarod Farrier (138), Kaleb Unger (145), Jasper Drake (205) and senior Noah Humphrey (205).
Humphrey has been one of the dark horses of the Polson wrestling team all season and the senior could emerge as one of the top-tier wrestlers on the biggest stage.
“He is going to have to step it up a little to place in the State tournament and hopefully, we can get him to place this year because he is a senior,” Owen said. “I think being a veteran at this stage helps because you know what goes on and what it takes to get there. It should help to make him more comfortable. It is important for him to have a sense of urgency so that he will want to go the extra yard.”
Polson will try to capture third place as a team in the largest high school event Montana hosts for the season.
According to Owen, Sidney and Havre are two schools as a team that will be a cut above their competition.
“Team-wise, there is Frenchtown, Lewistown and possibly Columbia Falls in the race for that other trophy,” Owen said. “Everyone else is behind Havre or Sidney.”
Owen said he felt if he gets top-level performances out of his team they have a significant shot at winning.
“We have a great chance of being right there if we wrestle our best,” Owen said of the Pirates chances at state.