Polson High School wrestling coach Bob Owen and Polson High School will host the 41st annual 19-team Owen Invitational wrestling tournament on Dec. 1 at Linderman Elementary School.
Owen, who was instrumental in starting the tournament to try to help his team expand the level of competition his team would see throughout the season, said he felt the tournament is a good start to his Pirates’ wrestling season.
Owen, who eventually made his vision of Polson becoming a state-title contender and eventual state champions, said when he first began coaching 41 years ago, he wanted to make this tournament a good cornerstone towards building the foundation of the program and setting the tone for the rest of the season for his competitors.
“I think when you first come in and take over a program, every coach dreams about winning a state title,” Owen said. “I was the same way (when I first took over). I wanted to get it groomed. There wasn’t a sound base when I got here and it was one of those deals where we had to build it up.”
The Owen Invitational became one of the key pieces towards generating more interest in wrestling in the Mission Valley and Polson. Another move that was made to further bolster the interest and expand the wrestling culture in Western Montana was adding the Little Guy Wrestling program.
“I would say our Little Guy Wrestling Program in Polson helped generate interest in wrestling in the Mission Valley, which developed quite a following,” Owen said. “Parents and fans could see their kids through the Little Guy Wrestling program and we take a lot of pride in that. When we first started it was a different program and AAU (at that time) didn’t benefit the smaller teams and smaller communities. They struggled with that and the bigger schools where the benefactors of (AAU). It was a very expensive program as well. It was a great reason to get a lot of teams involved in wrestling, enjoy a little success and consequently get more kids involved.”
The tournament also evolved from a one-day tournament to a two-day tournament. Owen said this tournament also gives several teams in the region an opportunity to evaluate competition at the start of the season.
“As coaches, we are constantly scouting the opponents and our tournament gives us a great feel on where we will be at in our conference,” Owen said. “Most of our conference teams will be in the tournament. We will be checking the competition and deciding what weight class you want to be in.”
As the Polson Pirates wrestling team prepares to head into this season, they will have a strong nucleus of returners, according to Owen.
“Our kids have been very good leaders up to this point and our young kids are (feeding off the older wrestlers),” Owen said. “They are very enthusiastic at what they are doing in our practices. We have a healthy freshman group of eight and the older kids have mentored and encouraged some of them to work harder and progress fast.”
Headed into the season, Polson boasts of ten state-placers that will return from last season’s team.
Unlike their new conference foes Libby, Ronan and Browning, Polson will not be directly affected by the reclassification but the reclassification will change the competitive landscape of the tournament.
“I don’t think there is anything better than having lots of numbers and lots of teams,” Owen said. “Libby and Ronan are two good programs and I miss having them in our league. With Ronan, we have a traditional rival with them and it’s fun. We make the rivalry a little bit more than it was a couple of years ago. They both have very strong traditions and multiple state championships. For both of these teams, especially in Ronan, wrestling is a big thing. I really like the fact they are back at our level because they make Class A a stronger unit and all of us will have to work harder for a title. It will make it tougher on teams like Havre to be so dominant and it gives the rest of us a chance.”
Polson’s projected lineup will include RJ Pierre, Kedrick Baker, Mateo Quinones, Ethan Tolley, Owen Targerson, Bridger Wenzel, Cameron Brown, Colby Soderquist, Parker Adler, Jarod Farrier, Garrett Croft, Tyson Walbeck, Kaleb Unger, Nick Cleveland, Hunter Fritsch, Jon Peterson, Noah Humphrey, Jasper Drake, Kordell Walker and Ryan Burland.
Though the tournament isn’t the size of the Tri-State Tournament or the Rocky Mountain Classic, Owen said the tournament is a great way for several area teams to kick off their season.
“Our tournament isn’t near the level of the Tri-State, the Rocky Mountain or the Bozeman Invitational but it is a good kick off (to the season),” Owen said. “One of the things that is neat about the tournament is how classy the coaches are with the teams and getting the kids prepared for the season. It isn’t too much pressure in that first tournament and it’s not like it’s the end of the world if someone doesn’t win it.” The Owen Invitational is considered one of the top-tier tournaments in the region for its size.
The 19-tier tournament will start Friday, Dec. 1 at Linderman Elementary School.
The Pirates will begin the season in hopes to once again contend for a team state title.
Polson begins its quest Friday at Linderman High School.