As Belgrade’s wrestling team enters the postseason, coaches and athletes agree: the best is yet to come.
Yes, top-ranked Sidney and third-ranked Havre, the defending state Class A champion and state runner up, respectively, will be among the competition Saturday at the Eastern A Divisional in Miles City. But the Panthers feel they’ll be vying for hardware along with those two powerhouse programs.
“I think we should be in the hunt for a trophy. We’ve got a full team and there’s not a lot of teams that can say that, and we’ve got some pretty good point scorers right now,” Belgrade coach Sean Dellwo said. “And we are finally
at a point where we have everybody and the guys are doing the right things right now.”
Senior Kevin Aiken, who competes at 170, agreed with that assessment.
“I think we can get a trophy and that’s pretty much our goal and our expectation at this point,” he said. “And just continue to grow closer as a team.”
Aiken is one of just two seniors on the squad and has yet to lose to a Class A opponent this season.
“I haven’t lost in Class A, but I also haven’t wrestled the top two guys, three guys,” noted Aiken. “I could face two of the three (at divisional).”
Sidney’s Trevor Dean is ranked No. 1 in Class A, while Dawson County’s Nelson Crisafulli is ranked third. Aiken was ranked fifth in the most recent poll.
“My goal is to make it to the final and of course win it,” said Aiken.
That’s also the goal for two-time divisional champion John Mears. The junior has won titles at 120 and 132 over the past two years, and will compete at 152 on Saturday.
Sidney’s Jace Winter is ranked No. 1 in the weight class, while Havre’s Connor Harris is No. 2 and Mears No. 3. Harris pinned Mears during the Class A Duals on Jan. 18. It was the first time Mears had been pinned in his career.
“I really just didn’t wrestle that well. It was a late match for me. We’ve been doing more in practices, so that’s kind of effected me,” said Mears. “But right now, I’m trying to work harder and going to more practices and seeing more, and people are showing me new technique and how to wrestle a little better.”
Mears nearly has as many losses this season as the combined eight over of the past two. Three of those have come against Bozeman’s Chance McLane — losses that have only made the two-time state champion even more focused.
“I don’t like losing, but I know that I’m going to get better with a loss than a win,” said Mears. “So I think I’ve learned a bunch from wrestling him and I’m almost being coached now to wrestle him even still now. I think that’s going to help me down the road.”
With Aiken and Mears leading the way, and freshman Oden Currier back in the lineup at 126, Dellwo likes his team’s chances at the tournament.
“I think having him (Currier) back and full strength — all he’s focused on is wrestling now. I think it’s going to be really good for us,” said Dellwo. “We’ve got a bunch of underclassmen and now they’ve got a full season under their belt, so yeah, I think we could be in the hunt for a trophy. Top three finish would not be out of reach.”
Dellwo was also pleased with how the team wrapped up the regular season, a 60-10 loss at Class AA Bozeman and 24-12 victory against Park County in Livingston.
“The Bozeman dual was competitive,” he said. “I know the score didn’t show how competitive it was, but the matches were exciting. It was fun. There was definitely some emotion involved in the dual, which is good for the sport of wrestling.
“The Park one was really a great experience for our kids that don’t always get to be in the varsity lineup. They went over there and wrestled their tails off ... really good experience for those guys going into divisionals as well.”
Manhattan hoping for strong showing
Heading into Saturday’s Southern B/C Divisional Tournament in Townsend, second-year Manhattan coach Raymond Debruycker isn’t making any predictions.
A year ago, Porter Blanchard became the first-ever grappler from the brand new program to reach the state tournament. Will the junior return this year and bring some teammates along?
“Come Saturday my only expectation is that each wrestler gives it everything that they have and that they leave it all on the mat,” said Debruycker. “If they can walk off the mat knowing that they did that the placing will take care of itself.”
The top four placers from each weight class in the four divisions will advance to the State B/C tournament Feb. 8-9 in Billings and form the 16-man bracket.
“We are not in a position as a program to worry about team scores or looking ahead. Our focus is simply to get better and let the results be what they may,” said Debruycker. “If we can do that I feel good about where we will be.”
Manhattan tuned up for the postseason at mixer hosted by Jefferson County on Jan. 24. Debruycker noted it was a “pretty uneventful” night as most of the five teams competed with limited numbers due to injury or rest.
Only five Tigers saw action at the event as Porter Blanchard and Forrest Fairbanks posted 2-0 records at 126 and 138 pounds, respectively. Blanchard boasted a pair of pins.
“Porter looked good in his matches,” Debruycker said.
Cyrus Richardson (152) was 0-1, while Carson Butts (160) and Jackson Bloomgren (170) were 0-2 and 0-3, respectively. Coltin Siphikas and Garrit Weeda both sat out to rest injuries.
“We are hoping to have both back for next week, which will give us seven wrestlers for the divisional tournament,” said Debruycker.
Three Forks also wrapped up the regular season at the mixer, however coach Nye Howey did not return messages from the Belgrade News seeking information about the team’s performance prior to deadline.