GREAT FALLS — The University of Providence wrestling program just finished up hosting and coaching around 40 of Montana’s best high school wrestlers before they head out to the 2017 Junior Cadet Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota.

“We’ve been running them for almost 40 years,” said UP men’s wrestling coach Caleb Schaeffer. “It’s been a long time going where they’ve been able to host (the sessions) at different venues and we’ve kind of got a lock in now at the University of (Providence), Great Falls for a couple years. We have the dorm rooms, we have the meal plan, we have the college athletes, and it just works more conducive to their training environment.”

For coach Schaeffer and his staff, it’s not about teaching wrestling basics to these kids. These sessions are about repetition and staying in shape as nationals rapidly approach.

“There’s definitely progress. They’re getting in shape, they’re getting ready,” said Schaeffer. “We’re peaking for Fargo, that’s what we’re trying to do. Like I said the other day, these kids already know how to wrestle. We’re really not trying to teach them anything about wrestling; we’re just trying to get them ready to go for the national tournament.”

Story continues below

“I like the way Schaeffer pushes me every day, he’s constantly on me,” said Hayden Schrull, a two-time state champ at Helena High. “That’s making me get better every day. Lots of gut wrenches and hand-fighting, that’s what we’ve majorly been working on.”

“Preparation. He’s not pushing us, he’s not making us hurt before the national tournament,” said Havre two-time state champ Martin Wilkie. “He’s getting us right, he’s getting us to where he thinks we need to be. I trust in it.”

For these kids, they’ll be representing the state of Montana and going in as an underdog compared to some of the best high school wrestlers in the nation. That only means one thing: It’s time to bring their ‘A’ game.

“It’s kind of nice being the underdog. You’re not from Ohio, you’re not from Pennsylvania,” said Schaeffer. “They’re going to overlook you and that’s a good thing. We’ve had numerous all-Americans every single year for Montana. If you look at the percentages, we do pretty dang well. We’re expecting some all-Americans (this year). We call them ‘stop-signs,’ they come out as big blacks and we expect a couple of those coming home to Montana.”

“Just got to open up and have fun,” said Wilkie. “These kids are beatable, there’s a lot of state champs and we’re state champs ourselves, so we’ve got to go out there and perform.”

The Junior Cadet Nationals are set to begin in the Fargo Dome in North Dakota on July 19 and will last through July 26.