BELGRADE — The state wrestling tournament takes place Friday and Saturday at the MetraPark in Billings. Despite losing a large senior class last season, Belgrade has built up a strong young core to make another splash this season.
"Last year having a 38-man team, graduating 12 seniors, we didn’t know how we were going to bounce back," Belgrade Panthers coach Bryce Weatherston said. "But, we had the right coaching staff here to help build up a young team. You know, our biggest thing right now is just to finish."
The coaching staff, which also includes Derry McLane, Jerrett Degen and Peter Schmidt, is a dream team for Weatherston.
They’ve been with these athletes since the club level, so they’ve been there for the development and journey of these wrestlers.
"The coaching staff here is amazing," Belgrade 113-pound junior wrestler Nolan Brown said. "I think that we have one of the best staffs in the state. You know, a head coach that’s very committed, would do anything for us. Great assistant coaches and volunteers."
"When you can get all the leaders into one room, that kids want to follow, that’s a big thing, you know," Weatherston said. "We still struggle with depth, and that’s something we need to improve on. But as far as front-runners, these kids, I mean, it’s not overnight success. These kids have been working five-plus years to be where they’re at."
Two of those wrestlers are chasing their first state titles: Brown and 103-pound sophomore Cody Westlake.
They each placed second at the Eastern AA divisional tournament and are among the top contenders in their weight classes. They hope to cap off stellar seasons with the most sought after accolade of a state title.
"It’s been really cool to represent Belgrade and be one of the top guys," Westlake said. "Just go out there and do my best really is all I want to do."
"It’s what I’ve been dreaming of doing since I was a little kid," Brown said. "Just doing that has been my goal since high school started, so it would mean the world to me."
For Weatherston and his staff, it’s all about seeing his athletes achieve what they’ve worked years for.
"It’s not the coach’s journey, it’s the kid’s journey," he explained. "You know, for us we just want to give them every single tool we possibly can to help them succeed. But for me, it’s watching him be satisfied."
One of those tools is added confidence coming into this season, which has been something key for Brown in the strides he’s made this season on the mat. He's grown from his loss in the state title match last season.
"I’ve just been working a lot on confidence, you know," Brown said. "I’ve put in a lot of work, and I just think that I’m a completely different wrestler than I was last year. My loss last year really opened up some perspective for me, and I was able to really grow from that."
"There’s not a harder working kid than Nolan," Weatherston said. "I don’t care what coaches say. Everyone says they’ve got a hard worker. No one’s seen Nolan work. No one sees the amount of work Nolan puts in.
"For him it’s just a redemption year and to prove to everyone, like he has all season, that he’s the man."