BILLINGS— In the heat of Montana's high school wrestling season, Billings Senior's Payton Kale is generally thinking about her next move. Both on and off the mats.
Before graduating this spring, Kale is eager to help the Broncs tidy up another podium finish at next month's state tournament after Senior's second-place team finish during last season's inaugural run of girls wrestling in Montana.
Wrestling had never been on her radar until that point.
"Well, originally I was playing basketball and I was starting to get a little tired of it," Kale told MTN Sports. "Then I heard girls wrestling was starting last year..."
So, Kale tried out thinking of it as a fresh way to stay in shape for spring softball. And she's still at it — this whole new, far more aggressive exertion.
"Wrestling is such a contact sport, you're just constantly working hard every minute for like, six minutes," she said. "As with softball, it's like a two-hour game, more slow paced."
Kale remembers how nerves kicked in for her first competitive match.
"I was violently sick to my stomach," she recalled with a giant smile. "But it turned out okay. Afterwards, I just realized it was really fun."
Wrestling at 132 pounds, Kale went on to place fifth last year at state. Now she competes at 138 pounds, and says it's been "50-50" this season on wins and losses.
With this year's girls state tournament opening on Thursday, February 10, Kale hopes to at least match last year's 5th-place individual finish. Then it's on to softball.
In the moment though, one can't help noticing her tightly braided, multi-colored locks.
"My mom did it," she said smiling while tugging on her braided hair.
Mom may not be doing it for long.
Consider Kale's braids a splashy sneak peek into what she'd like to pursue after graduation: cosmetology school. The stark contrast of cosmetology and wrestling presents a fun irony: I will mess you up, then go to beauty school.
Regardless of how her season ends, these moments on the mat should make great conversation when Kale has her own beauty chair.