COLUMBIA FALLS — Columbia Falls won its first state wrestling title in over 30 years last weekend, and the Wildcats' top performers shared what they believe were the keys to the team's success.
"Kind of all throughout the season I knew we had a good chance of winning state," said senior and individual state champion Justin Windauer. "And then towards the end — the second half of the season, divisionals and state — we were just wrestling our lights out."
And it was Windauer himself who led the charge for the Wildcats, winning the only individual state title for the school in his weight class of 160 pounds.
"A lot closer than I wanted it to be, my finals match, but I got the job done, got the 'W' and that’s all that matters," said Windauer.
Fellow senior Tyler Gilfry, who finished second in his weight class at 126, shared Windauer’s mentality and had faith that when push came to shove the team would bring home its first state title since 1990.
"(When it) came down to it, we just dominated," said Gilfry. "We all wrestled super good and it wasn’t even a chance."
Gilfry attributed much of the team's success to the tight bond it shares and has built up over the years.
"This team is kind of like my second family. I've known these guys my whole life here," said a grateful Gilfry. "Moved up from California and they kind of just brought me in."
Junior Christopher Rathjen, who placed second in his weight class at 138, knows nothing compares to the feeling of winning the state title.
"It was huge once the realization came to mind that we were going to win it," said Rathjen with a smile. "It was huge, just like an unreal feeling, something I’ve never felt before."
And when it comes to what the sport has meant to Rathjen and how it can help one grow as a person, he says there isn’t anything that comes close.
"The individual part, it’s amazing. There’s no one else to blame but yourself when mistakes are made," said Rathjen. "That part of it just teaches you that you have no excuses, it’s all on yourself."