BILLINGS — It’s one of the true goosebump-inducing sports moments in Montana every year — when the crowd rises to its feet to acknowledge a four-time state wrestling champion with a loud, prolonged, well-deserved standing ovation.
To date, 38 wrestlers in state history have completed the feat of winning four individual titles. And it’s become an annual occurrence. The last time it didn’t happen? 2014.
With this year’s state tournament set to begin Friday at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark, three more are poised to add their names to the four-timer list — Kalispell Glacier 132 pounder Teegan Vasquez, Sidney 138 pounder Owen Lonski, and Bozeman 145 pounder Avery Allen.
With that in mind, here are five questions MTN Sports posed to four previous four-time Montana state wrestling champions for their thoughts on the thrill and experience of becoming members of a one-of-a-kind club: Billings Skyview’s Beau Malia (2001-04), Belgrade’s Jarrett Degen (2013-16), Colstrip’s Jackson Currier (2016-19) and Bozeman’s Leif Schroeder (2017-20).
All four are still heavily involved in wrestling. Malia is the head coach at Class A Lockwood, Degen (the first of two brothers to turn the four-peat) is a coach with the Big Game Wrestling Club in Belgrade, Currier (whose brother and uncle are also four-timers) lives in Miles City and coaches middle school and high school wrestlers, and Schroeder is still in the midst of his collegiate career at the University of Iowa.
Here is what they had to say:
Thinking back, how could you describe the feeling of winning four straight individual titles and seeing all your work pay off? What was that experience like and how was it unique to you?
Malia: "I was just down at the Metra (on Wednesday) rolling out mats, and every time I get in there during this time of year there’s always flashbacks. You remember the crowd and the roar and the chants. I think every wrestler that starts at a young age, their dream is to be a four-time state champ. That should be every kid’s goal. It’s just something that you never forget and it sticks with you forever."
Degen: "It was awesome feeling. You're in front of all those people. You’ve got people watching all the matches, but when you’ve got a kid going for his fourth state title then a lot of the attention is on that. You get a standing ovation one last time, and everyone’s cheering for you before you head out. For me, before I went to wrestle in college, it was kind of like one last hurrah. It was special."
Currier: "My experience was a little different because I was hurt my senior year. I wrestled around 10 matches going into state, so to be able to compete was great. But then to be able to win with my family and everybody being there, that was pretty cool. It’s one of those moments that you can’t prepare for until you get there. You think, ‘I did this for so long and put so much work into it, and now I’m here.’”
Schroeder: "It was indescribable, really. It’s hard to do, and obviously there are not a ton of guys that have done it. So I think it was really special. One thing that made it special for me was that I was out for a month before divisionals with a concussion. So I was pretty nervous just because I hadn’t competed. I just took it one match at a time. When you’re in that position you feel a lot of pressure. Not from yourself but from people that helped you get there, and you don’t want to let them down. But I would say it’s best to just tune that out."
One of the best sports moments in Montana each year is the standing ovation a four-time champion receives from a packed house at Metra when he completes the feat. What was that like for you?
Malia: "It’s just the sense of accomplishment, you know? Just to be a one-timer was cool. But to put yourself in the situation of being a four-timer and then getting recognized by (thousands of) people, it’s kind of a hard experience to explain. It’s amazing. It’s awesome. I always think back on my career and wonder what else I could have done, but then I always remember, ‘Hey, you’re a four-timer. You set your goals and you did it.’”
Degen: "You know, I don't know if I could put it to words. It was just an awesome feeling. You kind of take a step back, and in the moment your like, 'Now all my hard work has paid off,' you know? Having my family and friends there and people I don’t even know standing up and cheering and clapping for me, it was just an awesome feeling."
Currier: "That was cool because I got to watch multiple people before me do it. My dad became a high school coach when I was like 8, and you go to state every year and you get to watch. I got to watch my older brother (Clayton) win four, and that was really cool. And then when it’s your time, you want to kind of stand there and take in that moment. You realize that all those people are cheering for you. It’s just a really cool feeling."
Schroeder: "It was super cool. I would say surreal. One of the things that is funny to me is just how many people pay attention. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in rivalries with other guys or other teams, but the fans will still show you that respect. There weren’t many Butte fans standing after I won (laughs). They’re always going to ride for their team. But when I’m back home it’s nothing but love."
How much went in to you being able to accomplish that goal? Even going back to when you were a kid and first starting out in wrestling?
Malia: "A lot went into it. It’s not so much the stuff that happens during the season, it’s the stuff you do outside of the season. It’s getting up early and working out during the summer. It’s wrestling in the offseason. It’s putting in extra time after practice and showing up early to get an extra workout in. And never overlooking anybody. What I tell my kids is that the way I looked at it, every match you wrestle you should treat it like it’s the state championship."
Degen: "Everything for me went into it. I mean, I wrestled 11 months out of the year for most of my life. I just had a different mindset of wrestling. A lot of kids that are wrestling, they want to play other sports. I did the other sports but then I went to wrestling practice. I was playing soccer and then went to wrestling practice. I was running track and then went to wrestling practice. Even during wrestling season, I was hitting another practice. It was time and time and time, and my parents put a lot of time in and took us all over the country to wrestle. I don't even know how many hours. Countless, countless hours."
Currier: "A lot. My brother is a year-and-a-half older than I am, and he was my training partner. We wrestled in the house until we were old enough to wrestle at practices and at tournaments, and we traveled all over the country to wrestle. Countless hours. We had talent, but we spent a lot of time in the (wrestling) room. All we did was talk about wrestling. All we did was watch wrestling. It consumed our lives. And four state titles is the achievement you get for putting in all that effort."
Schroeder: "A lot of hours and a lot of traveling, and hard conversations with my parents when I was younger about sticking with it after I’d lose a match. That feeling of winning is so addicting. Obviously it takes a village, so it wasn’t just me. It was every coach that I ever had and all the teammates that believed in me. There were maybe some sleepless nights thinking, ‘What if I don’t get this done?’ But you go out there and compete, and whatever happens happens."
Three more are poised to join the club this weekend — Avery Allen from Bozeman, Owen Lonski from Sidney and Teegan Vasquez from Kalispell Glacier. When new wrestlers become four-timers, does it give you any kind of special appreciation for what it takes?
Malia: "It’s always in the back of your mind. And I loved it. The big thing is, whether it was a kid from a different team that might have been your rival a long time ago all the way to today, to see Montana kids be able to accomplish the goals that you set as a wrestler yourself, it’s awesome to see that. The other thing is, we wrestle eighth graders, so I’m excited to see who is going to be the first five-timer."
Degen: "Avery wrestled in our club when I was in high school and middle school, and so I've been around him a lot and I've been working with him quite a bit. So it's kind of awesome that now it's his turn, watching him mature and progress and watch him wrestle all over the country. And then Teegan Vasquez, I was buddies with his brother Trae, and I’d go up and take kids to wrestle with Teegan from Belgrade and Bozeman. So I see all the work those two do. The Sidney guys, they’re always tough and those coaches are always good coaches. I’m getting ready to go watch them all win their fourth this weekend. I’ll be there in person. It's going to be super, super awesome."
Currier: "I know Avery and Teegan very well. Avery is originally from Colstrip, and so I helped him become a wrestler. You look at all the work he’s put in and you realize he’s doing everything that you did, and so he earns that much more respect. All of them … if the three of them win their fourth, they’ll all earn that much more respect from the wrestling community."
Schroeder: "It’s a super hard feat to accomplish. Me and Avery are pretty close, given that we were on the same team together when he was a freshman and I was a senior. It’s exciting for him. It’s exciting for all of them. You feel the emotions of the weekend but you can’t take it for granted because the time goes by so quick. It goes by in the blink of an eye. I would say just enjoy every moment and really live in that moment."
Countless wrestlers have competed in high school in Montana through the years, yet only 38 of them — potentially 41 after this weekend — completed their careers with four titles. What does it mean for you to be a part of that club?
Malia: "It’s cool, but I will say that there are a lot of great kids out there that could have done it. It’s cool to be a part of it, and it’s good to accomplish your own goals and be a part of a club that’s pretty unique, because there’s not a lot of them, but at the same time I respect the kids that just make it to the state tournament or make it to the finals or place at state. Not everybody gets that opportunity. It’s a cool accomplishment and it’s cool to be recognized but you need to be humble about where you stand."
Degen: "It's awesome. I grew up watching (Townsend’s) Jade and Val Rauser, and those guys were what I looked up to. I wanted to be them. And so getting to join a club with Jade and all those other guys out there, it's pretty amazing. Me and (Forsyth’s) Luke Weber did it the same year, and we talked about it all year. So it was amazing going out there and doing it with the people you travel with and your role models and kids that you looked up to. It’s an awesome club to be in."
Currier: "It’s a big accomplishment. I take a lot of pride in being a four-timer. It was just one of those things that I always wanted to be, and it was a life goal that I achieved. And to be in that club with my uncle (Chris) and my brother also, it’s really cool. Not a lot of families can say they have three members in the four-timer club."
Schroeder: "I don’t think about it a ton, but you do think of all the names that are up there along with mine. I grew up watching countless guys that did the right things. When it comes down to it, I think that’s the most important thing, being a good representative of yourself and your school and your family and the sport of wrestling. If you’re doing that and winning four titles, that’s a really impressive feat to accomplish. It’s great company to be in."