CUT BANK and GLASGOW — To put the uniqueness of the 2021 high school wrestling season in perspective, one needs to look no further than the programs at Cut Bank and Glasgow.
Both schools are hosting Class B/C divisional tournaments this weekend, the first year of super-divisionals in the classification. Glasgow is hosting the Eastern B/C after winning a program-record 19 duals in the regular season, an obvious byproduct of the lack of tournaments due to COVID-19 scheduling protocols but also a testament to the quality of the Scotties’ team and good fortune during the season.
“The duals were fun. We wrestled a lot of Friday-Saturdays. We wrestled a lot at home compared to when we’re at tournaments every weekend, so that was nice. Obviously, I love the tournaments and getting all those good, competitive matches in, but for the most part our kids enjoyed it,” said Jory Casterline, a 1994 Glasgow graduate in his seventh season leading the Scotties’ wrestling program.
Cut Bank, on the other hand, is hosting the Western B/C tournament and will enter not having seen many of its opponents. The Wolves boast a talented squad with a number of younger wrestlers, but they missed some quality opportunities during the season due to COVID-19 protocols.
“We had a three-weekend break due to COVID where we were off for … two full weeks and three weekends, so that put a bugger into our plans,” said Cut Bank coach Cody Fetters, who is in his 16th season as the Wolves' head coach after spending the previous four years as an assistant. “We were hoping to wrestle and see more of the western (Montana) teams, but they were all scheduled in that three-week period … so we’re going to be going in pretty blind.”
Cut Bank figures to host 25 teams at the Western B/C divisional and Glasgow will have 19 teams at the Eastern B/C. Each division will advance eight wrestlers from each weight to the state tournament. In years past, Class B/C had four divisions — East, South, North and West — and sent four wrestlers from each to the state tournament.
The new format, which has “been in the works for a couple years,” according to Fetters, aligns more closely with how Class AA and Class A determine their state competitors in normal years. Class AA has opted not to hold divisional seeding tournaments this year and instead determined its state participants at a seeding meeting this week.
Both Fetters and Casterline said the new format should increase the quality of wrestling not only this weekend but also next weekend at the state tournament, which is scheduled for March 5-6 at Shelby.
“It’s an advantage for good wrestlers. I mean, this benefits the good wrestlers in each weight class and the better kids getting out at divisional,” Casterline said. “That’s what the two-division thing is all about, is getting your best wrestlers out and into the state tournament. But for us, either way, I just look at we’re going to qualify what we’re going to qualify.”
“It changes things because it’ll put the two best wrestlers on opposite sides (of the bracket at state),” added Fetters. “When we had four (divisions), we had a rotating bracket where sometimes the No. 1 and No. 2 kids would end up wrestling in the semifinals instead of the finals. This will eliminate that for sure, so that’s the No. 1 positive, is that it puts the best kid on one side versus the best kid on the other side, as far as how divisional plays out.”
And both coaches expect to send more than a few talented wrestlers to state. Even with the break in the middle of the season, Cut Bank has proven to have a solid roster in 2021. The Wolves, who won the Northern B/C divisional title last year, are led by 170-pound junior Austin Vanek. Vanek placed third at each of the past two state tournaments and is 17-1 this season.
“(Vanek) works hard, he puts in a lot of time. I’m pretty sure the kid would wrestle 365 days a year if that was available. I’m expecting really big things out of him,” Fetters said, also mentioning Ty Curry at 152 pounds, Matt Larson at 145 pounds and freshman Kanon Branch at 138. Branch has already wrestled a gauntlet this season, facing Gunnar Smith of Eureka, Trae Thilmony of Thompson Falls and Cooper Birdwell of Class A Lewistown. Smith and Birdwell are both gunning to become four-time state champions this year.
“It’s going to be a great weekend,” Fetters added. “We’ve put a lot of work in. As a team, we’ve had just about everything thrown at us that we could think of. We had that three-week break. We basically had to start the season twice, so I think these guys are hungry and they’re going to make some noise, not only this weekend but next weekend.”
Casterline expects the same from his Glasgow squad. The Scotties are the reigning state champions and return individual champs Colten Fast, Dylan Nieskens and Cooper Larson, who claimed titles at 132, 182 and 205 pounds, respectively, last year. This season, Fast is wrestling at 152, Larson at 182 and Nieskens at 205. Add in Mayson Phipps, who finished second at last year’s state tournament, at 285, and Glasgow has a stable of “horses” to ride into the postseason.
“Then we’ve got Kyler Hallock (at 170 poounds), we’ve got a good junior class with Kyler Hallock and the Nesbit brothers (Devon at 145 and Damien at 160),” Casterline said. “And Jake Kuka (113) is in there, he took fifth last year for us. We’ve got a good nucleus and, like I said, we’ve got some horses.”
“I just want to go wrestle,” he added. “I don’t want to say too much. Just let’s go wrestle, let’s leave it on the mat.”
Both divisional tournaments will run Friday and Saturday, and brackets are expected to be released to the public after Friday morning’s weigh-ins. Live scoring will be available at www.trackwrestling.com and video can be live-streamed at www.nfhsnetwork.com.