KALISPELL — The Kalispell Flathead girls wrestling team has been one of the best in the state since girls wrestling became a Montana High School Association-sanctioned sport in 2020. Now, with the state tournament just around the corner, the Bravettes are looking to claim their third state title in their young history.
"I think they have a lot of fun together, they all really care, but (they have) that fun piece, the want to be here, the want to be around your teammates, the want to work hard," said girls wrestling head coach Amber Downing. "They may not always come out where they want to, but every day they're showing up, every day they're working to get better, putting in that time, that effort."
One captain — who is only in her second year of wrestling after playing everything from flag football to volleyball — knows that with the effort wrestling requires, it separates itself from the crowd.
"How difficult the practices can be, like we're all in it together," said senior Adi Siegel. "So it's like I may be dying during practice, but so is everyone else. So it's probably just the team, that's my favorite part."
Fellow senior and captain Brady Boll has been wrestling since the third grade, and the sport has played an integral role in shaping her life.
"I liked being that person that stuck out in a room that's like, ‘Oh my gosh, she's a girl, she wrestles, she does, like, the most uncommon thing, that’s so cool,’" said Boll. "And it takes a strong person to be able to do this sport and I am strong. And I think it's made me really independent, but responsible and respectful to other people, as well."
Having been a part of over a dozen different wrestling teams over her 10 years of wrestling, Boll knows the Flathead team stands above the rest.
"Being a part of this team I just kind of say this is a team that just feels the most like home," said Boll. "I mean, I got a family here. I know that I've got girls that I can count on, and I have coaches that I can rely on and go to whenever I need."
The team's third captain has been wrestling for six years, and it’s the family fostered by the culture that has helped her fall in love even more with the sport.
"I have only brothers, so I love having like a whole bunch of sisters, a whole bunch of like different age groups too, and just having different kinds of people on the team," said sophomore Bella Downing, who shares no family relation to her coach. "We just like being friends with everybody. Like there's not just a stereotype that wrestlers are mean, all of them are so sweet."
After placing third last year at state following back-to-back championships, the team is itching to add that third title but knows it all comes down to the work at square one.
"Obviously, everybody always wants to win that match win that state title," said Amber Downing. "And it is a goal, and we encourage the kids to write down their goals at the beginning of the season and write it down, revisit it every day, talk about it, but know that what makes the magic happen is what's being done in the room right now."
As for the expectations for the team as they prepare to take 20 of their 32 girls to the divisional meet and then head to state:
"A lot of girls going into divisionals are brand new this year. They don't seem new," said Bella Downing. "I feel like our girls have gained so much experience just in the time being of their first year that I feel like we are going to win state this year."
The state wrestling tournaments will begin at MetraPark in Billings on Feb. 9 as the Flathead girls look to claim their third state title in program history.