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State A wrestling: Sidney chasing 4th consecutive title; Lewistown's Birdwell seeking 4-peat

Riley Waters
Posted at 2:50 PM, Mar 04, 2021

The Sidney Eagles wrestling team has set the Class A scoring record each of the past two years and has three consecutive State A titles to its name. The Eagles look primed to add a fourth this weekend in Miles City.

Sidney had seven top-ranked wrestlers in the final Class A wrestling coaches' poll of the season, putting them in position to run away with yet another state championship. The Eagles crowned 10 individual champions at this past weekend's Eastern A divisional meet and need one more dominant weekend to see a four-peat come to fruition.

"We expect everybody's best. It's the state tournament and everybody should be wrestling their best," Sidney head coach Guy Melby said. "It can be a numbers game, as well. The more bullets you have, the more chances you have to score. We expect their best, we expect to give our best and we'll see what happens."

Sidney has five returning state champions and placed 12 wrestlers at last year's state meet. Senior Riley Waters (205 pounds) can cap his career with his third consecutive state title, while junior Aden Graves is chasing his third state championship.

Should the Eagles take care of business, they'll likely waltz to the team title. But there's another goal on the checklist for Melby and his Sidney squad.

"One of our guys' goals -- we sat down last year after the state tournament on Monday, we sat down with all the seniors and wrote down what we wanted to accomplish. One of the things we can still accomplish is placing everybody at the state tournament," Melby said. "Last year we had eight in the finals, and these guys want to get more than eight in the finals. We scored 340 points, and they want to score more than 340 points. Those goals are still attainable. We're looking to break those if we can. There's 20-some other teams that want to do the same thing, so we'll see what happens."

"It's something you don't think about, you don't put it in your kids' minds," Frenchtown head coach Jess Long said of the Sidney juggernaut. "If you start thinking about team stuff, nothing comes together. You just get your kids in the mindset you're going to show up and taking it one situation, one match at a time."

The Eagles got a head start on their championship coronations, as Amaiya Kirn brought home an individual title from the all-class girls state wrestling meet in Lockwood two weeks ago.

"That was a great start. We had two girls and they both placed. Really awesome for those young ladies," Melby said. "Our guys were 100% behind them. We couldn't go down there, we had matches Friday and Saturday, but they all got together and watched the placing matches. It was a great way to start it out. Two state placers out of two, we'll take it."

Western A divisional champion Frenchtown, along with Laurel, Lewistown and Miles City, will be the top contenders to Sidney's throne atop Class A. Frenchtown is bringing 15 wrestlers to the state tournament, including a pair that finished runner-up in 2020.

Landen Stewart (103) and Eli Warner (120) fell in the championship round last year but have been atop the Class A wrestling coaches' poll for the majority of the season in their respective weight classes. The Broncs will need Stewart and Warner to hold up their end of the bargain in pursuit of hardware, as well as Gavin McLean, the top-ranked grappler at 160 pounds.

"Honestly, our only chance to bring home hardware is everybody on our team scores points. Nobody goes two-and-out. We've got two, three kids we hope can get into the finals. Besides that, our shot to a trophy is to put eight, nine kids on a podium, which is going to be tough to do at this tournament," Long said.

Aside from the team race, all eyes will be glued to Lewistown's Cooper Birdwell. Not only is Birdwell looking to become Montana's 37th four-time state wrestling champion, he's looking to do so with an unblemished high school record.

Birdwell has been the top-ranked wrestler at 132 pounds all season after winning titles at 113 as a freshman and 126 as a sophomore and junior.

"Anybody can beat anybody, man. That's why we wrestle," Melby said. "I can't speak for him, but we've had a couple guys that have given him some pretty good runs. He's in our way. We wish the very best for him and to win four in a row would be awesome. ... That takes an exceptional effort. We know where (Birdwell) has been, what he's done and we wish him the best of luck, but anybody can beat anybody so you've got to be ready from the whistle."

"(Birdwell) is a really dynamic wrestler. He's had tons of exposure and he's a good kid," Long said. "I think everyone in the state is rooting for him to win his fourth. It's sad that it's got to happen in a year where the state tournament is split up, because he deserves more than that, better than that. I think if (Birdwell) shows up business as usual, I think he'll get the job done."

Teams arrived in Miles City on Thursday afternoon and will weigh in on Friday morning. First-round action gets under way at 10 a.m.