KALISPELL -- Kalispell Flathead wrestling coach Jeff Thompson his team would have enough of a home mat advantage to help the Braves secure the team title at the Class AA state wrestling tournament this weekend.
Turns out he wasn't far off, as the Braves scored 247 points to edge out the win over second-place Billings Senior, which finished with 239.5 points. Great Falls High, the 2020 state champion, placed third with 192 points, followed by Billings West with 186, Butte with 147 and Helena Capital with 128 in a tightly contested team race.
Flathead got an individual state title from Ethan Freund at 126 pounds and a bevy of points from other high placers. Asher Kemppainen and Fin Nadeau were the runners-up at 132 and 152 pounds, respectively. For Nadeau, a junior, that makes three consecutive runner-up finishes at the state tournament.
Photos: State AA wrestling Day 2
"We’ve been training all year to get it done. People in the backdoor really nailed it shut for us like Chase Youso over here," said Freund, a sophomore. "Those extra wins in the backdoor really put us ahead. I knew that (West's Jesse Aarness) was really good with his single to my right side, so I was really aware of it. I was just staying calm and thinking about how I’m going to work to win and finally broke through and won."
Flathead's Noah Poe-Hatten was also a runner-up, losing a 5-1 decision to Hunter Meinzen of Missoula Big Sky in the 160-pound final. Meinzen, an Oregon State wrestling signee, finishes his high school career as a three-time state champion. Big Sky had two champions on Saturday, as sophomore Izzy Moreno won the 132-pound bracket for the Eagles.
"I just couldn’t be happier to end on a good note with my last high school match of my career but now we’re moving on to bigger and better things so that’s what I’m looking forward to now," Meinzen said. "I wish everybody could have this sort of feeling. I can’t explain it right now, it hasn’t sunk in yet."
Moreno celebrated by jumping into the arms of his father, Big Sky wrestling coach Rick Moreno.
"It’s unbelievable. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid," Izzy Moreno said. "I always wanted to be a four-time high school state champion. Last year didn’t go my way but I made sure this year did.
"I wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am now without my dad."
Flathead's Gabe Lake placed third at 145 pounds, pinning teammate Cade Troupe in the third-place match. Chase Youso also added a third-place finish for the Braves at 170 pounds that effectively sealed the team title for the Braves.
The team win makes it three state championships in five seasons for Flathead as the Braves went back-to-back in 2017 and 2018 as well. This year, the Braves didn't have to travel the trophy across the state with the tournament being held in their home gym.
"Oh man, just so special to be able to wrestle state here at Flathead and being on the black and orange mats," Thompson said. "What a special moment for these wrestlers, the Flathead wrestlers, and I’m still soaking it in, man, it’s so special. We’ve had so much adversity this year, to end on that high note of bringing home a state championship after our girls did it last month, that’s the icing on the cake."
Like Flathead, Billings Senior had just one individual state champion: Thomas Klepps at 170 pounds. But the Broncs got a lot of points from Junior Madrid (third at 103 pounds), Demetrious Salarias (third at 113), Holden Howe (fourth at 113), Jalen Vladic (second at 120), Logan Cole (third at 126), Idren Peak (third at 132), Shawn Miller (third at 160) and Isaiah Murch (fourth at 160). Klepps ends his high school career as a two-time state champion after winning at 160 a year ago.
After a bumpy start to his high school career, Klepps walks away with two titles after following in the footsteps of his older brother, four-time state champion Charlie Klepps.
"Growing up he was a good wrestler always, but I was going like 1-32 every season, not winning many matches," Thomas Klepps said. "And then freshman year didn’t place, sophomore year took sixth, then I came in last year and won it and won it this year too, so it feels pretty good to climb like that."
Billings West freshman Keyan Hernandez started his high school career with a state title at 103 pounds, and his teammates, Jase Van Pelt and Drake Rhodes, added championships for the Golden Bears at 113 and 152, respectively.
"Last year it was rough being runner-up and not doing it so this year I had to do it," Van Pelt said. "What’s going through my mind is I’m not going to take defeat again so this year my mind was set on being a champion and that’s what I did."
"We were wrestling tough and every match we wrestled tough, win or lose, we all went out and tried our best no matter what and I think that’s what got us to seven people in the finals," Hernandez added.
Rhodes, a state champion as a freshman two years ago at 113, was a runner-up last season at 126 before righting the ship on Saturday evening.
"It was definitely hard losing last year and seeing a lot of my teammates lose (Saturday)," Rhodes said. "I know what they’re going through. Just takes a lot of hard work to get back to be the best. It was definitely fun and exciting."
Helena Capital and Great Falls High also had multiple individual winners on Saturday, with Carson DesRosier (138 pounds) and Noah Kovick (205) winning titles for the Bruins and Liam Swanson (182) and Ethan DeRoche (285) claiming championships for the Bison.
"It’s cool that I finished that off like that, and now I get to go wrestle for (Providence) and see how that goes," Swanson said. "I want to win a national championship so that’ll be awesome to see how I do."
"The plan was just to go and try and find a shot and just trying to break him down, tire him out, go with the heavy hands and a winning mindset," DeRoche added. "That’s what it truly came down to and it worked out perfectly."
Kovick moved up in weight after winning the 182-pound title last season to challenge two-time champ Elijah Davis of Great Falls High. Kovick won the bout in a 5-1 decision.
"It’s awesome, I bumped up to wrestle him. I didn’t want to wrestle the same kids I did last year and I beat the crap out of and just walk my way to a state title," Kovick said. "I wanted to earn it, I wanted to have a challenge, so I came and challenged the two-time defending state champ and I proved myself (Saturday) so it’s awesome."
"I felt some pressure going into this match but just because I’ve won in the past or lost in the past, it doesn’t change, you just have to go out there with the mindset of just trying to do the best to do your thing and get anything you can get, win or lose," DesRosier added.
Bozeman High sophomore Avery Allen won his second state title, pinning Great Falls High's Irish Furthmyre in the 145-pound championship, and Teegan Vasquez of Kalispell Glacier, also a sophomore, won the 120-pound bracket. For complete results, please click here.
"It feels good. All of the hard work pays off and yeah it’s a good feeling," Allen said. "I just know that everyone’s tough and you’ve got to respect everyone and same thing it’s just another wrestling match so I wrestle the same every time."
For Vasquez, his celebration will include a big dinner to celebrate his birthday, which falls on March 1. He waited to celebrate, though, so he could make weight at state. Now, the celebration is on.
"It definitely means a lot," Vasquez said. "I was just ready to go wrestle my style, just be dominant like I was raised to be and coached to be so it was pretty dang cool. Love the competition, this definitely makes it more fun to wrestle instead of just having no competition, it makes me want to get that just more."