BILLINGS — Go ahead and call Gretchen Donally and Kendal Tucker among the originals, part of the first group of girls to give high school wrestling a try when it was first sanctioned by the Montana High School Association four years ago.
While neither Donally, a senior from Huntley Project, nor Tucker, a senior from Billings Senior, can reach the pinnacle of being labeled a four-time state champion — no female wrestler has accomplished that yet — they both could achieve the next-best thing: Winning three state titles.
The first day of the girls wrestling tournament wrapped up at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark on Friday with both Donally and Tucker earning semifinal berths in their respective weight classes.
Donally, at 145 pounds, won at 138 pounds last season, following up her title win in 2022 at 145 as a sophomore. She’s forged her more-than-successful career only after convincing her parents to allow her to wrestle her freshman season, she said.
In so doing, she’s found her place.
“I never really imagined that it would take me this far, that I would be chasing titles,” Donally said. “I never imagined I would be wrestling in the first place, but it’s been great and I really love it.
"I think a lot of it's due to the work I've put in and the practice partners I've had. I've been incredibly blessed with opportunities. My coaching staff has been great and my partners have been great."
It’s the same sentiment for Tucker, who was a basketball player receiving little court time in junior high. That prompted her decision to switch sports even though she had no wrestling experience.
She turned that desire into 2021 and ’22 state championships at 152 pounds before taking home a runner-up finish to Custer-Hysham’s Trinity Barrus last season.
In the 185-pound division this season, Tucker, too, has relished her journey in the wrestling ranks.
“It’s cool to be one of the firsts,” she said. “I’m one of the first girl state champs, so it’s just kind of cool to know that I’ve made that part of history.
"It's been exciting. I've learned a lot about myself, and I think the sport has really grown me as a person."
Poplar’s Angelina Escarcega advanced to the 107-pound semifinals with a hard-earned pin of Billings Senior’s Sophi Catt in Friday’s quarterfinals, keeping Escarcega on track for her third straight title, as well.
Only a junior, Escacega won a state title at 103 pounds her freshman season and 100 pounds last year.
After beating Cadence Crookston of Simms with a pin in 25 seconds on Friday, Escarcega went into the third period with Catt before pinning the Bronc in 5:38. Even then, Escarcega needed to squirm out of a difficult situation late in the second period with an escape to break a tie score, then after the period break finally finished Catt off.
For Escarcega, it was her 100th career win.
As for other returning state champions, plenty reached the semifinals.
Kalispell Glacier sophomore Kaura Coles is trying to go 2-for-2 at 114 pounds, as is Helena Capital sophomore Taylor Lay at 120 pounds.
Bozeman’s Kaitlyn Thorn, a junior, won the 138-pound division last year and is in the semis this year. Custer-Hysham’s Barrus (152 pounds), Belgrade’s KyLee Lindsley (165) and Ronan’s Tirza TwoTeeth (235) are also in the semifinals with chances to win repeat titles.
Defending AA team champion Billings Senior held a big overall lead after the first day. The Broncs led the way with 137 points, while Class A’s Miles City and Ronan were tied for second in the overall standings with 83.5. Class AA Billings Skyview was fourth (74) and Class B-C Baker (69) fifth.
This season marks the first time in the four-year history of girls wrestling that team champs will be crowned in the three divisions. As such, that makes the top three in AA as: Senior (137), Skyview (74) and Kalispell Flathead (64).
The top three Class A teams were Miles City and defending A trophy winner Ronan, with Lockwood a distant third at 46 points. For comparison purposes, Ronan had four semifinalists set for Saturday, while Miles City put two in the semis.
Trailing Baker for the B-C lead were Cut Bank (62 points) and Anaconda (51).
Unlike the boys tournament, which has different weight brackets for each classification, each weight bracket in the girls tournament includes wrestlers from all the classifications.
Saturday’s championship semifinals and consolation quarterfinals begin at 9:30 a.m. The parade of finalists is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. with the title matches to follow.