BILLINGS — Admittedly, Kendal Tucker had to pick up the pieces.
She got in on the ground floor of girls wrestling as a freshman at Billings Senior when the sport was sanctioned by the Montana High School Association for the 2020-21 season and promptly went out and won a state title at 152 pounds.
Tucker repeated as the state champion her sophomore year, giving her a chance in the race to become the state’s first four-time titlist in the nascent sport.
But to win four state titles, you must win three first, and Tucker’s dreams were crushed in the finals last season by Custer-Hysham’s Trinity Barrus, who pinned Tucker in four minutes.
“It was heart-breaking at first,” Tucker said Saturday night after freshly minting her third and final state championship by pinning Miles City’s Madilyn Juelke in the 185-pound division of the girls state tournament at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark. “And then I got out of it.”
She got into it quickly in Saturday’s championship match. Tucker’s was the second match of the championship lineup, and she needed just 20 seconds to pin Juelke. In the end, Tucker also earned the quick-pin award for her efforts, needing just 2:53 to pin four opponents.
“I was just ready to go,” Tucker said with a laugh.
The same could be said for Tucker’s entire Broncs squad. They won their second straight Class AA and overall team championship by rolling up 236 points, far ahead of Billings Skyview’s 98 points.
All the teams regardless of classification are lumped together in one team race, though separate trophies are also awarded for the highest Class A finisher and the top B-C placer.
Ronan was the Class A champion, getting titles from freshman River Cote (100 pounds) and Tirza TwoTeeth, her second at 235. The Maidens (who were crowned A-B-C champs last season) recorded 160.5 points to also finished second overall, and Miles City finished third overall and second in Class A at 103.5 points.
The B-C trophies were awarded for the first time this season, and that honor went to Baker. Despite not having an individual champion — Jayda Harbaugh lost her title bout at 165 pounds — the Spartans edged Cut Bank 89-86. The point total also amounted to a fifth-place finish overall for Baker.
“We came up a little bit short of what we set our goals at, but ultimately in the end we got what we wanted,” Baker coach Darrick Gorder said. “We wanted to be competing with the A schools, but we weren’t quite at that level.”
Like the team races, the girls individual tournament lumps all the classifications together in each weight division, giving the girls championship matches a true all-class look.
In breaking down the 24 finalists Saturday night, 10 came from AA schools, six from Class A and eight came for the B-C ranks. Gorder wasn’t too surprised by those numbers.
“It’s pretty diverse, you know,” Gorder said. “You never know where the toughest kids are going to be hiding sometimes.”
Belgrade junior KyLee Lindsley jump-started the night at 165 pounds by winning her second state title with a pin of Harbaugh at 1:59. Tucker followed with her quick victory, and then TwoTeeth did the same by winning in 52 seconds over Haylee Fetters of Cut Bank.
At 100 pounds, Cote pinned Manhattan’s Dani Larson in 1:02 before Simms’ freshman Hayley Petersen re-set the watch on who will be the first four-time champion for the girls.
Poplar’s Angelina Escarcega, a junior, entered the final with two titles under her belt and appeared headed on a four-timer path. But her attempt was derailed when Petersen pinned Escarcega in 1:33 for the 107-pound crown.
“I just knew I had to throw her or I was going to get taken down,” said Petersen, who has now split four matches with Escarcega.
Kalispell Glacier sophomore Kaura Coles (114 pounds) won her second consecutive title with an 11-0 major decision over Great Falls CMR’s Madalyn Deiter, but Helena Capital sophomore Taylor Lay had her repeat title hopes at 120 pounds ended by Bella Downing of Kalispell Flathead with a takedown in the tie-breaking period.
Meadow Mahlmeister, a freshman at Lockwood, became the school’s first girl to win an individual championship in any sport when she decisioned Katie Dolence of Ronan. Simms’ Lili Shubarth defeated Makenzee Neal of Billings Senior 6-2 at 132 pounds for her second title, and Senior’s Paige Gershmel won the 138-pound crown in her senior season by dethroning defending champ Kaitlyn Thorn of Bozeman.
Huntley Project’s Gretchen Donally then joined Senior’s Tucker as a three-time winner with a 3:20 pin over Riley Clampitt of Glacier.
Donally, a senior, finished a second straight undefeated season.
“I’m excited for my future,” said Donally, who will wrestle at Colorado Mesa University. “My coach told me when I was done with my match that I’m not done yet. I’ve got bigger things to do. He told me to just keep working like I am, and everything will be all right, and that’s really just what’s running through me right now.”
The night concluded at 152 pounds with Florence’s Hailey Sutton pinning Barrus in 3:29, denying the Custer-Hysham senior a repeat title.
The Senior girls graduate nine wrestlers from their two-time winning team, but coach Charlie Klepps, who was a four-time state champion during his high school days as a Bronc, was simply happy to soak in this weekend’s efforts.
“Overall, lots of ups and downs,” he said. “At the state tournament, that’s the only thing that’s guaranteed is that you’re going to have sad losses and great wins.
“We rode those waves well, and while it’s definitely not a perfect weekend — I know we have some girls who are bummed out — but they were all a big part of this. So I’m excited for them.”