SIDNEY -- Guy Melby isn't fazed by the high expectations. Not anymore.
The longtime Sidney High School wrestling coach has seemingly seen it all in his 34 years with the program, so when the Eagles broke their own scoring record en route to a third consecutive Class A state championship last February, amassing an astounding 340 points (breaking their previous record of 310.5 set in 2019), it was all in a day's work for Melby and his staff.
“We’re used to that. We sit down the Monday after the state tournament, last year I sat down with those juniors and said, ‘All right, what do we have going on? What are our goals for this upcoming year?’" Melby recalled of forecasting the 2020-21 season. "Obviously one of our first goals is to be state champions. That’s our sight right now, (state champions), divisional champions, doing what we can.”
That's tough news for other Class A programs around Montana. Sidney placed 15 of the maximum 17 wrestlers at last winter's state tournament, and seven of those were individual state champions. Five of those titlists -- Owen Lonski, Jordan Darby, Aden Graves, Riley Waters and Brodey Skogen -- return this season, with 12 Eagles in all back on the mats after placing one year ago.
“It was pretty impressive. ... We were pretty tough back in 2006, too, we had won four in a row and had three high school all-Americans on that team that had done some pretty special things, too. That’s kind of the story around here, ‘Which team was better, that team or this team?’" Melby said. "We couldn’t bring extra guys back then, but now we can bring four extra guys, and we really think last year we sat a couple guys at home that probably could have placed, as well, so very special team.
"This year, I think we’re equally as tough as those years. I think we have nine, 10 seniors, so we’re pretty senior heavy. Those guys have all been to the state tournament numerous times, for some it’s their fourth time, so they’re pretty used to that kind of stuff. Then we have a lot of returning state champs and placers. This team, I think, will be special. We won’t get a chance to do some of the things we wanted to do, but again, we’re going to make the best of it. Our ultimate goal, the first week of March, we want to be four-time (consecutive) state champs and 12-time state champs overall, so that’s what we’re gunning for.”
Graves and Waters, in particular, have a chance to make personal history, too. Both enter the season as two-time reigning champions, looking to join an ever-growing, though still prestigious, list of three-time Montana high school state champions.
Graves has an opportunity to do one better.
“Aden has a chance to be our next four-timer, which is pretty special," Melby said of his junior. "Riley, hopefully will be a three-timer. Those guys have been working their tails off. ... Those are two pretty good leaders, they lead by example, not only in the weight room, but the wrestling room, as well, so we’re excited to have them aboard. I tell Aden he has a chance to be our next four-timer, and that would be our third, but what’s even more special is we have a board in our wrestling room with the four-time state placers, they both have a chance to be four-time state placers, and that’s pretty special, as well.”
Sidney has cemented itself as one of the top wrestling programs in Montana history, joining the likes of Butte, Missoula Sentinel, Glasgow, Havre and Kalispell Flathead. The Treasure State wrestling community is one big family, benefiting from improvements statewide.
Melby and the Eagles have done their part to increase the competition level across Montana, from summer camps to AAU trips and in-season duals. Circle coach Ty Taylor, whose Wildcats are chasing a Class C four-peat this winter, credited the Sidney Wrestling Club for their successes, as well.
“It’s all about Montana wrestling as far as we’re concerned. We bring 150 kids to Iowa every spring, we bring another 50-60 to Florida. We take all comers. We have a camp here every summer and there’s well over 100 kids at our camp every summer," said Melby, who was inducted into the AAU Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018. "We’ve kind of grown up with those Circle guys. They jump on our bus and go wherever we go. Ty has done a wonderful job there, too, and I think they’re gunning for their fourth state title in a row. That’s special.
"You look at our area, we’re state champs, Circle is state champs, Glasgow is state champs, and we’re all within a couple hours of each other. That’s pretty special. There’s definitely something in the water around here, for sure.”
That special ingredient should bode well for the Eagles, Scotties and Wildcats this winter, too, with each likely to repeat as its classification team champion. In fact, Sidney may be Class A's cream of the crop for some time to come.
“We’ve got some younger guys, too, and I think everybody is looking at our roster going, ‘You have 10 seniors? Looks like the cupboard is going to be dry.’ Not so much. We expect to be in the race the next three, four, five years," said Melby. "We have young guys coming up that we’ve been watching for years, coaching them for years, so we’re ready. We have some guys that are going to break through.
"One of our goals is to place all 17 guys that we qualify, and we really think that’s possible. Last year we placed 15, so that’s one of their goals. They want that to happen. Whether that does or not, if you don’t aim for it, it won’t happen, so we’re going to try to get 17 in there.”
At this point, would it even be a surprise?
NOTES: Melby said Sidney has two female wrestlers on this year's team, prepping for the first year of the Montana High School Association-sanctioned girls wrestling league. That division will host its own state tournament, though the site and dates are to be determined. The boys state tournaments will be held at three separate sites, one each for Class AA, Class A and Class B-C. ... Sidney was one of 32 teams invited to compete in The Clash XIX, one of the top wrestling competitions in the country. The Clash tournament committee announced in October the Rochester, Minn. event would be canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Minnesota State High School League's decision to eliminate tournaments forced the tournament committee to cancel the 2021 version, with the next event scheduled for Jan. 7-8, 2022.