BILLINGS – More than 50 teams from all corners of Montana will walk into the all-class state wrestling meet Friday morning, but the Sidney Eagles have their eyes on just one – the Havre Blue Ponies.
“Last year at the Class A duals, we dueled them for the finals and we got demolished,” said Avery Gurney, a 160-pound senior.
“They’ve always been one step ahead of us, so it’s meant a lot to us to finally be one step ahead of them,” added 145-pound senior Jace Johnson.
Havre has owned Class A wrestling for more than a decade. The Blue Ponies have won nine of the past 11 state titles and were the preseason pick to do it again. But the tides seem to be turning. Sidney defeated Havre at this year’s Class A duals, and then again at last week’s Eastern A divisional.
“There’s 25 kids who are all on the same page, and they push each other every day in practice,” said Sidney head coach Guy Melby. “We’re excited about that, and they’re pretty dang hungry. You know, we haven’t won a state title in a while.”
2006, in fact. Back then, Melby only had a couple hundred dual wins under his belt. Now, he’s the first in Montana history to hit the 500-win mark.
“In 2013 we broke 400,” said Gurney, “so we’ve had over 100 dual wins in four years.”
“The turnaround he’s made from this team in one year – last year we were like 10th in the state and now we’re ranked first this year,” said Johnson, “so it meant a lot to us to get it.”
Sidney placed 11th at last year’s state tournament, the Eagles’ worst finish in years. You might think kids look back on it with disdain, but it’s quite the contrary.
“You know, last year was probably my favorite year,” Gurney said. “Coaches often say that you can see each other get better, and last year you could definitely tell. You could definitely see it.”
Now they’re back on top, entering state as the No. 1-ranked team, but Melby knows that ranking doesn’t mean anything until Saturday night.
“They’re not going to remember 500 dual wins,” he said. “They’ll certainly remember a state championship, and that’s what we’re headed towards.”
The tournament begins Friday at 10 a.m. with the Parade of Athletes.