BILLINGS — You wouldn’t know Nate Laslovich and Jeff Thompson are battling for a state championship.
The two wrestling coaches, Laslovich at Bozeman and Thompson at Kalispell Flathead, were full of jokes Friday evening at Rimrock Auto Arena, the site of the all-class state wrestling tournaments. Flathead leads the Class AA team standings with 133 points. Bozeman is second with 107 and Billings Skyview sits in third place with 100.5 after the first day of action.
“It’s been good. Good talk,” Laslovich laughed, pretending to walk away when asked about his Hawks’ first-day performance.
Thompson and the Braves are the defending champions, but Laslovich and Bozeman are loaded with numbers in Saturday’s semifinals. Eight different Hawks will wrestle for an opportunity to compete in Saturday’s championships.
Flathead pushed eight wrestlers through to Saturday’s semifinal round, including two each at 103 pounds and heavyweight — Tilynne Vasquez and Brendan Barnes at 103, Alex Paull and Michael Lee at 285 — but admittedly could have sent more.
“We lost a few that we would maybe love to have back, but like I said, that’s state,” Thompson said. “We have to keep battling. Bozeman won two (consolation) overtime matches and that’s going to really help them here. We need to come through in the consolation rounds and score some points, and we’re going to probably have to get a pretty good lead being their big guns, they have seven guys that could possibly be in the finals.”
“Those were big. You lose those matches, and they’re in the wrestle-back, but it’s good to have them in the backdoor and still get them into the consolation finals,” Laslovich said of the consolation wins. “It was pretty wild. I think I might have lost a year (of my life) there.”
While the team race will likely come down to the results of Saturday’s championship matches, Bozeman believes it has an edge in experience in the likes of Leif Schroeder, Chance McLane and Keegan Mulhill.
“I hope so. It’s 50-50. Somebody is going to win and somebody isn’t. We just have to wrestle. We have some guys in the consolation that I know don’t want to be there, but they have to come through for us. I’m pumped about the way we’re wrestling,” Laslovich said. “It’s great for our attitude and morale. The guys are really fired up right now. They’re slapping my hand really hard right now. I can tell when they walk by and give you a weak slap, you know they’re not really excited. Right now my hands are hurting.”
Thompson echoed the excitement of his Braves, noting that even athletes in the consolation round remain focused and enthusiastic.
Flathead will chase a strong effort in Saturday morning’s consolation round, and ride its strongest wrestlers through the remainder of the championship bracket.
“Starting with Garrett Rieke at 160 and moving up to our two heavyweights, we have to get at least four of those guys into the finals,” Thompson said, referring to a group of wrestlers that includes Payton Hume and Tucker Nadeau. “It’s going to be a war (Saturday), it’s going to be a battle. We have to get a good night’s sleep and hopefully we’re ready to go.”
Billings Senior’s Charlie Klepps, the only wrestler chasing a fourth consecutive individual title, needed a bit of a wakeup call in his quarterfinal match against Missoula Big Sky’s Dayton Evans. Evans scored a quick takedown, dropping Klepps to the mat and drawing the attention of the Class AA crowd. But the 2-0 deficit fueled Klepps to victory, winning by pin at 3:53.
Saturday’s matches will begin at 10 a.m. The championships are scheduled for 4 p.m.
The complete team scores after the opening round can be found below. To view individual bracket results, please click here. App users, please copy and paste this link into your mobile web browser: http://bit.ly/state-wrestling
For more highlights from the first day of State AA wrestling action, please click here.
1. Kalispell Flathead 133
2. Bozeman 107
3. Billings Skyview 100.5
4. Great Falls High 91.5
5. Helena Capital 70
6. Billings Senior 67.5
T7. Missoula Big Sky 63
T7. Missoula Sentinel 63
9. Butte 62
10. Kalispell Glacier 43
11. Billings West 43
12. Great Falls CMR 34
13. Helena High 31
14. Missoula Hellgate 9