BILLINGS — Alex Paull couldn’t hold back the tears.
The Kalispell Flathead senior, clearly overcome with emotion, had misty eyes and happy tears as he and teammate Michael Lee stood side by side for an interview Saturday night after the all-class state wrestling tournament had concluded.
Paull and Lee, both heavyweights for the Braves, had just helped Flathead defend its Class AA wrestling championship. More importantly, the duo met in the finals — an overtime thriller that saw Lee escape with a 3-2 ultimate tie-breaker decision.
“It was a hard one because we practice with every other every day,” said Lee. “He knows what I’m going to do and vice versa. It’s really hard to know who’s going to win, but it’s what happens out there in the ending.”
Paull didn’t win the individual gold medal, but you wouldn’t have known it. The senior, silver medal hanging proudly around his neck, smiled from ear to ear as his friend and sparring partner spoke about the championship match.
It was a scenario that seemed fairly unlikely entering the weekend, despite the duo being two of the best heavyweights in all of Montana. But last year’s runner-up, Levi Malcolm of Billings West, as well as undefeated defending champion, Jeff Queer of Butte, would be waiting somewhere in the bracket for the Braves.
Lee wasted little time taking care of Malcolm, winning via pin at the 3:34 mark in the semifinals. That left Queer for Paull, the final match of Saturday’s semifinals with all remaining eyes in Rimrock Auto Arena on the heavyweight mat.
Paull took advantage of the spotlight, which included a rowdy Flathead crowd, and rolled to a 13-5 major decision, handing Queer his first loss and setting up the all-Braves showdown in the finale.
“It’s been one of my big goals all year long to wrestle in the finals with Michael here. When I found out I had Queer in the semifinals, I kind of got scared because I didn’t think I could beat him,” Paull admitted. “I wrestled him twice and got pinned by him twice, so I was super nervous going into that. I don’t know how, but I just beat him. Like I said, it’s been our goal all year to wrestle in the finals with one another and we finally got there.”
“I don’t think we would have gotten where we were, us two wouldn’t have gotten here but we had a goal to go and beat the No. 1, Jeff Queer. That was our goal, to go out and beat him and meet in the finals,” added Lee. “Whoever had to go against him, we knew we had it. We knew we were going to do it. Having our other finalists out there, they’re all unbelievable wrestlers and we all have each other’s back.”
Those happy tears prove it.