KALISPELL — Jeff Thompson’s return to the Montana wrestling mats has certainly been impressive. The Kalispell Flathead mentor has guided the Braves to consecutive State AA titles since his return to the mats in the winter of 2016, but the program’s return to dominance has also caught the attention of national wrestling fans.
Flathead was recently ranked No. 37 in the country in Wrestling USA Magazine’s Top 50 high schools in the nation. The National Wrestling Coaches Association and Cliff Keen Wrestling are also associated with the polls. The Braves were the top Montana team recognized after crowning three individual state champions — heavyweight Michael Lee, 182-pound Tucker Nadeau and Payton Hume at 170 pounds. Flathead also earned 15 state placers at the Class AA tournament, including 132-pound runner-up Jaden MacNeill and third-place finisher Kenyon Fretwell at 152 pounds.
“It takes an army to build a nationally-ranked team, from the amazing assistant coaches, parents, Kalispell Wrestling Club (the local feeder program) and all the volunteers that are involved in the Flathead wrestling family,” Thompson said.
Flathead ended the season with a 21-2 record, earning the program’s first national ranking since the Thompson-led 2008 squad was ranked No. 9 in the country. Thompson has previously guided the Braves to national rankings in 2004 and 2007.
The 2017-2018 Braves captured title honors at the prestigious Best of the West tournament in Pasco, Washington and garnered runner-up accolades at the Tri-State Tournament in Idaho, the longest continually running invitational tournament in the Northwest. They defeated Bozeman 288-222 in February’s State AA tournament.
Guy Melby and Sidney returned to the top of the Class A wrestling world, winning the program’s first team title since 2006, when the Eagles were four-peat champions. Melby, who notched his 500th career dual win during the season led two athletes to individual titles — 103-pound sophomore Kaiden Cline and heavyweight senior Ryan Horner — while junior Jace Winter was runner-up at 138 pounds. Freshman Kade Graves, junior Jett Jones and senior Sawyor Thogerson each placed third in the tournament.
Sidney tallied an impressive 250 points to snap Havre High’s five-peat at the Class A tournament.
“This makes quite a statement about how tough Montana wrestling is with two teams nationally ranked in the top 50. Think about how many high schools are in the United States? This is just a great honor to be recognized as one of those top teams in the nation,” said Thompson. “This is one of those honors that team members will remember and tell their kids that they were on a nationally-ranked wrestling team! I’m just so proud of this team and the hard work they put on the mat this season.”