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Teddy bears to titles: How Billings West’s Keyan Hernandez became a four-time state champ

State wrestling semifinal matches
Posted at 2:15 PM, Feb 12, 2024

BILLINGS — Keyan Hernandez would wrestle anything, including teddy bears. His dad and longtime Billings West head wrestling coach Jeremy Hernandez remembers like it was yesterday.

“He always practiced in my basement and would wrestle his pillows, stuffed animals and hold up four fingers in our basement saying, ‘I want to be a four-timer,’" Jeremy Hernandez said.

Keyan also vividly remembers dreaming about the four-time moment — actually playing out the scenario in his basement.

“It’s crazy because I remember holding up four, three, two, one … and then when you get in there it’s actually so cool,” he said.

That crowning moment arrived in Billings Saturday before thousands of wrestling fans inside a packed First Interstate Arena. Hernandez held off Belgrade’s Mason Gutenberger— the only wrestler to have beaten Hernandez in his high school career — in a 4-1 decision at 126 pounds.

“ ... And when they said my name in the record books, it was just the craziest thing I’ve ever heard," Keyan recalled after the Bears had also won their second straight Class AA team title. "All those people cheering and just getting up … it just made me so happy and my heart just warm.”

Keyan is the only Golden Bear to hold the crown of four-time state champion. He’s only the 41st to accomplish it in Montana.

Rewinding to an interview with MTN Sports four years ago as a baby-faced freshman, a smiling Hernandez tried remembering his first-ever match around age 3 or 4. He was hard-pressed to remember where it took place, or whether he’d even won.

“I just remember I was just rolling around, didn’t really know what to do … just rolling around with the other kid,” he recalled.

Safe to say Hernandez will never forget Saturday's finals match. Nor will his dad, who was a three-time state champ for the Bears.

“As his dad it’s unbelievable," Jeremy said during Saturday night's team celebration. "As his coach it’s just crazy to see how much work he put in to make that dream come true.”

The dreaming is far from over. Keyan is eager to make an impact next fall wrestling for the University of Iowa after signing with his all-time favorite Hawkeyes. Family ties are already planted on campus where his sister Rynzi has been a wrestling team manager for the last four years.

Soaking in Saturday's championships and imagining a brightly pictured future, his thoughts in the moment were simple.

“I’m just so happy," he said.