BILLINGS — Tayt Rogers could already feel a change in the atmosphere on Thursday.
The Bozeman junior stood on one of the 12 wrestling mats strategically placed on the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark floor in Billings during Thursday’s state wrestling practice round, understanding the significance of the weekend ahead.
“State, the state tournament is the most fun tournament of the year because you have your family and friends cheering you on, and also your opponents’ family and friends are cheering them on, so the competitive aura of this arena is nice,” said Rogers, the No. 1 seed from the Eastern AA.
Rogers and his Bozeman teammates are State AA favorites entering the final weekend of the season, having 19 wrestlers qualified for state, with as many as seven holding realistic chances of winning individual titles. Those kinds of expectations may affect some teams, but Rogers and the Hawks enter unfazed.
“We approach it with a mindset of, ‘We put in the work and no match is different than any other match. We just have to go out there and wrestle to the best of our abilities and leave everything out on the mat,'” he said. “This is the last tournament of the year and we wrestle with no regrets, nothing held back.
“I have a mindset of just focusing,” he continued. “All distractions can wait until after the tournament and I want to have no regrets going out there, wrestle better than I’ve ever wrestled before, harder than I’ve wrestled before.”
Noise levels were already increasing dramatically throughout the afternoon Thursday, something that will only multiply on Friday and Saturday. “I would like to think (I can hear my parents,) but no, no I cannot. It’s a jumbled mess,” laughed Rogers, who hopes to bookend his state tournament with strong matches.
“Either the first match, because that’s when you’re getting all the nerves out, or hopefully the last match,” he said of his favorite moment of the tournament. “You know you have nothing to lose, so you just put it all out there.”
While Bozeman will rely heavily on its favored individuals, other teams bring strength in numbers to Metra this weekend. Storied Great Falls High offers 20 wrestlers, many holding opportunities to reach the placer rounds, while No. 2 Billings Senior sends 15 wrestlers to the mats, while its rivals Skyview and West each have 12.
Butte High brought 16 athletes from the Mining City, many with title aspirations of their own, and plans to be in contention for one of the three team trophies.
“Everyone has to come out here and do as good as they possibly can, only worry about what they can control, while giving their best effort,” said 170-pound junior Quinn Sullivan. “If you take care of your job, the team’s job will take care of itself.”
Sullivan, a fourth-place finisher at the Eastern AA seeding tournament, plans to be amongst the athletes standing on the podium Saturday evening, though his potential quarterfinal match Friday could land him against the top wrestler in the weight class.
“Jace Rhodes (is on my side of the bracket). I have a few things up my sleeve to try, but I’ll give it the best I can go,” he said.
One advantage Sullivan has, as do the rest of the Bulldog wrestlers, is arguably the most consistent, and often loudest, fanbase in Class AA.
“I definitely feed off of the crowd and Butte has one of the best fan sections here. It’s nice to wrestle for Butte.”
The 2019 state wrestling tournaments begin Friday morning at 10 a.m. with the parade of athletes, with first-round matches scheduled to begin around 10:20 a.m.
For a link to updated brackets and team scores, please click here.