BILLINGS — Leif Schroeder’s backflip said it all.
The Bozeman High junior, having just defeated Kalispell Flathead’s Fin Nadeau by pinfall in their 132-pound state championship wrestling match, jumped to his feet, hit a cartwheel and turned it into a backflip that dazzled the Bozeman contingent at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Saturday.
The normally reserved Schroeder let out a year’s worth of frustration with his display of athleticism.
“I just think that this weekend I had a lot of emotion because of the team title and how hard I’ve worked this year,” said Schroeder, now a three-time individual state champion. “It really paid off, and I haven’t felt this good before. It feels really good.”
It was a much different side of Schroeder compared to last year’s state tournament in Billings. Despite collecting his then-second state title, Bozeman fell to Flathead in the team race, sending the Hawks down Interstate 90 with disappointment and what-ifs.
Schroeder and the rest of the Hawks made sure this year’s trip was different.
“I just wanted to do it for my teammates. Last year, obviously we didn’t win the team title and I didn’t pin my way through (the state bracket) and I kind of felt like some of the blame was on me, even though we were so far behind,” Schroeder said, shortly after securing his fourth consecutive pin of the state tournament. “But I just wanted to go out and do it for my teammates and all the Bozeman fans.”
“It means so much. (The first-place trophy) hasn’t been in Bozeman in a long time and we all know how hard we worked,” he continued. It feels amazing for it to be coming back to Bozeman.”
The Hawks tallied an impressive 260.5 team points, second in the entire tournament to only Sidney, which set a new Class A record with 310.5 points. Great Falls High was second in Class AA with 197.5 points, while Billings Senior claimed the third-place trophy with 179 points.
Bozeman had all but wrapped up its state championship before the finals, but Nate Laslovich’s squad sent five wrestlers to the championships, with 152-pound Chance McLane joining Schroeder as a state champion.
McLane, who will wrestle at Oklahoma State next year, pinned Great Falls High’s Caden Hilliard in the third period.
“It feels super good. I know it hurt last year, we had worked super hard, so that was my main goal this year was getting my team ready,” said McLane, a three-time state champion. “I knew we could do it, we had the team to do it and we really did it, we had a beatdown.”
McLane’s was the final bout of the evening, the Class A and Class B/C 152-pound matches already concluded, allowing him to soak up the final seconds of his prep career. His celebration included a Pistol Pete reference — McLane shooting make-believe guns up in the air, similar to the Oklahoma State mascot.
“It’s really nice, a good feeling to be the last one out there when everyone is watching you,” he said. “It feels good to win and I liked watching my whole team perform. I thought we had a really good weekend, so that just wraps it up nice.”
“I hope I taught them to work hard, support each other and just keep grinding and working harder,” he continued, discussing his advice to his younger teammates.
Butte High entered the state tournament with trophy hopes, but the Bulldogs couldn’t keep pace with Bozeman, Great Falls, Senior and fourth-place Missoula Big Sky. But the Mining City did crown its latest champion when 205-pound Kameron Moreno pinned Bozeman’s McCade O’Reilly.
“I just love being from Butte. I’m so proud, the crowd is so proud of me, I’m so proud of them,” said Moreno. “I had the best crowd in the whole state, I think.”
Moreno’s teammate Carl Anderson placed runner-up at 160 pounds, with Helena’s Devin Crawford earning a quick pinfall in the opening period.
Belgrade’s John Mears will join Schroeder in chasing a fourth consecutive title next winter. The Panthers’ standout won his third State A title with a 5-0 decision over Bridger Wenzel of Polson.
“I’m always in the moment, so I don’t hear much of the energy, usually,” Mears said. “Maybe after the match when my student section was hollering, that was pretty good.”
The road to four titles could certainly be more challenging for Mears next winter, as Belgrade is set to make the move to Class AA, though the Panthers already meet many of those schools during the wrestling season.
Mears said he won’t back down from the challenge, no matter who may be in his weight class.
“I’m definitely thinking four (titles),” said Mears. “We’re going up to Class AA next year, so that’s going to be another challenge, but I think I can work hard enough in this offseason.”
“I’m going to just go into what weight I land at,” he continued. “If there’s somebody tough, I’m going to have to wrestle them. I’m not a guy that tries to avoid anybody to get four (titles), I’m just going to wrestle in my weight class.”
Mears and Belgrade finished eighth in the State A team rankings, Dillon and runner-up wrestlers Cooper Hoffman (160 pounds) and Noah Huffaker (103) were 12th, while Livingston and 205-pound state champion Shane Gibson placed 19th.
Colstrip and Circle ran away with the Class B and C team titles, respectively, but there was one honor that the Colts didn’t get their hands on. Four-time state champion Jackson Currier was thought to be the favorite to win the Class B/C quick-pin award, but Whitehall’s 132-pound champion Connor Johnson took the honor.
Johnson pinned opponents in 54 seconds, 1:25, 2:18 and 46 seconds.
“It’s a pretty big deal because we haven’t had a state champion at Whitehall since, I think, 2006,” said Johnson. “It was a big deal for our community, me, our coaches and everything.
“It was a big deal for me, winning the (Southern B/C) divisional quick pin, then coming here and winning this quick pin, it means a lot to me,” he continued.
For complete results and team scores from the state wrestling tournaments, please click the links below.