BILLINGS — Charlie Klepps paced the edge of the mats, walking up and down watching the action unfold before him. The Billings Senior star was on deck and would be wrestling next.
Most in the stands probably weren't watching Klepps at that point as 12 matches were going on, but when he took the mat, undoubtedly many fans at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark gazed that way to capture the match.
Klepps is trying to become the 32nd wrestler to win four state championships at this weekend's 29th Montana High School Association State All-Class Wrestling Tournament.
At 2:39 p.m. on Friday, Klepps checked in at the scorer's table. Moments later, the match started. After falling behind 2-0 on an early takedown, Klepps quickly went to work and led 5-3 after one period. At the time of his pinfall win in in 3:53 over Dayton Evans of Missoula Big Sky, Klepps led 16-7. Klepps also won his first-round match by pin in 2:48. With the two wins, he moved on to the 132-pound State AA semifinals and is halfway home to his fourth state wrestling championship.
"That's my style I like to wrestle with is to keep the pressure on," Klepps said of piling up points on takedowns.
With the wins, Klepps improved to 40-3 with 22 pins. He will be matched up with Reece Eckley of Missoula Sentinel in the semifinals. Klepps said he won't change his normal routine.
"Just rest and get a lot of sleep," Klepps said. "I'll just get a good amount of sleep and get hydrated and make sure my weight is good."
Although people in Billings awoke to 7 to 8 inches of snow on the ground Friday morning, there were plenty of fans at Metra. Klepps said that did not surprise him.
"To be honest, wrestling fans are pretty crazy," he said. "I had a good feeling all the fans would come up and stick it out."
Klepps said rather than completely focusing on his fourth state championship, he is enjoying the moment. This will be the last time he wrestles at Metra and he appreciates the history of the tournament, the fans, the competition and camaraderie.
"One of my coaches said this morning to just soak it all in," said Klepps referencing his assistant coach Bill Barnhill's advice.
Now, if all goes according to plan and Klepps wins his semifinal match, he only has two bouts left in his high school career.
"It seems like the whole season has gone by too fast," Klepps said. "But, yeah, the first day flies by once you get here."
Flathead leads the team race
Defending champion Kalispell Flathead built a 133-107 lead over Bozeman after the first day of competition. Billings Skyview was third with 100.5
Both Flathead and Bozeman have eight in the semifinals.
While plenty of points are up for grabs in the semifinal round, Flathead coach Jeff Thompson said he believes the team race has the potential to be undecided until the championship round.
"The semifinals are always the key round. A lot of years it puts the nails in the coffin," he said. "But, I don't think it is this year. The team race could go all the way to the finals."
Thompson said the Braves are in control of their own destiny.
"We need to relax and focus on scoring points and wrestle to win and not wrestle not to lose," he said. "We have to keep our foot on the gas and win some unexpected matches tomorrow morning."
Bozeman coach Nate Laslovich said his Hawks are "pretty fired up right now. They are all slapping my hand really hard."
That's because the Hawks know they have a "50-50" chance to dethrone the Braves. For that to happen, Laslovich said his team needs pins and bonus-point wins.
"We just have to wrestle," he said. "Guys in the wrestlebacks have to come back and pick up pin points."
Vasquez will place again
Last season Kalispell Flathead's Tilynne Vasquez became the first girl to place in the State AA tourney and only the second ever to achieve top-six status at a MHSA state wrestling meet.
Now the sophomore, who won the Western AA 103-pound seeding meet, will become a two-time state placer as she is in the semifinal round. Vasquez won her first-round match via forfeit before claiming a pin while leading 2-0 in her quarterfinal-round match. She's pitted against Billings Skyview's Gentry Lamb in the semifinals.
"It feels awesome," she said. "I've been looking forward to it all season. I love wrestling in this tournament."
Vasquez said the Braves are ready to defend their title.
"The team, our focus, is to bring back home the state championship," she said. "We all know we are the best in the state and now we have to go out and prove it."