HELENA — The Montana high school wrestling season gets underway on Saturday for some teams across the state and it will be the start of a year unlike any other.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state wrestling tournaments will now take place March 5-6, but the traditional All-Class state wrestling meet will not be held.
Instead, for the first time since 2011, not all the classifications will hold their tournaments at the same venue and the new host sites have yet to be announced. The details for the girls state wrestling tournament also are still waiting to be finalized.
While competitions and schedules will be different, many of teams holding the state trophies at the end could be the same and here's a look ahead to the 2021 high school wrestling season.
2020 state champion: Great Falls High
There are nine state champions returning in Class AA from last season and two of them are from Great Falls High, the defending state champs. The Bison return nine placers from a year ago including Elijah Davis (205) and Ethan DeRoche (285) who are each looking to become three-time champions. Davis could be part of a showdown in the 205-pound weight class as Helena Capital's Noah Kovick, the champion at 182 pounds last year has moved up.
Great Falls High won the team title by 45.5 points and the other two teams on the podium, Kalispell Flathead and Billings Senior each return six top-6 finishers from a year ago, as does Billings West. Hunter Meinzen of Missoula Big Sky will join DeRoche and Davis in the pursuit of a third-state title, while sophomores Avery Allen of Bozeman High and Teegan Vasquez of Kalispell Glacier will be aiming for their second titles, which would get them halfway to becoming four-time champions.
2020 state champion: Sidney
Sidney is aiming for a fourth consecutive state championship in Class A and quite frankly, it would be stunning if the Eagles didn't achieve it.
There are eight returning individual champions in Class A from last season and five of them reside with the Eagles. No other team has more than two. Havre does have two previous state champions as Orion Thivierge won a title last year, as did Mick Chagnon when he was a sophomore.
Havre, Livingston and Laurel each have four wrestlers back who found the podium last season but the Eagles have 12 from a 184-point win in the team race, including champions Aden Graves, Riley Waters, Brodey Skogen, Jordan Darby and Owen Lonski. Graves and Waters will each be looking to win their third state title.
Lewistown could be the biggest threat with six placers returning and potential four-time champion Cooper Birdwell leading the way, but it will still be an uphill climb. Yet, Birdwell will be favored to make history after winning his third championship last year.
2020 state champion: Glasgow (B), Circle (C)
Speaking of potential four-time state champions, Eureka's Gunnar Smith joins Birdwell as the only possible four-time winner this year and in terms of team races, the competition in Class B could be as tight as any.
Glasgow took the title last year with 154 points, 20 ahead of Huntley Project and 28 in front of third-place Eureka. There are nine returning state champions in B-C, two classes that crown separate champions and three are from Glasgow, which put six grapplers total on the podium.
The Scotties Colten Fast and Dylan Nieskens will be in search of their third state championships and as a team, the Scotties are the favorite in the Class B, as is Circle, a three-time defending champions in Class C.
Krayle Stormer is a two-time champion for Circle and one of two returning champions on the team overall. Circle has five placers returning after winning the Class C title in 2020 by 49.5 points.
Lonski of Sidney and Nate Blodnick of Anaconda are the only other sophomore in the state with the chance to win a second state titles, making it four overall in pursuit.