BILLINGS — Technical glitches, delays and malfunctions defined the first day of the All-Class State Wrestling Tournament.
But once the grapplers finally hit the mats in Billings at the Metra, the wrestling extravaganza delivered plenty of excitement, especially for Helena Capital.
The Bruins weren't without some issues of their own, as 138-pounder Conner Kovick was knocked out of the tournament with an injury in the opening round. But beyond that, it was a solid day for Capital which advanced five to the semifinals and scored 65 points, good enough for seventh place after day one. Great Falls leads with 127 points, followed by Billings Senior (108.5) and Butte (102).
"Our five guys all got it done today," Capital head coach Jeff Mahana said of his semifinalists. "They all won a bunch of matches with bonus points and that all contributes to the team score. They are wrestling well, so tonight, we will manage their weight and get them ready for tomorrow."
All the Capital wrestlers will manage their weight, except heavyweight Josh Lee.
"That's right," Mahana said with a chuckle as he was reminded of Lee, who weighs around 220 but is a heavyweight, meaning his weight isn't an issue. "I think he already has cinnamon rolls or something."
Whether it was cinnamon rolls or just his last state tournament, Lee was dominant Friday, winning his first match by fall and taking the second via an 8-1 decision, a win that sent him to the semis for the first time.
"It feels amazing," Lee said. "It's been an awesome road here with my coaches and my teammates. It has been a great journey."
Saturday, Lee will square off against Ethan Deroche of Great Falls High, who is the defending AA champ in the heavyweight division. But Lee isn't intimidated. In fact, he's just enjoying the ride.
"It's kind of hard to wrap my mind around what it will be like without wrestling," Lee said. "It's a relief but it's also sad because we have made so many great memories as a team."
Lee is certainly hoping he can make another lasting memory in the semifinals against Deroche, but he won't be the only Bruin pushing for finals night Saturday morning.
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The first will be Capital's lone defending state champion, Carson DesRosier, who opened the tournament with a 29-second pin before advancing to the semifinals with a 10-2 decision over Conner Konda.
On Saturday, a rematch looms for DesRosier with RJ Lowdog of Billings West. The two wrestled a triple-overtime match earlier this season that was won by DesRosier. The winner will likely face Avery Allen of Bozeman, who defeated DesRosier in the Jug Beck final back in January.
Another Capital wrestler that will look to follow what DesRosier did last season, making finals night as a freshman, is Dylan Graham.
The 152-pounder won decisions over Brendan Gill, a senior from Belgrade and Isaiah Murch, a junior from Billings Senior on his way to assuring himself a spot on the podium, in the top six.
"The atmosphere is super cool," Graham said of state wrestling. "It's like walking out as a gladiator at the coliseum. It's something special for sure but I just have to try and treat it like another match and wrestle."
In the upper weights, Capital also sent top-ranked Noah Kovick into the semis at 182 pounds and at 205 pounds, senior Zane McCormick notched a pair of second-period pins to reach the final four in his weight class for the second straight year.
"I feel like I am wrestling really well right now, my technique is really good," McCormick said. "Tomorrow, I just have to be light on my feet. That's the key. But I am not worried, win, lose or draw, I am just going to go as hard as I can."
McCormick will face Brenner Bushfield of Billings Skyview for a berth in the finals; Kovick will see Liam Swanson of Great Falls High.
Freshman Hunter Rahn (103 pounds) also advanced to Saturday for the Bruins and needs one more win to reach the podium.
For Helena High and the nine guys the Bengals sent, the first day at state was a struggle. Only Justice Seamons (160) and Ian Mehrens (120) are still alive for the podium after winning twice. Jason Mandy (103), Nathon Elmose (113) and David Kemp (138) each won one match before being eliminated.
While much of the attention over the weekend will go the teams and individuals that win titles, there was a little history made by East Helena Friday, as the Vigilantes not only had their first wrestler compete at state wrestling, but got the first state win in program history as Carlos Estrda earned a win by forfeit.
The freshman lost his other two matches, but will always have that piece of East Helena wrestling history.