BILLINGS — Sidney didn’t win the Class A team championship during the final session of the 2018 state wrestling tournament.
It mathematically took it much earlier in the day. In fact, it just might have been right around the time the Eagles’ 160-pounders Jett Jones and Avery Gurney finished a third-place match against one another. Jones won and as the ref held his arm up to indicate this, the wrestler pulled up Gurney’s arm as well.
A sign of respect, yes, but it was also Sidney’s tournament in a nutshell — the win was truly a team effort. All 17 wrestlers the Eagles brought to Billings scored team points and the team had 11 state placers.
“We had 17 guys come, that’s a full squad, that rarely happens,” Gurney said. “It’s huge and it’s never happened to us before and it helped us.”
Sidney ended the tournament with 250 points, well out of the reach of second-place Havre (188) and third-place Lewistown (185). Sidney head coach Guy Melby has now won nine state titles and finished in the top-three 22 times.
It’s the first wrestling team championship for the Eagles since 2006.
“It feels good to be back,” Melby said. “I’ll tell you what, our kids have performed and have gotten stronger the second day of every tournament we’ve been to. We woke up this morning and were 16 points down and we win by over 60.
“We just had some great rounds.”
Five Sidney wrestlers made it to the state finals, with two winning — heavyweight Ryan Horner and 103-pounder Kaiden Cline.
It was the first time Horner, a senior, has ever placed at state. He won with a pin of Glendive’s Keegan Mires of the final seconds of the match. Cline is just a freshman and took the championship with an 8-4 decision over Lewistown’s Wyatt Mager.
“I think this is a good ending note to my high school career,” Horner said. “To come here and be state champ is mind-blowing. I never expected this.”
The Eagles’ win also snapped a five-year streak of Havre state titles. The Blue Ponies won both of their state championship bouts — Martin Wilkie at 145 and Tyler Schaub at 205 — but could simply not match Sidney’s output in the backside of the bracket.
Havre started the day with just 10 wrestlers still alive. Sidney had 14.
“We had a good weekend,” the Blue Ponies’ head coach Scott Filius said. “The kids wrestled hard and obviously we’d like to do a little better than that, but congratulations to Sidney and congratulations to Lewistown, both those teams wrestled hard and it was fun to compete with them.”
Havre certainly had its highlights as Wilike absolutely dominated the 145 pound bracket, winning his first three matches by fall in a combined three minutes and 45 seconds. He beat Glendive’s Ben Stortz 8-2 in the final.
The team loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but the junior has now even more motivation as he prepares for next season, when he could become Montana’s 33rd four-time state champion.
“It feels good, but I feel bad for my team,” Wilike said of his win. “I think we’re ready to go get it next year. We need to put in some time and work on some things.”
Sidney just might have something to say about that. The Eagles bring back all but four of their wrestlers and the only finalist they lose is Horner.
Melby feels this is the start of something special.
“It’s good for Sidney,” Melby said. “We’re not going any place either, we have a lot of guys coming back and a good crew coming in. Truthfully I thought we were a year away from winning it. I’m sure glad I didn’t tell these guys.”