BILLINGS — The stage was set.
Packed house. Center mat featuring the Billings Senior horseshoe and orange, black and white. The Senior band had entertained the crowd.
And at 3:59 p.m. on Saturday, approximately a half hour after the parade of finalists had finished, Broncs standout Charlie Klepps and Jaden MacNeil of Kalispell Flathead were ready to tangle for the State AA 132-pound title. Klepps led 2-1 at the end of the first and second periods, but with 1:30 left in the match the relentless offense he is known for kicked in and Klepps won a 13-5 major decision.
The Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark crowd came to its feet to give Klepps a standing ovation as he had just become the 32nd four-time state champion in Montana high school wrestling history.
It was the kind of moment fans of the state wrestling tournament live for. Klepps, who improved to 42-3, said he had wondered what it would feel like if he were to achieve the championship.
"It's 100 percent better than I imagined," he said. "And I imagined some pretty cool things."
For Klepps, it was the realization of a dream that began in his childhood when he served as a towel-tapper at the state tourney. With the win, Klepps joins former Bronc Tanner Sprenkle, whom he grew up cheering for, as Senior's four-time state individual champions.
"I can't even believe it," Klepps said. "I remember watching him win his state title and being in the same sentence as him is really cool."
When Klepps was on the podium with the other five state placers he took a couple of deep breaths and smiled before accepting the championship bracket. Then, his accomplishment was read over the PA system and those in attendance came to their feet once again.
"That was really cool, I can't even honestly describe it," Klepps said. "It was insane."
As for the start of the match, Klepps said that's just how it played out. Klepps also knew if it came down to the third period, he would be prepared.
"I knew my pace would end up getting to him," Klepps said. "He's a strong and tough kid and really well-coached."
Senior coach Josh Beeman said he's always been confident in Klepps' abilities, even when his star suffered a rare loss.
"Even in the matches he lost, I can honestly say there wasn't one time I was anxious or scared about the outcome," Beeman said. "I knew he would find a way to do what he had to do when it mattered."
When the match was over, Klepps acknowledged the fans by raising his hands with four fingers raised and did a backflip to celebrate.
"It was pure relief," he said of the backflip. "I did it my sophomore year. I felt like I had to bring it back."
After the win, the celebration was set. But, not before Klepps could cheer on his teammates Alejandro Madrid (103) and Jarret Leinwand (205) as they also won state titles. Klepps said a pizza party was planned and a team breakfast the next day.
Klepps enjoyed every minute of his high school career.
"It goes by so fast. Seriously, it seems like just yesterday," he said of winning a title as a freshman. "I'm really thankful for all that has happened. I've been lucky and fortunate to experience great things."