MISSOULA — Missoula Big Sky freshman Zane Martin got beat out for the starting spot at 103 pounds to open the season, which wouldn’t be too unusual given that he was going up against a senior who had been a state qualifier.
But the longtime wrestler continued to work on improving, earned the starting job midway through the season and emerged as the Western AA’s top seed for state at Saturday’s seeding tournament as he chases his dream of being a state champion.
“I’ve been training 10 years for this and worked really hard. It’s exciting,” said Martin, who was one of four Big Sky wrestlers to earn the top seed in their weight class, the most by any of the seven schools at the non-team-scoring tournament hosted by the Eagles. Flathead and Glacier each had three top finishers, Helena High got two and Helena Capital had one.
Martin, originally from Stevensville, began wrestling in first grade, or as he put it “as soon as they allowed me to.” He moved to Missoula around fourth grade and has since been training at Sudden Victory Wrestling Academy, owned by Big Sky head coach Rick Moreno, practicing three days a week there during the season in addition to his regular team workouts.
“He’s been a steady climber,” Moreno said of the 15-year old. “It’s just been keeping him there mentally and keeping him believing in himself. There’s not many times now you see him get rattled.”
In order to earn the top seed out of the west, Martin had to win three consecutive matches. He pulled off the victories, winning each by pin in a combined four minutes, 43 seconds.
“It was surprising. I didn’t think I could do it at all like how I did it,” Martin said. “It made me happy to know I finally punched my ticket to state. It raises my confidence.”
In the first-place match, he topped Big Sky senior Tony Silveria, who had beaten him for the starting spot to begin the season. He needed two minutes, 51 seconds to earn the victory after nearly winning by pin in the first period.
“He works hard,” said Silveria, who is regular practice partners with Martin. “He’s good at technique. He’s crisp.”
Big Sky senior Wyatt Shinn has wrestled at 160, 170 and 182 pounds this season and could have gone at any of those weight classes for state. He gave up nearly 20 pounds by wrestling at 182 but used his speed and pushed the pace to beat the bigger bruisers and earn the top seed.
“I call him James Brown because he’s our hardest worker,” Moreno said of Shinn, comparing him to late soul singer James Brown, known as ‘the hardest working man in show business.’ “No one works harder than him. He was able to break down those bigger guys because he outworks them with tempo.”
Shinn went 3-0, and while the championship match was more important for seeding, his semifinal pin of Sentinel senior Camrin Doty was of more significance and drew one of the loudest cheers of the day.
“That one was more personally special for me because we grew up together,” Shinn said. “We’ve known each other since maybe Kindergarten and were good friends for a while. He was always bigger than me, so we had never wrestled each other before. It was fun.”
Big Sky junior Dougie Swanson avenged his 9-8 loss to Bridger Hall at last week’s Garden City Duals, beating him 6-2 in the 152-pound first-place match.
“I had some nerves wrestling him last time and it got to me,” said Swanson, who took third at state as a freshman. “I let it fly this time and wrestled solid and had a good day.”
Big Sky sophomore Hunter Meinzen rolled to a 16-1 technical fall win against Sentinel sophomore Blake Jolma at 145 pounds. Meinzen was a state runner-up last year.
Three Helena-area wrestlers earn top seeds
Helena High senior Isaac Romero, a two-time state champion, earned a 5-2 win over Helena Capital freshman Carson DesRosier in the 120-pound championship match. Romero said that the two of them have wrestled five times this season and he took a 3-2 edge with the victory.
“It was just the will not to stop and keep wrestling and be continuously aware,” Romero said.
Helena High senior Devin Crawford punched his ticket to state for the fourth year in a row with a 4-3 win over Big Sky junior Jett Rebish at 160 pounds. He’s hoping to end his career with a state championship after having finished as high as third place before.
“I’ve been wanting that since I started high school,” Crawford said. “Getting the top seed puts me in a good spot to do it.”
Helena Capital senior Lee Lambrecht pinned Sentinel senior Reece Eckley in the 138-pound first-place bout.
Kalispell schools earn six No. 1 seeds
Flathead, the two-time defending state champs, and Glacier had three wrestlers apiece earn the top seed in their weight class.
For Flathead, junior Brendan Barnes (126) pinned Sentinel junior Justin Kovalicky, freshman Fin Nadeau (132) earned a 7-3 win over Big Sky junior Trevin Welzien and junior Tanner Russell (170) won by a 6-4 decision against Helena Capital sophomore Noah Kovick.
For Glacier, sophomore Cody Frost (113) pinned Big Sky freshman Isaac Ayers, senior Colby Martin (205) won by injury default against Helena Capital junior Zane McCormick and senior Tre Krause (285) pinned Helena Capital junior Josh Lee.
Flathead qualifies most individuals
In total, Flathead qualified 22 wrestlers for the state tournament. Wrestlers who finish in the top eight at divisionals advance to state.
Big Sky will be sending 18 wrestlers to state. Sentinel and Glacier have 17 apiece who are going. Helena High and Helena Capital each have 13 who advanced. Hellgate finished with four wrestlers in the top eight.