Nate Blodnick

Anaconda freshman Nate Blodnick won the 103-pound title at the Class B-C State Championships last season.

BUTTE – The Anaconda wrestling team is just ready to be back out on the mat competing.

After a nearly three-week pause following the conclusion of fall sports in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Copperheads reported to practices in varying levels of shape but equally high levels of enthusiasm to be back in the mix.

“I think that the upper end is fine to where they're ready to go, and you know that they're kind of champing at the bit, and they want to get out there and get rolling around,” said head coach Joe Casey. “Then, you got some of the other guys that really need some catch-up or need to get back in shape. And they may have gained 20 or 30 pounds or something, which is good, but it's kind of a rude awakening, sometimes, if you bump up three or four weight classes. So these guys, for the most part, are kind of excited to get back on mat and just start competition.”

Anaconda’s standout wrestler will be the defending state champion at 103 pounds, sophomore Nate Blodnick. With a state title in his freshman year, he has a chance to not only win another championship this year, but maybe even rack up four titles in four years of high school.

In addition to Blodnick, fellow-sophomore Tommy Sawyer also has state title aspirations.

“Those kids … they're talented, they're solid leaders and they're good students,” Casey said. “And they really commit themselves at practice. I think they got a lot to offer this year. Nate, obviously, is coming back from a state championship, so I'm pretty excited to see him and see how Tommy can also grow, too.”

Not only are they coming into their own as wrestlers, but the two sophomores are finding their voices as leaders as well.

“I mean, our team's pretty young,” Casey explained. “When these guys are getting after it and drilling, and working hard, I guess it's just kind of more reflection of ... lead by example. I mean, they're not the most vocal kids, but they're becoming that way now that they've got a year under their belt. So I think the team gravitates towards that because they are talented and they might have a higher skill level than most of the other guys. But this is a young team, anyways; Lots of sophomores, lots of freshmen. So they kind of are receptive to just watching the pace of how they work.”

As a team, the Copperheads are focusing on staying in the moment. This season is fragile, so they are grateful for every chance they get to be out on the mat.

“I told these guys to just to keep it simple; they have to be present,” Casey said. “They have to be engaged. We might not have a tomorrow. You know what I mean? You got an opportunity to be wrestling at practice. You got an hour and a half, two hours. We're going to lift. We're going to condition. We're going to drill. We're going to be working hard. We're going to be doing, kind of... All the structure that we need to add to it is you have to be present to where you're engaged, and you have to learn.”

Anaconda will get that chance to compete for the first time Saturday in Florence. It will square off with Bigfork and Florence.

“Every single one of these guys can get better, with bigger goals down the road once competition starts,” Casey said. “Whether it’s punching that ticket to state or winning 10-to-12 matches to get your varsity letter, those are the things we kind of talk about. But I just really want them to focus on the very short-term idea of the work that you put in, now, is going to help you get to those bigger goals.”

Matthew Kiewiet is the sports editor for the Montana Standard and sports betting columnist for 406MTSports. Email him at matthew.kiewiet@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter @mattkiewiet406.

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