BILLINGS — Opening day is always special.
And then throw in the opportunity to also have some “Metra magic” and Friday night is looking extra special for the Billings West and Billings Skyview wrestling programs.
The Bears and Falcons will host Bozeman and Bozeman Gallatin in two Eastern AA duals beginning at 4 p.m. at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
Skyview will tangle with Bozeman and West will meet first-year program Gallatin at 4 p.m. In the second dual, Skyview will entertain Gallatin and West will take on Bozeman at 6:30 p.m.
Billings Senior also opens its season Friday at Great Falls. The Broncs will wrestle against the Bison at 4 p.m., before shifting to Great Falls CMR to take on the Rustlers at 6:30 p.m.
Longtime West coach Jeremy Hernandez, who also wrestled at the school, said he can’t recall another time regular-season matches were held at the Metra, the usual home of the all-class state tournament.
The Bears are fourth-ranked in the Class AA poll. Hernandez said it was “really hard” for his wrestlers to sit and wait as several other programs began their season last Saturday.
“The boys have been practicing since December 7,” he said. “We are ready to compete and show everyone what we are able to do.
“It’s always fun to wrestle at the Metra. It will be interesting to see the difference between state and duals at the Metra.”
The Falcons are also eager to start the season at Metra. This year, there won’t be an all-class state tournament and the boys state tournaments will be held at three separate sites March 5-6 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which is also the reason for the delayed start to the year.
Girls wrestling is also being offered this year for the first time. The date and location for the girls state tournament is to be announced.
“We’re fired up about it. There is not a better place to start out in a year like this but in the big house,” Skyview coach Ben Sulser said. “It will be awesome.
“We are ready to wrestle someone other than ourselves. We’ve definitely practiced about three times as much as a regular year before you can compete.”
Gallatin is under the direction of former Hawks coach Nate Laslovich, while Sean Dellwo now leads the Hawks. Dellwo formerly coached Belgrade.
“I don’t care if they are a new school," Sulser said. "Nate Laslovich has never brought a team that hasn’t been ready to compete.
“Bozeman has a rich wrestling tradition and has always has been ready to wrestle. Dellwo is a good coach and will have them ready to wrestle.”
Senior coach Josh Beeman said his Broncs, ranked second behind defending state champion Great Falls, will be ready to perform.
“We are excited to get out there and get going and competing, especially for our underclassmen,” Beeman said. “They have been working a month and haven’t had that reward to show off what they can do.”
Hernandez said his team “is ready to compete. If they said we are going to go and wrestle in a barn, they’d be the first in line.”
Central to host duals on Saturday
The Billings Central Rams will have their home openers Saturday.
The Rams, who easily beat Lockwood and lost on criteria against Hardin last Saturday in Hardin, will host a triangular at the Nelles Activities Center at 10 a.m.
Central will meet Lewistown to start the day, Lewistown vs. Glendive will follow and the Rams vs. Glendive will end the competition.
The Rams have 20 wrestlers out, including five from Joliet, which co-ops with Central.
Six Rams played for the state runner-up football team, four played on the JV football squad and five were on the freshman football team. Four of the wrestlers from Joliet also played football, Rams coach Barry Morgan noted.
Morgan is especially pleased that the Rams will be able to fill a dual lineup in most of their matches. This year, regular-season action will be contested mainly of duals, with some of the smaller schools participating in mixers.
“For the first time in years we’ll have a full lineup this year,” Morgan said, noting the Rams may have an occasional vacant weight class early in the season.
“It’s a little different this year with all duals, the kids won’t get as many matches as normal, but with a full team it’s much more fun to have to dual because you have a chance.”
The Rams have three state qualifiers back in junior Devon O’Neill (132 pounds), two-time state qualifier; senior Aaron Foster (160), one-time state qualifier and junior Cody Todd (170), two-time state qualifier.
The Rams also have “a couple really tough freshmen who will be good” in Cody Hofer (120) and Tyrus Hall (113). Hall moved to Montana from Texas over the summer and was on the freshman football team, Morgan said.
Brothers Gunnar Ward and Grady Ward are both from Joliet and are heavyweights who started for Joliet’s football team, Morgan said. Gunnar is a senior and Grady is a freshman.