HELENA — There is a lot of uncertainty heading into the Class AA State Wrestling Tournament this weekend in Billings, and for fans that could mean a lot of excitement.
"It's wide open," Kalispell Flathead head coach Jeff Thompson said. "I think it's going to be a battle and one of the most fun state tournaments we have seen in years and that's cool for the fans, it's cool for the coaches and it's cool for the kids."
If there is a favorite, it might be Great Falls High after the Bison won the Mining City Duals and the Tom LeProwse in Bozeman during the regular season.
• Great Falls leads the field of contenders with 20 wrestlers qualified, while Flathead, Butte, Billings Senior and Bozeman, the defending champs, will all come in with 19. Helena Capital will also send 16, and Missoula Sentinel and Missoula Big Sky each have 11.
• Last year, Bozeman put 12 on the podium on its way to a runaway championship over Great Falls and Senior.
The Hawks also crowned two state champions a year ago and one of them, Leif Schroeder, will be back in an attempt to win his fourth consecutive state championship. He is the only wrestler in the Class AA field with the chance to do so after Belgrade's John Mears was forced to miss the tournament due to concussions.
Schroeder (17-1) is the favorite at 138 pounds after winning the Eastern AA seeding tournament last weekend. However, his bracket will also feature Brendan Barnes (22-5) of Flathead, the top seed out of the West, and also Butte senior Scout Allen (17-5).
• Of Bozeman's five finalists from a year ago, other than Schroder, McCade O'Reilly is the only other returner. He will be part of a loaded bracket at 205 pounds that features reigning champion Kameron Moreno of Butte as well as defending 182-pound champion Elijah Davis, who is 29-1.
Additionally, O'Reilly, who will aim for a second straight trip to finals night, can't be counted out, along with Helena Capital's Zane McCormick, who beat Moreno last weekend and lost to the Butte High standout in the semifinals last year.
• Bozeman boasts another contender at 132 pounds in freshman Avery Allen, who could could eventually wind up against last year's 120-pound champion, Carson DesRosier of Capital. Allen beat DesRosier earlier this season at the Tom LeProwse in their only meeting.
• Great Falls returns three wrestlers who reached the finals a year ago and another in heavyweight Ethan DeRoche who should be a repeat champion. DeRoche comes in with a 32-1 mark but might have to face Western AA champ Kobe Moreno, also of Butte. Tom Walkup of Bozeman and Josh Lee of Capital are other potential contenders at 285.
• Another team that could work its way into the mix is Billings Senior, led by Matthew DeWitt, who was the champion last season at 126 pounds.
• And of course, don't count out Butte, which is tied with Flathead for the most qualifiers.
"I think we set ourselves to make a run at a trophy," Butte head coach Cory Johnston said. "It's all what we do this weekend. We set the table, now we will see what we can do with it."
• Helena Capital also hopes to be in the mix for a team trophy, which would be a first for the Bruins.
"Our focus is going to be pin, pin, pin," Capital head coach Jeff Mahana said. "We are looking for those extra points and trying to be as aggressive as we can. We think we are in a good position to compete for a trophy and we will see what happens."
Either way, the two-day meet at the Metra should be entertaining.
"Every point is going to matter," Thompson said. "Getting a pin, getting a major, not getting a pin. It's all going to come down to those little things and it's going to be really cool to watch that."