BILLINGS — The Huntley Project wrestling team knows that if it keeps battling and working hard, improvement will be made and good things will happen.
So, while they hadn’t necessarily made it a goal to capture their second straight Cowboy Invitational this past weekend in Miles City the Red Devils were hoping for a strong showing.
It turns out, that behind a never-give-up attitude the State B champion Red Devils won the 64th annual Cowboy.
Project outdistanced Gillette (Wyoming) Thunder Basin 186.5-177 for first. Gering (Nebraska) was right behind in third with 175.5 points, Moorcroft (Wyoming) was fourth with 155 points and five-time Montana State A champion Sidney fifth with 145.5.
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“We didn’t really talk about defending the title,” said Project coach Tim Kaczmarek. “Our goal was to keep wrestling every match. Typically, the later the matches go on our kids tend to do well. Even if we do lose one, we have to go for the next best thing and keep battling and don’t get caught looking ahead. We take it one match at a time and by the end of it, it all takes care of itself. You have to give your best effort and keep competing.”
The Red Devils knew the Cowboy is annually a competitive multi-state and multi-classification tourney. At the 63rd annual event, Project edged Cody (Wyoming) 233-228.5 for the crown.
This year, several new teams were added to the lineup making for an even stronger field.
“It was definitely tougher than it was last year. … I told our guys coming in this year it would be a tougher tournament than it was last year,” said Kaczmarek. “To come out and finish on top, kudos to our guys, even after losing a match they came back and kept battling.”
At the end of the first day, Moorcroft led the tourney with 106 points and Thunder Basin was second with 102.5. Project was third with 99 points, Gering fourth with 93.5 and Miles City fifth with 81.5.
Kaczmarek said one of the Red Devils’ goals this year it to win matches by bonus points with wins coming by either pin, technical fall or major decision as “we are trying to increase our leads and get the most points from each kid we can and they did a great job of it this weekend.”
Project was second behind Moorcroft at the tourney in most pins and least time with 24 pins in 60:04. Moorcroft topped the chart with 26 falls in 70:17 according to trackwrestling.com .
Project was second in the most technical falls in the least time (3-13:45) behind Thunder Basin (4-18:30).
Overall, Project had the most pins/tech falls in the least time according to trackwrestling.com with 27 in 73:49. Moorcroft was second with 26 in 70:17 and Cody third with 21 in 32:29.
“After Friday, we were down heading in,” said Kaczmarek. “We lost a couple tight matches that we kind of thought we’d win. The first two rounds on Saturday, we had six pins to get into placing rounds. That was huge.”
Overall, eight Red Devils placed in the top eight.
Baylor Burton (103), Gavin Nedens (120), and Garrett Sholley (170) were all second for Project.
Cooper Lane (132) and Wylee Lindeen (160) were third.
Gunnar Oblander (285) finished sixth, Grady Schmidt (152) placed seventh, and Derek Lachenmeier (126) was eighth.
Project has a big week ahead as on Thursday the top-ranked team in Class B hosts both Sidney and Billings West. West is ranked second in Class AA and Sidney is fifth in Class A.
Sidney will wrestle against Project to start the day at 4 p.m., followed by Sidney vs. West. Project and West will then meet to conclude the matches.
The Red Devils will then compete in the Class B-C Duals in Townsend on Friday and Saturday.
The two girls on the Project wrestling team also had a successful weekend at the second annual Cowgirl Invitational in Miles City.
At 145 pounds, Gretchen Donally improved to 26-0 en route to capturing the 145-pound bracket. The junior was last year’s state champion at 145 pounds. Kaczmarek noted Donally was the Outstanding Wrestler and the Quick-Pin winner in the girls divisions at Miles City.
“She had a great weekend,” he said. “She had a great summer in the offseason and worked hard and went to a ton of camps and tournaments. She has made up her mind that she wants to try and wrestle in college. She is wrestling well. The funny thing is she does it with a smile on her face and enjoys herself and has fun and keeps getting better.”
Freshman Gracie Murray was third at 100 pounds at the Cowgirl for Project.
The Red Devils girls squad is scheduled to compete in a tourney in Lewistown on Friday and Saturday.
Email Gazette Sports Editor John Letasky at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL