BILLINGS — For one weekend in early January 2021, the Gallatin Valley will be the capital of wrestling in the Treasure State.
Three NCAA Division I wrestling teams — Iowa State, Oregon State and Duke — along with Montana State-Northern of the NAIA will converge on the Belgrade Special Events Center on Jan. 8.
Also in Bozeman that weekend will be the annual Tom LeProwse high school wrestling meet, which will take place in the new gym at Gallatin High School on Jan. 8-9, said longtime Bozeman Hawks coach Nate Laslovich, who will be at Gallatin next year.
Terry Degen of Belgrade, the father of Iowa State wrestler Jarrett Degen, is one of the organizers of the college wrestling event. He confirmed it is scheduled for the Special Events Center before referencing the current coronavirus pandemic and saying, "hopefully we are wrestling in January."
Terry Degen and MSU-Northern coach Tyson Thivierge said the start time for each dual is still being finalized.
When news was reported earlier in the week of the matches, Terry Degen said he received many text messages and phone calls. He said people are excited about positive sports news as "it's only bad news in the news right now," with all the postponements and cancellations due to COVID-19 concerns.
Jarrett Degen was a star wrestler for the Belgrade Panthers, winning four State A wrestling crowns from 2013-16. Degen was an All-American for the Cyclones in 2019, placing seventh at 149 pounds. This past season as a redshirt junior, Degen qualified for the NCAA Championships once again at 149 pounds and was seeded eighth. However, the tournament was canceled due to the crisis.
Terry Degen told 406mtsports.com one of the reasons the matches will take place at the gym his son competed in as a Panther is because Cyclones coach Kevin Dresser "is rewarding his All-American" by having a match in his hometown. Degen noted it's a frequent practice in college wrestling.
One such homecoming occurred in 2009 at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse on the Montana State campus, when Bozeman native Tyrel Todd was part of the Michigan Wolverines wrestling team that was matched with Oregon State. The Bozeman Invitational was also scheduled for that weekend and organizers had planned to end at the time "a bit earlier than usual Friday evening so that the wrestlers, parents and fans" could also attend the college dual, according to Billings Gazette archives. A story in The Gazette said Michigan coach Joe McFarland was excited to bring his squad to Montana and in the past Michigan had ventured to the hometowns of other prominent members of its team.
Degen, who along with his wife, Jane, owns the Big Game Wrestling Club wrestling facility in Belgrade, said school officials at Belgrade have been cooperative throughout the process. Degen said it has taken a lot of coordination and time to put the event together. Overall, he said there will be six duals, with four in the morning and two in the evening. Each team will have three duals.
Charlie Klepps, a four-time state champ at Billings Senior, is also on the Iowa State roster. Riley Gurr of Frenchtown is at Oregon State. New Beavers coach Chris Pendleton was an assistant coach at Wyoming from 2011-15.
"There is an exciting buzz in the air about this and it's quite a ways off," Degen said.
Laslovich said that normally 32 or 33 teams compete in the LeProwse tourney and he hopes for 40 this year at the new Gallatin High gymnasium. Having the college duals in Belgrade might also help lure a few more teams.
"We are getting a lot of interest from out-of-state teams," Laslovich said. "Hopefully we have quite a few teams there. I think this will help us recruit some more out-of-state teams."
Degen said a tentative schedule for Jan. 8 pits Duke vs. MSU-Northern at 6 p.m., and then Duke will turn right around and wrestle Iowa State at 7:30 p.m. Because of travel issues, all of Oregon State's matches likely will be in the morning, he said. MSU-Northern and Iowa State also are tentatively set to wrestle in the morning Jan. 8.
Laslovich said ideally the LeProwse could finish in time Friday, "so we can get everybody out to Belgrade for that (final) dual."
"I think it will be pretty awesome," Laslovich said.