BILLINGS — Tournaments have been contested in places such as Sidney, Missoula, Cut Bank, Worden, Miles City, Kalispell and places in between.
Senior nights have been held, with upsets scored, come-from-behind wins tallied, lessons learned, memories made, and improvement by match tracked.
State tournament berths were earned at divisionals in Belgrade, Butte, Havre, Polson, Columbus, and Pablo.
All roads have led to First Interstate Arena at MetraPark for the 33rd time with the All-Class State Wrestling Tournament scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Boys wrestlers in Classes AA, A and B-C will be fighting for team and individual glory. For the second consecutive year, the girls wrestlers will join the boys in battling for a place at the podium and team trophies at the all-class event.
Like a majority of the Treasure State’s wrestling fans, first-year tournament manager Scott Wilson is looking forward to the season’s grand finale.
“I’m excited. It is something wrestling has always been part of my life as an athlete, coach and administrator,” said Wilson, an associate director with the Montana High School Association. “Having the opportunity to run it is good and I’m happy to do that.”
There is also the possibility of adding three wrestlers to the 38-wrestler four-time state champions club in Bozeman’s Avery Allen (145 pounds), Kalispell Glacier’s Teegan Vasquez (132) and Sidney’s Owen Lonski (138).
Wilson is now the tournament manager as Brian Michelotti, who oversaw the all-class event since 2006 is now the executive director of the MHSA and has assumed other duties associated with his new position.
In his fifth year with the MHSA, with the previous four being as an assistant director, one of the sports Wilson oversees is wrestling.
Wilson came to the MHSA after spending 17 years in Polson, where he was the AD, football coach and principal. Prior to arriving in Polson, he was an assistant football and wrestling coach at Missoula Big Sky.
Growing up in Stevensville, Wilson was involved in football and wrestling in his youth and the family moved to Missoula when Stevensville dropped wrestling when Wilson was a freshman. The 53-year-old Wilson is a 1987 graduate of Missoula Big Sky.
No stranger to the state tournament, Wilson said he expects the usual high-class wrestling, enthusiastic fans, and flair the tourney produces year after year.
“It’s the state wrestling tournament,” he said. “In terms of the excitement level and watching the best wrestlers from boys and girls from Class AA to Class C. That makes it a special tournament.”
The noticeable changes in format to the tourney will occur in the girls classification this year.
The major changes are that in the girls classification divisionals were held to qualify for state instead of every girl who wrestled during the season being eligible to advance to the big dance as had been the format the first two years of girls competition; and that this year females will still wrestle individually in one classification, but for team scoring there will be two classes — AA and A/B-C.
That means the tourney will once again be held over two days as opposed to the girls starting late on Thursday afternoon at the Metra as they did last year.
Girls wrestling has continued to grow, as this year 450 females were registered at the start of the season said Wilson.
At the inaugural state girls wrestling tournament at Lockwood in 2021 when the state tournament sites were split due to the coronavirus crisis, 148 girls wrestlers were entered. Last season at the Metra, 242 girls were entered at state.
The boys and girls classifications being held simultaneously at the all-class tournament has doubled the fun.
“Adding the girls had added to the excitement of the tournament itself,” said Wilson.
The popular parade of athletes is set for 10 a.m. Friday morning and matches begin at 10:20 a.m. with the last round of the day starting at approximately 6 p.m. Friday.
Action continues on Saturday with the semifinals and consolation quarterfinals to start at 9:30 a.m. and the parade of finalists leading to the championship finals at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Overall, the weekend promises to be quite the show. It’s one wrestling fans won’t want to miss.
Wilson is glad to be back at the all-class event. He hasn’t been able to attend since leaving his job in Polson.
“I’m looking forward to going back,” he said.
As undoubtedly are the wrestlers, some of whom will be making their Metra debuts, coaches, officials, tourney volunteers and fans.
It’s been a grueling, yet fun, lesson-filled season, with the end goal for many being competing at the Metra.
Let the wrestling begin!