Kalispell Flathead's Lily Conover

Kalispell Flathead's Lily Conover raises her hand after earning a victory in a dual against Kalispell Glacier on Saturday at Glacier. 

BILLINGS — A historic year in Montana wrestling began on Saturday with what is believed to be the first high school girls wrestling dual in state history.

Wrestling simultaneously with the boys on a mat appropriately spaced from the mat where the boys matches occurred due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Kalispell Flathead girls tangled with the Kalispell Glacier girls in a wrestling dual.

The action at the Kalispell Glacier gym occurred on the first day of the season in a year in which girls wrestling is being implemented as a two-year pilot program by the Montana High School Association.

No other results for an all-girls dual were reported to either The Billings Gazette or 406mtsports.com on Saturday.

The match was made possible as there are 21 girls out for the team at Flathead and 21 at Glacier.

“It was really, really fun. The whole team’s energy was super exciting and it was historic,” said Flathead junior Hania Halverson, who won her match with a pin in 30 seconds at 126 pounds. “It was just a really fun time. I was glad Glacier had a lot of girls for us to wrestle. That’s what really made it possible.”

Glacier junior Delanie Schultz, one of three team captains for her team, said she had some butterflies entering the competition.

“I’d definitely say it was a little more nerve-racking than I thought it would be,” said Schultz. “I thought it was enjoyable and I had a lot of fun while we were there. It was definitely something I had never been a part of, so I thought it was a lot of fun.”

There are seven proposed weight classes for the girls wrestling season: 103, 113, 126, 138, 152, 170 and 205 pounds. The girls weight classes may change based on participation numbers after the weight certification process is completed on Jan. 20.

Flathead head boys wrestling coach Jeff Thompson, who also oversees the girls program at the school, and Glacier wrestling coach Ross Dankers both said unofficial weight classes were used in the dual to try and get as many matches as possible.

“We just matched them up,” said Dankers. “Montana has a set of preliminary weights, but they will redo it when the certification sheets come in and then they’ll try and evenly distribute it.”

Overall, 14 matches were reported and Flathead came out on top, 78-6.

The Flathead boys also prevailed 57-12.

Following social distancing protocols, two spectators were allowed per student-athlete and coach said Dankers.

“It was the highlight of the dual,” Thompson said of the girls matches. “I had goosebumps, just the energy, the enthusiasm, the girls, the fans. The moms were screaming. It was all positive energy. This is a big moment for Montana wrestling overall. The girls will be the next big hit. It’s very, very exciting to see it.

“Our girls were very, very excited. They have been working very hard this last month. We have a handful that decided a year or a year-and-a-half ago wrestling would be their thing. We had seven girls out last year and they have done a good job of promoting it at Flathead High School.”

Dankers said the sanctioning of girls wrestling by the MHSA has opened the door to competitors who may not have come out for the sport in the past.

“It was outstanding to see two full-sized varsity girls wrestling teams matched up there,” he said. “It was pretty special to be able to introduce the sport of wrestling to a lot of girls who maybe wouldn’t have tried it when it wasn’t a sanctioned sport for them.

“Of our 20 girls, all but one are completely brand new to the sport. And the one had only wrestled for a couple years in elementary school. It is a great opportunity to bring more people into the great sport of wrestling.”

At Glacier there isn’t a designated separate head coach for the girls program at this point and all the coaches work with the boys and girls as they rotate through their groups of boys wrestlers divided by weight and the girls.

At Flathead, Thompson said he has two volunteer co-head girls coaches in Amber Downing and Sully Sullivan. Thompson said the hope is that both Kalispell schools will have paid girls head wrestling coach positions in the future.

Downing wrestled with the East Helena Wrestling Club during elementary and middle school but stepped away from competition in high school and was a team manager at Helena High, a school she graduated from in 2003. She very much welcomes the move to sanction the sport of girls wrestling, saying, “as a former female wrestler, it is amazing. I would have done anything to see something like this when I was a kid giving the sport a shot.”

Downing, the mother three boys ages 14, 12 and 9, also coaches at the middle school and youth levels. All three of her sons wrestle.

“Girls have been allowed to wrestle the boys for many years, but this year with the MHSA finally sanctioning it as a pilot program, it has inspired our ladies to come out,” Downing said. “The ladies at Flathead have come out in force. Prior to the season, we had open mats with girls coming in and small girls camps.”

This year, the AA boys teams are wrestling a conference schedule consisting of duals in a social-distancing effort.

The date for the state girls wrestling tournament is to be announced.

Downing said that Flathead is looking into possibly finding some mixers for its girls to compete in because “not all the AA schools have teams as large as ours, so we have to get creative in finding matches.”

Thompson explained that the two teams hope to have another girls dual on Friday when Missoula Big Sky and Missoula Sentinel visit Kalispell for duals. Thompson said he’d like to have the dual at Flathead between the boys duals. Wrestling occurs under the spotlight at Flathead, which he said would provide a cool atmosphere for the competition.

According to Thompson, Butte has 10 girls on its roster and his team is looking forward to competing in Butte in two weeks.

Dankers also said he’s working on ways to find matches for his girls wrestlers as he acknowledged some of the other Western AA teams don’t have as many girls participants.

“We want to try and get as much experience as we can before we get to that state tournament,” he said.

Wrestlers from both teams agreed that they learned valuable lessons while competing on Saturday and look forward to the next opportunity.

“I have a lot of fun with it,” said Schultz, who also plays soccer. “It is cool to see the sparkle in a lot of the girls’ eyes when we figure out new moves and overcome certain challenges we have in practice. It is fun to see how we’ve all grown from the first day to this past week in our practices.

“I definitely think our goal would be to grow as people. It would be cool to do super well at our state tournament at the end. Most of us want to grow as a team.”

Halverson, moved to Kalispell from Oregon over the summer. Her father is Chip Halverson, who was a state champion wrestler at Glasgow in 1987. She said one of her first times wrestling was at a camp in Glasgow in 2017.

“I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see what all the girls on my team will do against some different competition and also to see the next couple weeks of training and mat time,” she said. “It will make a big difference and we’ll keep training and getting stronger and become more of a solid team. I’m really excited. It will be a great season.”

While the rest of the season is yet to play out, the Glacier and Flathead girls programs have already written a chapter in the Montana wrestling history books.

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

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