BILLINGS — The Laurel Locomotives are ready to put all that practice to the test.
Laurel will begin the coronavirus-delayed high school wrestling season by hosting a triangular at the Locomotives gym on Saturday.
Along with the host Locomotives, Lewistown and Livingston are slated to compete. Laurel placed fifth at the State A tournament last year with 141 points, and Lewistown was sixth with 134.5 points. Livingston was ninth with 69 points.
"We're the first ones out of the chute," an excited Laurel coach Ted Hill told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com. "We'll start that party at 9 a.m."
Laurel and Livingston will meet in the first dual, Livingston vs. Lewistown will follow and Laurel will entertain Lewistown in the finale.
Attendance will be limited because of the virus and the varsity wrestlers will meet in the main gym, while the JV and extra matches will occur in the Laurel High School Depot.
Practice started on Dec. 7. Divisionals are set for the weekend of Feb. 26-27 and state is March 5-6. The format of the postseason and sites of the tournaments are to be announced.
The 30 wrestlers on this year's Locomotives squad are ready to compete.
"This will be 18 practices without any competition," said Hill. "That's a pretty good pull in terms of practice-wise.
"They are itching to wrestle. We just got done with wrestle-offs (Thursday) and got our lineup figured out. I am excited to see them wrestle other teams and see where we are at. We have a good crew."
Laurel has four state placers from last year's team and another from 2019 coming back.
Returning state placers for the Locomotives include: junior Noah Michaelson, 120 pounds (6th at 103 last year); senior Johnathan Herr, 126 (4th at 120); senior Tyler Emineth, 152 (6th at 152); senior Connor Ulschak, 205 (5th at 205) and senior Gabe Hernandez, 285 (6th at 285 in 2019).
Hill said that although this year has included an extended practice schedule before the season begins that practice has been "fun." That is mainly because Laurel's wrestlers haven't had a problem focusing and working to improve.
"They are motivating themselves and working hard," Hill said.
This year, the Montana High School Association is sanctioning girls wrestling. Currently there aren't any female wrestlers on the Locomotives squad, but Hill said there are a couple middle school female wrestlers who may choose to participate in the sport in high school.
Sixteen freshmen are on the team and Hill said that includes some "who are ready to go right now."
With the ongoing pandemic, there won't be any tourneys this year during the regular season in an effort to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. Most of the action during the season will come in a dual format, however some of the smaller schools may participate in mixers.
At this time, Hill said all of Laurel's duals are scheduled for Saturdays, with the exception of one Tuesday date.
At some duals, an opponent may be shorthanded at a particular weight. Hill said the Locomotives will combat that by having a Laurel wrestler compete and test his skills against one of his teammates in an extra match if that occurs.
"If wherever we go and we don't have a match you'll wrestle your teammate," he said. "You can't go two weeks without competing."