BILLINGS — Huntley Project wrestling coach Tim Kaczmarek has multiple reasons to look forward to the 29th Annual Huntley Project Duals on Saturday.
One of reasons Kaczmarek is ready for this weekend is his Huntley Project Red Devils are ranked second in the latest Class B team rankings. Glasgow is the top-rated team, and Cut Bank third.
Project is coming off an appearance at the Mining City Duals. The Red Devils finished 3-2 in Butte, wrestling to a 1-2 record on Friday and a 2-0 mark on Saturday. Project’s wins were versus Polson, Lewistown and Dillon.
“I’m excited. Obviously we wrestled in Butte last weekend,” Kaczmarek said. “The only two duals we lost were to Great Falls, who won it and Missoula Big Sky, who was fourth. We lost those two on Friday and are excited to see how much growth we have in a week.”
Project has four state placers on its roster, including 138-pound senior Clayton Donally (second at 126 at the State B-C meet last year), 285-pound senior Journey Grimsrud (second at 285 last year), 182-pound sophomore Stran Selman (sixth at 170 last year) and 113-pound sophomore Parker Craig (sixth at 103 last year).
Donally was the 103-pound state runner-up as a freshman and sophomore.
Senior Blake Zimmerman (138/145) and junior Ashton Christman (126) both won matches at the state tourney last season as Project finished fourth as a team.
In the rankings released on Wednesday, Project’s Gavin Nedens was top-ranked at 103. Ranked second in the state are Craig (113), Donally (138) and Grimsrud (285).
Kaczmarek said the 21-member Red Devils are strong, top to bottom. He also said the seniors are doing a good job mentoring the underclassmen.
“I’m excited. Honestly, this is my 11th year here and this was the best summer we’ve ever had,” Kaczmarek said. “We had kids in the weight room and wrestling all summer long.”
The Red Devils are looking forward to developing and aim to be competing for a championship at the state tournament Feb. 14-15 at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
“It’s a long season, but we sat down a week ago as a team and developed our team goals. I like to do it after the first week and that is their No. 1 goal,” said Kaczmarek. “They decided they want to be in the hunt for a state championship. If they keep doing what they are doing, we’ll be right in the mix of it.”
Four pools will be contested on Saturday at the Huntley Project High School gym and the school’s commons. Three mats will line the gym floors and a fourth mat will be in the commons.
Wrestling begins at 8:30 a.m. and rounds are scheduled hourly until the championship and consolation dual at approximately 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for children and those ages 65-plus are admitted free.
Teams scheduled to compete are Huntley Project, Billings Skyview JV, Billings West JV, Billings Senior JV, Billings Central, Laurel JV, Miles City JV, Hardin, Baker, Rocky Mountain (Wyoming), Shepherd, Huntley Project JV, Lockwood and Red Lodge.
The Lockwood freshman academy opened this year and the Lions are coached by former Billings Skyview standout Beau Malia. Beau’s father, Rich Malia, is an assistant.
In 2001, Billings Skyview won the State AA championship. Kaczmarek closed his prep career with an individual title for the Falcons and Beau Malia won the first of his four titles that season.
Kaczmarek grew up wrestling in the Heights Wrestling Club, of which Rich Malia was a coach and Beau also a participant, and is lifelong friends with the Malia family. Kaczmarek also was on the coaching staff at Skyview as an assistant under head coach Dave Maier and later Rich Malia. Kaczmarek was an assistant on the Skyview staff when Beau Malia was a senior.
“Rich helped me quite a bit. I don’t know how many miles we’ve traveled throughout my wrestling career — he took us all over the place,” Kaczmarek said.
Kaczmarek said he’s kept in contact with the Malias this year.
“Having a good relationship with those guys and bouncing ideas off of them and a working relationship and talking wrestling in general,” he said. “I talk to them quite a bit, just from the paperwork process of when Rich was coaching. He calls quite a bit. He’s helped me in my coaching.”
Beau Malia isn’t the only former teammate of Kaczmarek’s who is in his first year guiding a program. At Shepherd, Brian Reichenbach enters his first year leading the Mustangs. Reichenbach won a state title his senior year at Skyview in 2002 as Skyview repeated as state champion. Beau Malia won his second state title that year.
“He definitely knows his wrestling,” Kaczmarek said of Reichenbach.
Kaczmarek said coaching against his former teammate is another twist to the Shepherd-Project rivalry.
“It adds to it. Shepherd is nine or 10 miles from us,” he said. “You already have the rivalry between the two schools. Knowing the guy with the program, he’ll (Reichenbach) do a good job. He’ll get the program better and it will make us better.”
Red Lodge makes Project Duals debut
Red Lodge is a first-year team coached by Nate Anderson, and Kaczmarek is eager to welcome the Rams to the fold.
"Now we have two new teams to throw in the mix and wrestle every year," Kaczmarek said of Red Lodge and Lockwood. "It is nice to have two more teams with different guys and to see different people and it shows the sport is growing itself.
"Lockwood has a couple solid kids. Red Lodge came over the first weekend of the year and is pretty scrappy. They'll do a good job of growing it and their kids will be solid down the road."