State wrestling tournament

Shepherd's LeeAnn Hoch pinned Eureka's Pancho Ibenez in a Class B-C 103-pound first-round match at the state wrestling tournament at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in 2020. 

BILLINGS — The girls wrestling teams from several Eastern Montana high schools will have the big stage all to themselves Thursday at the Shepherd High School gym.

In what is likely the first girls-only high school mixer in this area, Shepherd will host the event starting at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Overall, approximately 35 girls wrestlers from Shepherd, Billings Senior, Billings Skyview, Billings West, Miles City, Baker, Circle, Colstrip and Lockwood are entered in the competition.

“To my knowledge, this is the first in the area where it has been girls only,” said Shepherd wrestling coach Brian Reichenbach.

This is the first year the Montana High School Association has sanctioned girls wrestling and there will be a girls-only state tourney at a date and location to be determined. During the regular season, girls are competing against other girls and boys wrestlers.

Previously girls have been able to wrestle, but competed against mostly boys and the occasional girl during the season and also at the state tourney if they were one of the qualifiers.

“We figured it’s good for the girls to get the go and wrestle against girls and see where they stack up,” said Shepherd activities director Rich Hash.

“Most of my girls have only wrestled against the guys,” added Reichenbach. “This gives them a chance to see who they might see at state, as opposed to wrestling a guy they won’t see in the postseason.”

Hash explained that Reichenbach came to him with the idea of having the mixer.

“My wrestling coach, Brian Reichenbach, came to me and said, there were some schools up north who wanted people to go up there,” Hash said, adding that the idea was then thought to hold the meet at Shepherd to allow eastern teams to compete closer to home.

The Shepherd attendance policy is four spectators per home student-athlete and two fans per visiting student-athlete.

For those who aren’t on the pass list and wish to watch the matches, Hash said the mixer would be streamed on the subscription-based NFHS Network.

Shepherd has three girls wrestlers on its team in junior LeeAnn Hoch (103), sophomore Sara Berger (285) and sophomore Olivia McCally (205). Hoch advanced to the state tourney last year, winning her first-round match at 103 by pin and falling one round short of placing.

“They are enjoying it,” said Hash.

Reichenbach said having a high school girls event in the area is a good way to showcase the sport to other females thinking about wrestling in high school.

“It is good to grow the sport,” he said. “In the youth ranks there are tons of girls wrestling and if they can see other girls wrestling at the high school level, they can get interested and say I want to wrestle, too, and that grows the sport.”

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

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