The Choteau High School Bulldogs wrestling squad will compete in Malta this weekend for the right to advance to the state Class B/C tournament Feb. 9 and 10 in Billings.
Coach Sam Armstrong and assistant coach Levi Guenzler will take all seven CHS wrestlers to the Northern B/C Division tournament this Saturday at Malta High School. Choteau wrestlers going are seniors Watson Snyder at 145 pounds, James Slaughter at 205 pounds and Dakota Daley at heavyweight. They will be joined by juniors Pete Henderson at 132 pounds, Calvin Maples at 152 pounds, Bryan Ballard at 170 pounds and Tommy Ehman at 182 pounds.
Slaughter and Daley are both going into the tournament ranked in first place in the division while Henderson is ranked second in his weight class. The other four CHS wrestlers are not ranked.
The top four wrestlers from each weight division will advance to the state tournament.
Armstrong on Monday said the team will leave for the divisional tournament on Friday and will practice Friday night in Malta. He said Malta with 11 wrestlers will be the team to beat at the divisional tournament. Given that eight or nine of Malta’s wrestlers are ranked first in the division, Malta has the edge in numbers and and toughness to win the divisional first-place trophy.
But, Armstrong said, if all of Choteau’s wrestlers do well, they could end up in second place as a team and all seven could advance to the state tournament. “You take care of the little things and the big things just happen,” Armstrong said.
Practice this week will emphasize that all the wrestlers need to have a good day on Feb. 3. They need to really show up and wrestle their best, he said.
Over the course of the season, Armstrong said, his team, made up of all juniors and seniors, has improved in both technique and mental toughness. As far as technique goes, he said, the boys’ “neutral has improved massively.” Now, if the Choteau boys are taking shots, they are generally successful, and with more confidence, the boys are also doing a better job of escaping.
In practice this week, the boys will focus on the top position, on being able to hold their opponent down and working on pinning combinations so the other wrestler does not score escape points.
Armstrong said his wrestlers are also wrestling with more mental confidence and toughness, setting the temperature of the match and not just waiting for an opening, but making openings happen.
Working with seven wrestlers all of whom are juniors or seniors has had pluses and minuses. One of the good things, Armstrong said, is that because of the boys’ maturity level, he hasn’t had to hold anything back. “I expect a lot more out of them,” he said.
He’s also been working to mold this year’s juniors — who will be seniors next year — into leaders who can help inspire a turnout of five or more freshmen that Armstrong expects.
This week, he said, he will be talking with his seniors a lot about finishing the season strong.
“I’ve seen a massive amount of growth in Dakota in practice this year, he’s really getting after it,” Armstrong said. “James has been fighting illness most of the year, but hopefully he’s healed up and ready to roll.”
Slaughter missed his junior year in wrestling and Snyder has only wrestled for two years. With many other interests, he has only been able to compete in seven meets, Armstrong noted. Even Daley has only been active in wrestling since junior high.
Armstrong said all the boys are excited to get into the post season. “I think everyone wants to finish strong and they all have a good attitude.”
Last week, Choteau traveled to a mixer at Cut Bank with Cut Bank, Browning, Valier, Shelby and Conrad. Choteau’s boys ended up wrestling mostly boys from Browning. The team had hoped to go to a tournament at Whitefish but due to a scheduling issue with the Montana High School Association rules they were unable to attend. No team scores were kept at the mixer.