Brock Picard joins a rare group of champions as a three-timer
Most high school athletes can only dream of earning a state championship. The euphoria that comes with that accomplishment must be something akin to soaring above the earth, effortlessly and with grace.
To win a second championship is even more rare, somewhere in the range of lightning striking twice.
And winning a third state championship, well, that must be something in the neighborhood of a miracle.
Such a feeling is shared by only the few, the elite, the hardest workers who devote themselves to their sport, day in and day out for their entire young adult lives. One of those rare, very special athletes rose to that pinnacle last weekend as Polson's Brock Picard claimed his third state title in what some argue is the toughest sport in Montana — wrestling.
After slicing his way through the competition on Friday and Saturday morning at the Montana State Wrestling Championship in Billings' MetraPark Arena, Picard won his third straight state championship title at 171 pounds with a convincing, clear-cut 9-4 decision over his Northwestern A rival, Kyle Sweedman of Libby.
Picard had won their previous three meetings this year, including two dual meets and last month's championship match of the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula. The fourth victory over Sweedman was the most challenging.
"You could tell he watched a lot of film on me because each time he got a little better against me," Picard explained, adding that his approach didn't change very much. "I was just going to go out there and wrestle six minutes and treat it like any other match. I was just going to go out there and get my title."
Picard knew, too, that all the hard work he put into every day of practice would pay off in the third period. He's not cocky about it, but the Polson senior knows that his strict training regimen and extra work gives him the edge in the third period.
"I put a lot of work in this year. I'd seen him in previous matches where he gets gassed ... and he was pretty dead in that final period," Picard said. "I was just going to keep pushing the pace ... (and knew) eventually he would get tired. In that last period I was tired, but not as tired as him."
After a takedown in the first period, Picard had a 2-1 lead until Sweedman escaped midway through the second period to tie it up at 2-2.
Just 13 seconds into the third period, Picard got an escape to go back up 3-2, then nailed a short drag takedown, powerfully yanking Sweedman aside and spinning around behind him to gain control in a split second. That gave Picard a solid 5-2 lead, capped with another two takedowns over the final minute that turned the match into a convincing 9-4 victory.
The short drag is a move Picard added to his package this year and it's proven to be one of his dominant moves.
"It's a really solid move ... one that you need against guys like Sweedman. He has such long arms ... and it's a lot harder to get to his legs," Picard explained. "I kind of set it up when he tries to fish his hand in on an inside tie-up. That's when I (throw him)."
Picard won three earlier matches to earn his spot in the championship bout. He pinned Kyle Dirette of Park High in 1:14 in the first round, then pinned Billings Central's Tad Logan-Maxon in 4:33 before earning an 11-3 decision over Belgrade's Levi Cade in the semifinals.
"I'd never wrestled Cade before but heard he was a pretty good cradler and a tough kid," Picard explained. "I had no idea what to expect, but as the match went on I figured it out. Again, being in good shape came into it. He was definitely sucking wind hard in the third period."
Winning three titles is rarified air, indeed. In Polson, only Pat Owen has also accomplished that feat, which he claimed in 1999. His dad, Polson head coach Bob Owen, relayed a message from Pat to Picard after the tournament.
"Pat said 'Tell him congratulations and that I'm happy to share that spot with him,'" Bob said. Pat is now the head assistant coach with Harvard's wrestling team.
Picard said each championship is special, each with mounting excitement and appreciation.
"The first one you win is pretty awesome, then your second gets a little better and then the third just tops it off," Picard explained.
The first championship included a close semifinal and a close call.
Picard was tied up at 11-11 with Anaconda's Clark Hensley when, with 30 seconds remaining in the third period and on top of Hensley, Picard heard coach Bob Owen tell him to cut Hensley loose. Picard did it, of course, giving Hensley a one-point escape and 12-11 lead.
That was a risky move for some wrestlers, but Owen knew Picard would get a takedown ... and Picard did for the 13-12 win.
That night, Picard was slammed to the mat 14 seconds into the 160-pound championship bout by Havre's Phillip Sutherland. It was a pretty vicious throw that knocked Picard unconscious for a few seconds. Officials and coaches swarmed to where Picard was laying, but the sophomore came to fairly quickly.
"I don't know if I've ever been more scared … that was a vicious slam and I was afraid he wouldn't get up," Owen said. "His eyes rolled back and you think about a broken neck and a concussion … that was scary."
Owen remembers hearing the athletic trainer say "He is done," not once but three times. But, Picard had come to by then and, after hearing the trainer, he popped up off the mat and headed to the middle of the mat to continue the match.
"Honestly, I couldn't believe he got up and ran out there … that was an act of courage to get out there," Owen said.
Owen went out on the mat and looked deep in Picard's eyes and asked if he was okay.
"He said 'Yes' and added that 'I don't want to win it that way,'" Owen said.
The match resumed and Picard almost immediately earned a takedown to go up 5-2. Picard added another takedown in the third period and rode out a stunning 7-3 decision for the championship title.
Owen remembers that Saturday as two of the biggest wins of his coaching career that happened in the same day.
Picard's second championship came after two more huge matches on Saturday at the Metra.
First, Picard won an emotional rematch over Sutherland in the semifinals. Up 4-3 early in the third period, Picard stuck Sutherland late in the third period for a win by fall that was as much about Picard's tough conditioning as it was about removing any doubt about who was the best wrestler.
That set up a final match between Picard and his rival from Libby, Seth Wright for the 171-pound title.
Wright's medical condition added a different slant to the championship bout. Earlier in the season he had fallen while doing some handstand walks across the wrestling room at practice — a routine he was particularly good at — when he collapsed.
Wright was revived at the hospital, but when he recovered he was suffering from amnesia. He has since fully recovered, but Wright had to relearn a lot of things, including wrestling. He was told he was good at it, but he didn't have any recollection of it.
Still, Picard and Wright battled it out and Picard ended up beating the Libby wrestler in a 7-5 decision to earn the championship.
The third title probably brought the most pressure, along with all the rewards.
"I did feel a lot of pressure. I talked to five or six college coaches at the Metra. I had a lot of family there, too," he admitted. "And as a two-timer it seems like you have a big target on your back. I lost a lot of sleep ... but it's an amazing feeling to get it done and win three. All the hard work all the way through high school comes down to that last and final match ... then you realize the success. You did it. And it's the last time you wrestle at the Metra. I just went out there and got the win."
Brock's mom and dad, Lori and Steve Picard, were at the front rail of the edge of the spectator seating in the Metra Arena, watching their youngest son complete his high school career. Brock was the top-ranked Class A wrestler in his weight class throughout the year, so he was the obvious favorite to win the 171-pound title. But that didn't make it any easier for his family to watch as he battled through the two-day tournament.
"It was stressful and hard to go through," Lori chuckled. "But he won it and we're all so proud of him."
Also in the stands was his older brother, Bryce, who has two state wrestling championship titles of his own and plays football for national champion Carroll College in Helena. There's always been a brotherly competition between the two — and Brock points out that maybe he's got the edge now with three state titles — but it's always been a supportive competition between the brothers.
"Bryce gave me a really good speech before finals. He pretty much told me it's your last hurrah and go out there and do it," Brock explained. "He's been one of my heroes, so it definitely made it special. We're competitive but he definitely wanted me to win it. For the most part we're really happy for each other."
Brock also had family there in spirit. His grandmother, Mary Lou Picard, is one of his biggest fans and normally makes it to state to cheer her grandson on, but illness kept her away this year. Brock told her not to worry, that he'd win the state title in honor of her. Laying in a bed in a Butte hospital with pneumonia, she got a visit from her three-time champion grandson on the way home Sunday, who draped the medal over his grandma's neck and posed for a photograph.
"She's always been a big supporter for me, so I did it for her," Brock said.
Picard has also been a big leader in a developing the Polson Pirate wrestling room. He hopes that his work ethic has set a good example for those who will follow him next year.
"I've worked with all those kids and they all look up to me. I respect them for doing the extra work that a lot (of other wrestlers) aren't willing to do," Picard said. "Now that I'm going to be gone, they'll be the ones who have to set a good example for the underclassmen. Jake Young will be a good leader next year and if they all keep working hard, they should have a good team next year."
Oddly enough, Picard almost didn't wrestle in Polson over his final two years. A family decision led to Brock moving to Havre where his father, Steve, took a job.
"It was a family decision and we made it together. I moved (to Havre) and tried to make the best of it. But then before the first dual against Whitefish I was told I wasn't eligible because I hadn't been there long enough," Brock explained. "I saw that as a sign ... To me it meant that I really should be back in Polson. I bleed purple and gold and this is where I'm happy. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Picard was quick to express his appreciation to all of the leaders and supporters who helped him achieve his goals.
"I'd love to thank all my coaches — Bob and Bill Owen, Eric Huffine and Bucky Cheff; my parents and my brother; and all the wrestling fans and my buddies who supported me throughout my high school wrestling career," he emphasized.
But three state championships isn't the end of Picard's wrestling career. He plans on wrestling next year in college, hopefully at the Division I level.
The idea of wrestling at the next level started after he earned his first state championship.
"It think after I won my first state title, it kind of opened up a lot of doors for me and opened the idea of wrestling in college, along with the Owens' encouragement," Picard said.
This year he's talked with the University of Wyoming, University of Great Falls, Dickinson State, MSU-Northern, Concordia (Minnesota) and Northern Colorado. He's got a few more school visits to make before he makes his decision.
"Hopefully, I'll decide soon. I'd really like to go D1 if I can get a good scholarship. If not, I'll go NAIA," Picard said, who is a 3.7 GPA student.
Picard is also a good football player. Playing at the college level has been a consideration, albeit somewhat distant.
"I was tempted to play football. My dad, mom and brother all went to Carroll College, but my heart's in wrestling," Picard explained. "But, hey, you never know. If I got a good offer I'd have to think about it. But, my heart is pretty much set on wrestling."
His coach agrees that he's got a bright future in wrestling at college, where it takes a special wrestler to succeed.
"Brock is really well-respected by the other coaches. I think coaches recognize when a kid puts in the work he does ... and carries himself the way he does. He's really a humble kid and doesn't try to show up other kids. I think coaches really appreciate that," Bob Owen explained. "From the get-go, Brock has always wanted to wrestle in college. He's done quite a bit of summer wrestling and had a chance to watch quite a few of the elite wrestlers. He's just been fantastic as far as setting an example for the rest of the kids in the practice room."
That work ethic produced a one-loss season for Picard, who dropped a narrow 2-1 championship match at the Tri-State Tournament in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
"It's a shame that's he not undefeated. Brock had a takedown on that one match he lost, but it didn't get called. I felt bad for him ... He really should have been undefeated," Owen emphasized.
But Picard doesn't have any regrets. It's all been like he's living the dream.
"It's been pretty awesome," Picard said simply.
His coach thinks so, too, though he's not sure if he's ready for it to be over.
"We're sure going to miss him, I'll tell you that. But, I kinda wish he had six years of eligibility," Owen chuckled.