Ronan's Cameron Neiss, Toby Cheff dominate at state
BILLINGS — Two Ronan Chief wrestlers cut through the competition like buzz saws last weekend at the Montana State Wrestling Championships in Billings and both of them claimed individual championships to cap off a strong wrestling season.
Senior Cameron Neiss finished off his high school career as a two-timer, following last year's 125-pound championship title with his second, this time at 130 pounds. He is also a four-year placer at state — Neiss had previously placed second at 98 pounds as a freshman and was third as a sophomore at 112.
Neiss won all four of his matches by pin, including a dominating pin of Sidney's Lane Houchen in the finals at the 1:59 mark of the match.
"Cameron had a great tournament," Ronan head coach Dustyn Azure said. "That was his goal all year was to get into the finals and dominate every match he wrestled in this year. And he went out and did it, except for two (matches he won by decision) and both were 1-0 scores."
Also dominating all the way through state was Toby Cheff, who pinned every opponent he met in the 189-pound bracket, including Austin Rehyer of Belgrade in 3:09 to win the championship bout Saturday night.
Cheff, a junior who placed third as a freshman at 140 and third as a sophomore at 160, also won the quick pin award at state, with a cumulative total time of 6:13 over the four matches.
"Toby had a great tournament. He went out there to pin every kid. He was on a mission and you could tell it. He really wanted that quick pin award," Azure said. "But it kind of got him in trouble. We had to calm him down and tell him not to go after it too hard ... we had to get him back into good position."
Cheff is powerful and aggressive on the mat, though his technique is a little different.
"He's a very unorthodox wrestler with incredibly powerful hips. If you get caught under him, he'll punish you. If you shoot on him, he'll make you not want to be caught down there again," coach Azure explained. "But he's a cradling machine. That's his go-to move. And he's good at it."
Azure said that Cheff jumped up from 160 to 189 this year because he simply wants to be bigger.
"He's tired of cutting weight and wants to gain weight and be as big as he can. He's normally at 184 and we feed him constantly," Azure chuckled. "Toby had a good year. He went out and kept his composure in every match. His competitive edge kept him in every match. He's one, also, who is looking forward past high school to wrestle in college."
Micky Cheff also qualified for the championship finals at 152 pounds, what most coaches agreed was perhaps the toughest weight class in Class A. Three former state champs were battling for the title and Micky was one of them. Cheff won the championship at 145 pounds last year, following a third-place finish as a sophomore at 130.
Cheff worked his way up through a brutal bracket, winning his first-round match by pin, then a second round 9-4 decision and a tough 6-3 decision over Laurel's Dylan Kramer in the semifinals, whom he'd split matches with early in the year.
In the championship, Cheff fought hard, but fell to another outstanding wrestler, Kent Pattison of Havre, who edged Cheff in a 6-3 decision.
"Micky had a good tournament. Even his finals match he did well," Azure emphasized. "He had a lot of pressure on him this year. He's so mentally tough. He struggled a bit late in the season, but he really turned it around at state and got into the finals. I'm real proud of him. Even though he lost, I think he's going to be a good college wrestler. That was one of the more competitive weights at state. Both those kids (Pattison and Cheff) will go on to be great college wrestlers."
Azure said Cheff got a lot of attention from in-state coaches, plus he's heard some interest from Boise State.
Though disappointed in the loss, Micky stuck around the sidelines to watch his younger brother, Toby, win the 189 title.
"Micky handled it pretty well. He's very proud of his brother. They are very competitive in all aspects of life, whether it's wrestling or eating food. But I guarantee he's very happy for his brother," Azure said. "Micky is one we'll really miss next year. He's a great leader in the practice room and classroom, too. He's a competitive kid and will be a great college wrestler. He'll develop a lot at the college level."
Cole McArthur, a junior, capped off his season with a third-place finish at 160 pounds, earning a 5-0 decision over Whitefish's Tanner Benedict in the consolation championship. He was 4-1 at state, with just one loss in the semifinals, an 8-1 decision, to the eventual champion, Connor Malone of Lewistown.
"Cole wrestled well. He came back after being disappointed by not placing last year (He'd placed fifth as a freshman)," Azure said. "I believe if he'd been in the opposite side of the bracket, he'd have made the finals. He didn't quite wrestle the match he wanted in the semifinals."
But Azure is very positive about McArthur's future.
"If Cole puts in the summer work, he'll definitely be in the hunt for a state title. It's just going to take that little extra work for him to get that state championship he wants," the coach noted.
Several other wrestlers had good tournaments but didn't place at state.
"Tyler Wheeler didn't have the tournament he wanted. He came down with the flu on Friday ... a bad time to get it," Azure said of the senior. "But he had a great work ethic and it was pleasure coaching him the last few years. If he continues to put the hard work in that he put into the practice room, he'll be success at whatever he does after high school."
"Another kid who came along this year was Aaron Yazzie-Whitworth, a junior," Azure added. "He wrestled earlier as a kid, then didn't wrestle for a while before coming back this year. He showed a lot of heart. He started out hoping to improve himself for football and it will definitely help him. If he keeps at it, I think he can definitely place at state."
Azure said sophomore Dustin Goldsby also made a lot of progress this year on the wrestling mat.
"Last year Dustin fell short of making it to state, but he made it this year. He just needs to put in a little more off-season work. If he can do that, he could be a state placer over the next couple of years," Azure said.
Ronan took 13 wrestlers to state — three seniors, two juniors, one sophomore, six freshmen — and they all learned quite a bit from the state tournament experience, according to Azure.
"We brought six freshmen to this tournament and I was proud of all six of them for making it to state. I think a lot of them were shocked by the atmosphere in their first match, but it was a great experience for them and gave them something to look for next year," Azure said. "I was really proud of them ... with how they went from their first match this year to the last, a complete turnaround. If they buy into the summer work and our program for lifting and continue to work at camps, we could have a state championship team before they graduate, if not earlier."
Azure noted that now the coaches will get to work with the Little Guy wrestling program, which starts next week.
"We've got a great beginner program. It's just a matter of numbers. If we get more kids to buy into our program (in middle and high school), we're going to develop pretty good and be hard to beat. That's the only thing we're missing is the numbers," Azure said. "I'd like to thank my coaching staff this year, too. They all did a great job with the kids. It was an honor coaching with all of them in my first year. Monty Cheff, my head assistant, did a great job of developing my upper weights. He got those kids ready to go. Colt Jore and Tony Peretto, our volunteer assistant, also did a great job."