DEER LODGE — Three of the six Arlee Warriors making the trip to the state finals this weekend will be doing it as divisional champions. Two of the champions have unfinished business in Billings, and one will be going for the first time.
The Warriors went 3-1 in the Western B-C Divisional final matches in Deer Lodge Saturday to help Arlee secure fourth place with 128 points, just 14 behind the divisional-winning Bluehawks.
Cole Rice, the Warriors 140-pound junior, entered the tournament undefeated against his 140-pound divisional opponents and continued his dominance in the conference with three pins – two of which came in the first period – to capture his second straight divisional crown and his sixth tournament championship in seven tries this season – he finished second at the CMR Holiday Classic in December.
Rice, who hit the century mark in wins this season, had a dominant season last year too, making it to the final match at state, where he lost a 6-2 decision to Conrad’s Jared Giard. The loss in the finals has motivated Rice this season and he has sights set on only one goal this weekend; becoming the state champion.
“It was disappointing last year ... It will help me this year. It gave me a good look at what it takes to win the finals,” Rice said, after pinning Drummond’s Barrett Stanghill at 2:49 in the championship match. Rice was up 14-0, when he pinned Stanghill.
Arlee coach Ken Hill said they have prepared Rice by making him wrestle some of the toughest guys in the west, often making him move up a weight class to do so.
“If all goes well, and Cole is at his best, we should see him in the state championship match,” Hill said.
Logan Lefler’s path to the divisional championship wasn’t as easy as Rice’s. Battling illnesses and a pinched nerve he sustained in the football season, the 125-pound sophomore missed a lot of the season and didn’t hit his stride until late.
Saturday, Lefler earned his first divisional championship by pinning Superior’s Mason Chatterley, the tournament’s number one seed, at 3:35. Chatterley beat Lefler at the Mission Mountain Classic, but Lefler came back and beat him in a Thompson Falls tournament.
“I’ve been hurt and sick and finally feel healthy enough to perform my best,” said Lefler, who used a power half to pin Mission-Charlo’s Scotty Gilleard in the second period of the semifinals. Lefler was trailing Gilleard 4-2, when he pinned him.
As a freshman, Lefler made it to the state finals and was only one match away from placing. This year, he wants to make sure he stands on the podium.
Warrior 105-pounder Austin Rubel avenged his only conference loss this season with a 7-5 decision over Darby’s JT Hamblen, who just defeated Rubel the week before. With the victory, Rubel, who started the tournament by pinning Plains-Hot Springs’ Rio Crismore, became the first Warrior freshman to win a divisional crown since Jake Trujillo and Jordan Lefler in 2006.
“Austin is wrestling well, but being a freshman he still makes some mistakes, but we know what they are and have a few days to fix them,” Hill said.
Bryce Norling, the Warriors’ 215-pound wrestler, was the only other Warrior to make the finals, but was pinned by Florence’s KaCee Sutton in the first period. Norling, the number two seed at the tournament, started the tournament by pinning Deer Lodge’s Roy Stidham in less than a minute, and punch his ticket to Billings with a first-period pin of Noxon’s Derek Jensen in the semifinals.
The biggest surprise of the tournament for the Warriors was Cody North’s fourth-place finish in the 215-pound class. The sophomore only had one win last season but continued to work hard and earned a trip to Billings by pinning Stidham at 3:45 in the wrestleback rounds after losing to Sutton.
“Cody works really hard and knows his opponents. He knew that if he got a good spot in the bracket he could place in the tournament and make it to state. He got his spot, then wrestled fantastic,” Hill said of North, who started the tournament by pinning Noxon’s Jeremiah Chandler. “He still has some things to work out, but I am extremely happy for him and he has already made us very proud to have him on the wrestling team. Boy, is he exciting to watch. I have been coaching for 19 years, and I still get excited.”
Cameron Dominick, a 119-pound freshman, will also join the Warriors in Billings. Dominick came back from a 10-0 deficit to beat Mission-Charlo’s Casey Nitschke 14-13 in the fifth-sixth-place match and was awarded a berth to state because there was an opening in the bracket.
“I would have really like to have taken 10 or 11 kids to the state tournament, and we preach how difficult it is at times to make it. You have to wrestle your best the last two weekends and if you don’t, you don’t get a chance to go. It is survival of the fittest and if you have a bad day and your opponent has a good day, you might not make it,” Hill said.
Team scores - Thompson Falls 144, Florence 140, St. Ignatius/Charlo 137, Arlee 128, Darby 120.5, Drummond 92, Noxon 76.5, Eureka 58, Superior 55.5, Deer lodge 54, Plains/Hot Springs 37.
98 - Dillon Edwards, MC, pinned Tyler Wiedeger, Dar, :28;
105 - Austin Rubel, A, dec. JT Hamblen, Dar, 7-5;
112 - Kody Davidson, F, dec. Jake Adler, Dru, 12-6;
119 - Caleb Caicedo, Dar, pinned Kenneth Beech, P-HS, 5:19;
125 - Logan Lefler, A, pinned Mason Chatterley, S, 3:35;
130 - Eric Bergerson, Dru, dec. Corbin Newbary, F, 5-2;
135 - Dalton Roundy, Dar, dec. Cody Lund, Flo, 2-1 OT;
140 - Cole Rice, A, pinned Barrett Stanghill, Dru, 2:49;
145 - Jame Petersen, MC, won by default over Bobby Ray, DL.
152 - Richard Lyons, TF, pinned Kolter Beneitone, F, 5:10;
160 - Taylor Vaughn, E, m. dec. Shawn Sacchi, TF, 16-4;
171 - Adam Moore, N, dec. Taylor Brown, E, 1-0.
189 - Erik Hilety, TF, pinned Pake Morris, Dru, 1:37;
215 - KaCee Sutton, F, pinned Bryce Norling, A, 1:42.
Hwt - Cody Martins, N, dec. Nick Dinnell, MC, 3-1.