Leave no doubt. That was the mantra John Mears took into the finals Saturday afternoon at the State A Wrestling Tournament in Rimrock Auto Arena.
The Belgrade junior put together a dominant weekend in Billings en route to returning to the finals for a third consecutive season. In a rematch against Polson’s Bridger Wenzel — they had met in last year’s 132-pound championship — Mears led from start to finish in a 5-0 victory.
“I tried to just get a lead and then I just tried to control the match from there,” said Mears. “I think that really helped, and pulling back on my pace and not shooting as much. Just letting him do some more work so in the third I could score some more points.”
Mears scored on an early take down in the 152-pound championship match, and then chose down following a scoreless second period with a 2-0 lead. An escape made it 3-0, and then he sealed the win with a late take down.
The victory capped a 35-4 campaign for Mears, who becomes the fifth Panther to win three titles in program history. Next year he’ll try to become just the third four-time champion.
“There was never any moment where I felt like he was at risk,” said Belgrade coach Sean Dellwo. “To be honest with you, I think this was his best tournament all year and perfect time to peak. He wrestled so solid.”
Mears actually entered the weekend slightly banged up. He’d been battling tennis elbow, as well as a rib injury, but managed to stay healthy throughout.
“I feel like I wrestled well, especially with the situation that I had a couple days before,” he said. “Kind of got hurt a couple times, but felt like I wrestled well.”
Mears pinned Browning’s Lawrence Birdrattler in less than a minute to begin the tournament Friday, and then won by tech fall against Billings Central’s Jacob Morgan, 20-5, and Libby’s Hunter Hoover, 17-2, in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.
“Something that I haven’t seen out of a Belgrade wrestler in a while dominating in that fashion,” said Dellwo. “And then the rematch with Bridger Wenzel in the final and he just wrestled his butt off.”
With Belgrade moving to Class AA next year, Mears is the final grappler to win a state championship in Class A.
“I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Led by Mears, the Panthers placed eight in the team standings with 82 points. Defending state champion Sidney finished with a Class A-record 310.5 points to win the championship, while Havre (170) and Polson (128.5) rounded out the top three.
“About the middle of the pack. Kind of like what we anticipated,” Dellwo said. “As a team, we fought this weekend. We fought very hard. We only had two wrestlers not win a match. Everyone else won at least one match and most of our wrestlers won two matches.”
Belgrade boasted three placers as freshman Oden Currier finished as the runner up at 126, while senior Kevin Aiken was fourth at 170. Currier upset Corvallis’ Dante Venema in the semifinals in a 10-5 decision.
“Not being there before, the stage gets pretty big, but overall he wrestled his butt off all weekend,” said Dellwo. “Beating a senior in the semis, and not just beating him — he controlled the match from beginning to end.”
In the finals, Currier (21-10) came out aggressive, but Fergus County’s Cooper Birdwell capitalized on an early miscue to win by fall in 16 seconds. It capped a 51-0 season for Birdwell.
“He took a really nice shot and was in deep. Stopped his motion for just a half a second and Birdwell took advantage of that and ended up kind of catching Oden there,” Dellwo explained. “When you get caught you get caught, it is what it is. But he’ll learn for next year and I’m looking forward to him continuing to be in the topic of conversation when it comes to finalists each year.”
Aiken (30-15) posted a 4-2 record during the tournament with both losses coming to Sidney’s Trevor Dean in the quarterfinals and then in the consolation match. Dean won by fall in the quarterfinals and then by major decision, 12-1, in the consolation match.
“All year he’s lost exactly to one wrestler in Class A, and that same wrestler was the one he lost to in the quarters and the same kid he lost to for third and fourth today,” said Dellwo. “He was undefeated in Class A besides wrestling Trevor Dean three times in the last two weeks.”
State A Wrestling
(at Rimrock Auto Arena, Billings)
Team sores: 1. Sidney/Fairview 310.5; 2. Havre 170; 3. Polosn 128.5; 4. Frenchtown 126; 5. Columbia Falls 99; 6. Custer County 93.5; 7. Laurel 82.5; 8. Belgrade 82; 9. Fergus 73.5; 10. Corvallis 71; 11. Browning 65; 12. Beaverhead 63.5; 13. Hamilton/Darby 60.5; 14. Libby/Troy 58; 15. Dawson 49; 16. Hardin 48; 17. Whitefish 47; 18. Ronan 39; Park 35; 20. Billings Central 24; 21. Stevensville/Victor 14.
103 - Mick Chagnon, Havre, tech fall Noah Huffaaker, Beaverhead County, 18-1. 113 - Walker Dyer, Frenchtown, mdec. Kaiden Cline, Sidney, 11-0. 120 - Jake Bibler, Frenchdown, pin Cameron Pleninger, :51. 126 - Cooper Birdwell, Fergus, pin Oden Currier, Belgrade, :16. 132 - Aden Graves, Sidney dec. Carter Ledihold, Custer County, 2-0. 138 - Christian Dean, Sidney, dec. Lane Paulson, Havre 4-1. 145 - Martin Wilkie, Havre, pin Zander Burnison, Sidney, :38. 152 - John Mears, Belgrade, dec. Bridger Wenzel, Polson, 5-0. 160 - Riley Waters, Sidney, dec. Cooper Hoffman, Beaverhead County, 12-6. 170 - Hunter Fritsch, Polson, dec. Nelson Crisafuli, Dawson County, 3-0. 182 - Jett Jones, Sidney, pin Colten McPhee, Columbia Falls, 5:59. 205 - Shane Gibson, Park County, dec. Austin Ratliff, Havre, 4-1. 285 - Taylor Gladeua, Columbia Falls, pin Wacey Zuback, Browning, 5:36.
103 - Landen Stewart, Frenchtown, dec. Riley Pleninger, Havre, 4-0. 113 - Rene Pierre, Polson, pin Eil Warner, French, 1:56. 120 - Buddy Doolin, Libby, dec. Jordan Darby, Sidney, 9-2. 126 - Everett Jensen, Sid, dec. Dante Venema, Corvallis, 7-5. 132 - Michael Golden, Hardin, dec. Kolton Reid, Sidney, 3-1. 138 - Keagan Campbell, Lau, dec. Kade Graves, Sidney, 5-3. 145 - Bridger Williams, Hamilton, Dylan Lutz, Sidney, 3-0. 152 - Connor Harris, Havre, dec. Jace Winter, Sidney, 1-0. 160 - Duane Otto II, Fergus, mdec. Noah Hurst, Hamilton, 18-7. 170 - Trevor Dean, Sidney, mdec. Kevin Aiken, Belgrade, 12-1. 182 - Cameron Younger, Sidney, pin Landon Farar, Fergus, 1:27. 205 - Jakob Freeman, Columbia Falls, dec. Justin Mays, Ronan, 8-3. 285 - Keegan Mires, Dawson County, pin Brodey Skogen, Sidney, :19.