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View from the Sidelines

 

February 15, 2018



Kaleb Frank and Daniel Uli can finally say it.

To their fans, to their friends, to their families… to the whole world if they want. “We are champions! State B-C champions!”

Both seniors and heated rivals through most of their high school careers, Frank of Thompson Falls, who wrestled at and won the State B-C title at 120 pounds this winter, and Uli of Plains-Hot Springs, who competed at and won the crown at 126, ended up wrestling each other a lot during their high school mat careers.

The more experienced wrestler when they were freshmen, Frank won most of the mat encounters early on, but Uli started catching up in a hurry. By the time they were seniors, their wrestling talents were almost equal.

And they ended up helping each other get their coveted State titles…Having State champion-type competition to practice against tends to give wrestlers the opportunity to improve.

“Daniel and I have been competing against each other for four years and yes, that made both of us better,” Frank said, “and we grew pretty close over the years.”

In an interesting twist of fate in Billings, the State B-C championship round started at 120 pounds Saturday in Billings, and Frank and Uli went out and won their titles back-to-back.

“That was a nice touch,” Plains-Hot Springs coach Jeff Kujala said. “Two Sanders County kids that know each other so well going out and winning State titles like that to open the championship round.”

***

Jase Sorenson did not quite grab the big prize but the Thompson Falls senior may be the best wrestler in Montana who did not win a State title last week.

After all, Sorenson’s only two losses in his otherwise perfect season came at the hands of two of the better wrestlers in any class this season, the undefeated Garrett Graves of Eureka, who won the State B-C title at 182 pounds, and the likewise undefeated Dakoda Siegel of Colstrip, who went on to win the crown at 170 Saturday evening after defeating Sorenson in the semis that morning.

“That semifinal match with Siegel was the real championship, he was the only kid that could’ve beaten Jase in the entire field,” Hawk coach Ian Taylor said. “It was unfortunate that they ended up meeting in the semis because they both belonged in the finals.”

Sorenson, although undoubtedly bitterly disappointed, swallowed his disappointment and made the best of what was still there for him and eventually won his way to the consolation final, where he won his third place medal by pinning Shepherd’s Conny Cochran in only 1:55.

Sorenson had won second place at 170 his junior year and has not given up on the idea of wrestling in college just yet.

“I have been thinking about wrestling in college,” Sorenson said, “but I’m not sure yet. I am definitely going to college though.”

***

He may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten.

Every time I watched the Plains-Hot Springs wrestling team in action this year, I could feel Kenny Marjerrison’s presence, and see it in the way that everyone connected with the program conducted themselves, either on the mats or on the sidelines.

Please turn to page 16

You could just sense that the Savage Horsemen wrestlers and yes, even their coaches, were out there trying to do things the way their friend, ex-head coach and mentor would have wanted things done.

Things like wrestling hard, listening to your coaches and teammates, respecting your opponents and respecting the sport – the things that Kenny had helped teach them during his short but incredibly productive life.

And it isn’t just here in Sanders County where Kenny is missed, the entire wrestling community in Montana grieved his passing last fall.

In a final show of respect on the state-wide stage, tournament organizers at last week’s Montana All-Class tournament in Billings made sure to say a few words in Kenny’s honor during the Parade of Athletes opening the tourney Friday morning.

“Kenny just meant so much to the wrestling community, not just in Plains but across Montana,” Kujala said. “That was certainly very nice for him to be honored at the State tournament like that. A lot of people obviously held him in very high regard.”

***

Throwback…

Six years ago this week, Thompson Falls senior Ben Conover won the 15th individual State wrestling title in Blue Hawk mat history by pinning Townsend’s Shay Christianson in the third period of the Class B-C 145 pound championship match at Metra Park in Billings.

A transfer from New Jersey who cut his grappling teeth there, Conover did not become varsity-eligible until the week before the Western B-C divisional meet in Philipsburg, where he pinned his way to the 145 pound title there to earn his shot in Billings.

In Billings, Conover pinned KC French of Forsyth 29 seconds into his first round match, pinned Layne Durfee of Choteau 5:10 into the quarterfinals, edged Chris Nile of Forsyth 4-2 in the semifinals and finally, took down Christianson in the final.

Mark Johnston was coaching the Falls wrestling program that year. “Ben is the whole package, one of the more talented kids I have ever been around,” Johnston said at the time. “He had a great tournament and deserves what he got because he worked really hard for it.”

Kaleb Frank joined Conover in the Blue Hawk hall of wrestling champions last week for the 16th individual State title in Thompson Falls history. Here is the complete list of Hawk wrestling champs:

BLUE HAWK

STATE CHAMPIONS

1974 – Rod Bybee, 138 pounds

1975 – Rod Bybee, 145

1977 – Don Breitenbach, 112; Chris Wollaston, 155

1979* - Ron Kazmierczak, 126; Steve Davis, 155; Larry Milner, 167; Shawn Allen, HWT

1980* - Mike Fisher, 132

1982 – Mike LaBrosse, 126

1987 – Jared Savik, 167

1991 – Jesse Kegel, 145

1996 - Randi Cunningham, 171

2000 – Jay Deal, 189

2012 – Ben Conover, 145

2018 – Kaleb Frank – 120

* Thompson Falls team championships

Note: Rod Bybee is the only two-time individual wrestling champion in TFHS history.

***

Throwback plus…

One year ago this week, Plains-Hot Springs’ James DeTienne became only the second Hot Springs athlete ever to win an individual State B-C wrestling title by defeating Eureka’s Canaan Smith 9-7 in overtime in the 152 pound championship match.

In what turned out to be coach Kenny Marjerrison’s final State B-C tournament, DeTienne was down 5-1 heading into the third period against Smith, who he had lost the Western B-C title to only a week earlier.

Scrambling like mad in the late going, DeTienne let Smith escape in the closing seconds to get another chance at a takedown to tie things up at 7-7 right at the end of regulation, and then scored a takedown in overtime to get the win.

DeTienne joined Hot Springs legend Andrew Leichtnam, who won the heavyweight crown for P-HS and then-coach Scott Kinney back in 2002, as the only Savage grapplers to ever win State wrestling titles.

Interestingly, another fine Hot Springs wrestler, Kane Lawson also advanced to the 2017 finals at 160 pounds but was defeated in that match.

 

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