BILLINGS — All the teams have a different route to follow, but for all the path ends at the state wrestling tournament Feb. 9-10, 2018, at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
It's on the Metra floor that individuals will be striving for glory and teams will be looking to knock off Kalispell Flathead (Class AA), Havre (A) and Eureka (B-C) for championship trophies.
The first day of competition is Friday. Let the journey begin.
Class AA: Flathead returns 10 state placers and 19 state-tournament participants from a season ago. The Braves' Trae Vasquez tore an ACL during the football season and has had surgery, said coach Jeff Thompson. Vasquez is a two-time state champion, who finished runner-up a season ago to Billings Senior's Jahzriel Peak at 132 pounds. Vasquez is going through physical therapy and attends practice regularly. It hasn't been ruled out that he could return by the end of the season.
"He's hurting, but he's handled it really well," said Thompson.
Vasquez' younger sister, sophomore Tilynne Vasquez, will wrestle at 113 pounds. Last year with her sixth-place performance at 103, she became the first girl to place in the State AA tourney and only the second ever to achieve top-six status at the Montana High School Association state wrestling meet.
Thompson said his team features seniors who display "great" leadership quality.
The Bozeman Hawks were second last year and Billings Skyview finished third.
"We look really solid in our upperweights and are two deep," Thompson said. "I have about 50 kids in the room and they are working hard. We are excited for the year. Overall, I think Bozeman will be super tough. They return a majority of their team and (Missoula) Big Sky will be in the hunt."
The Eagles will be wrestling without longtime coach Lanny Bryant at the helm, but along with Thompson, Missoula Hellgate coach Jesse Sessums expects the Eagles to be tough.
"(Big Sky) returns a very experienced team," said Sessums, who returns a trio of state qualifiers himself.
Senior's Charlie Klepps will be chasing a fourth individual state title, while Skyview's Brock Bushfield is a two-time champion and was second at 160 last year.
The Billings Class AA teams are at the Sidney Invitational Friday and Saturday. Flathead will wrestle at Butte on Friday and then compete in the Helena Duals on Saturday.
Class A: Havre is the five-time defending team champion in Class A and returns nine state placers and three seniors. The Blue Ponies also feature three state champions on the roster in sophomore Quin Reno, junior Martin Wilkie, and senior Tyler Schaub.
Wilkie is a two-time titlist, while Reno was the 103-pound champ last year. Schaub was the 205-pound champion in 2016. He suffered an ACL injury in football last year and missed the wrestling season said longtime Havre coach Scott Filius.
"That's not a bad crew," noted Filius.
Overall, Havre has 22 out for the sport.
Last year, Havre piled up 257.5 points at the state tournament, while Columbia Falls tallied 131 for second and Glendive 125 for third. Havre did graduate a pair of four-time state champs in Parker Filius and Jase Stokes.
Also joining the ranks in the Western A is Libby and Ronan, and the Chiefs were third in Class B-C a year ago.
But both Frenchtown coach Jesse Long and Hamilton skipper Chad Williams pegged Polson and C. Falls as potential favorites come February.
"The Southwest A is wide open this year, and the Northwest gained some depth (with Ronan and Libby); I still think Polson and Columbia Falls are the teams to beat," said Long, who added that additional depth in the conference could shake things up.
Frenchtown has two returning title winners in Jake Bibler and Riley Gurr, while Hamilton sophomore Bridger Williams place fourth as a freshman last year at state.
Class B-C: Eureka won its first state wrestling title last year and 12th-year coach Danny Lemer said he has 14 grapplers out this season, including four state placers and six who have state experience. Another thing the Lions have going for them is the football team has won back-to-back State B titles. Confidence is at an all-time high at Lincoln County High School.
Senior Garrett Graves finished last year undefeated at 182 pounds and will return to the lineup at the same weight this year.
"The kids really believe in themselves and the confidence level is outstanding," Lemer said. "They feel like they can do anything after they won it last year."
Jonathan Schmidt returns for the Lions for his senior year after finishing second last year at 138 to Colstrip four-time titlist Clayton Currier.
Colstrip led the classification in individual champions with four last season on its way to a second-place finish.
"Colstrip will be tough and has quite a tradition," Lemer said, adding Thompson Falls will be a good team in the Western B-C. "Huntley (Project) had a young squad and was tough. It depends on how everyone shakes out with weights and where."
Forsyth junior Michael Weber is shooting for a third state title as is Colstrip junior Jackson Currier.
The Lions will have a few guys out of action the first weekend as they recover from football season, Lemer said. Eureka will participate at the Polson Invite this weekend. All three classifications will be represented in Polson.