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 and 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. It will be a well-rounded field in the AA. Both Helena schools are tough. Senior will be tough. They have a really good freshman class coming in.

"Skyview took third last year and returns most of their big guns. West is a team that is up and coming. It will be interesting. You don't know until you step on the mat for the first few matches to see where everyone is at."

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.

"We focus on it's a marathon and not a sprint," said Thompson. "We are working into it; working on technique and not as much live. We'll work it around in our duals and get a lot of kids some varsity time and see where the pieces of the puzzle will fit and look at other teams and focus on that state tournament."

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.

"They are working hard," Filius said. "It is a different group every year. This year's group is pretty experienced, but young and excited to be there. They are working hard for me right now." 

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. 

The third-place finish was the first time in school history the Red Devils placed at the state wrestling tournament.

"I know Sidney will be salty. They had a real young crew last year," Filius said. "I think Lewistown will be tough. They have a real good crew of young kids coming in and they had a good core of veterans last year that they get to keep. They have a nice team."

Laurel and Billings Central both open the season in Belgrade on Saturday. Havre will host a tournament. Both Great Falls Class AA schools, Cut Bank, Big Sandy, Lewistown, Chinook, Malta and Browning will be at the Havre meet.

"It's always nice to start it off in your own gym," Filius said. "We round-robin the kids on Friday night. They get three or four matches and we run a tournament on Saturday. We get some good pairings the first day."

Sawyer Degen of Belgrade also claimed his fourth state title last year.

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 year, 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. Ronan was third. 

"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.

"It's a good one for us to start off and is pretty tough," Lemer said.

Email John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

Outbrain