How do you say goodbye to a legend?
How about with a win at the Garden City wrestling duals?
After a 55-year career, current Missoula Big Sky coach and ambassador of the sport, Lanny Bryant, announced that Friday’s intracity rivalry triangular would be his last. His Eagles responded with a clean team sweep against Missoula Hellgate and Sentinel, besting the Spartans in the championship faceoff, 45-12.
Bryant -- or Lanny, as the 78-year-old coach is more affectionately called -- was swarmed by his wrestlers at the center of the mat as the team hoisted the trophy. Not only was it their coach’s last Garden City dual at the Big Sky gym, but the Eagles had finally dethroned the Spartans after a 9-year reign as Missoula champs.
“How could you be more thankful than what just happened?” coach Bryant said. “I was admiring and amazed at what they were doing tonight.”
The Eagles got ahead of the Spartans early and rode a wave of emotion to the win.
Dayne Martin scored a pin at 120 pounds to give the Eagles an early 6-0 lead. Big Sky’s Douglas Swanson followed, meeting Sentinel’s Justin Mayfield in one of the closest contested bouts of the night at 126 pounds.
Swanson and Mayfield were knotted 2-2 heading into the third period. Mayfield earned an escape early into the third, making it 3-2. Swanson answered with a takedown to recapture the lead, 4-3, and closed out the final minute with control of his Spartan opponent.
“I just kept moving, kept grinding at him and he finally opened up and I took advantage of it,” Swanson said. “I just had to break him down, do whatever I could -- drop to a single -- I just wasn’t going to give that up.”
That put the Eagles ahead 9-0, and they kept building on their lead.
“It kind of snowballed on us there early,” Sentinel coach Jeremy LaPorte said. “The wins kept piling up and that’s part of this sport -- every one of those matches tonight, though, could have gone the other way.”
Sentinel’s Cam Hegel slowed the Eagles onslaught momentarily in the 132-pound match, winning a 9-1 decision against Isaac Skillicorn. The Spartan junior wanted more than the major decision, though.
“I was trying to get six points on the board. I was going out trying to make something for myself but it just didn’t work,” Hegel said. “He was just sitting on the bottom trying not to get pinned.”
Sentinel could have used the extra points. Big Sky went on to win the next six weights until the Spartans won an open 205 and Tanner Stack, a 205-pounder himself, wrestled up at 285 and earned a 5-1 decision. By then, though, Big Sky had secured an insurmountable lead, 36-12.
It was a match that was closer than the final score, though. At 182 pounds, Jake Riekena won by pin in 4 minutes, 37 seconds. Before the final flatten, it was just a four-point dual.
At 170, Sentinel’s Tyler Puddy actually led 2-0 briefly against Brenden Gallagher, before the Big Sky senior re-took the lead and ultimately earned a pin at 3:03.
For Gallagher, there was no other way -- in his mind -- to end the night.
“We’ve just been preparing for this, we’ve been working really hard and everyone just set it in motion that we were going to go out and win this,” Gallagher said. “
As for Gallagher’s thoughts on Lanny’s retirement -- well, he thinks he’s giving up the mat too soon.
“It’s pretty crazy. He’s a legend to everybody in the wrestling community,” Gallagher said. "Even though this is his last year and he’s retiring, he could probably still go out on the mat and kick butt.”
While Big Sky and Sentinel each earned wins against Hellgate, the Knights did have some individual success. The Knights’ Bridger Hall kept Big Sky’s Douglas Swanson from winning two close matches on the evening. Hall won with a sudden victory takedown in his 126-pound matchup.
The Knights won three more bouts by way of injury default or forfeit. From there it was all Sentinel and Big Sky.
The winningest coach in Montana wrestling history with 320 dual wins and nine undefeated seasons still has divisionals and the Class AA state wrestling tournament before he rolls up the mat. But after that, he and his wife, Ann, are hitting the road.
But not until after imparting a little more wisdom after a big victory.
“This sport really teaches you a lot -- if you lose, you have to accept it,” Lanny said. “If you win, you win because you fought the battle.”