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MISSOULA — Missoula Big Sky junior Jett Rebish was bummed he couldn’t be on the mat with his teammates at last year’s Garden City Duals, even though his presence wouldn’t have made a mathematical difference in the outcome.

Back from the ACL injury that kept him sidelined, Rebish has been steadily returning to form as a top wrestler in the state and helped lead Big Sky to a pair of blowout wins over Hellgate and Sentinel on Friday to capture the city championship at Hellgate.

“I felt really left out last year because I know I could’ve been in there helping my squad and doing the best I could,” Rebish said. “I know I would’ve helped them out a lot in that crosstown last year because they lost. I’m just really grateful that I’m in good health right now and I can come away with this win with my team.”

Rebish went 2-0 in the Garden City Duals as he continued his climb back to the bright future he had after his freshman year, when he took fourth place at state in the 152-pound weight class. His head coach, Rick Moreno, thinks he can improve upon that finish, but Rebish is making no promises about it right now.

Besides, the return to this point hasn’t been an easy one since tearing his ACL in the first wrestling practice of his sophomore season. But, he’s still worked hard enough to be ranked third among all Class AA wrestlers at 160 pounds heading into next week’s divisionals.

“I was pretty sad when I figured out I tore my ACL, and I almost shed a tear because I really like wrestling,” Rebish said. “I think that it could be a blessing or a curse, any way you look at it. I feel I’m pushing myself even hard this year. I’m really just trying to go for it all.”

After surgery and offseason rehab, his first match back was a loss against Helena High’s Devin Crawford, ranked first in the state. He took more losses early on, which he looked at as learning experiences while he tried to regain his confidence and technique.

Rebish began to feel like he did at the end of his freshman season when he took third place at the prestigious Tom LeProwse in Bozeman earlier this month. He followed up that with a third-place finish at the even larger Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula.

“It’s his mindset of ‘I’ve got to be in it for the long haul,’” Moreno said. “He took his lumps but has been climbing steadily. The adversity, mindset and work ethic has really impressed me this year. He’s handled it well.”

Moreno has seen Rebish’s rise coincide with his dedication to film study and his improving confidence. On Friday, Rebish showcased his aggressive wrestling style in which he tries to push the pace, pinning Hellgate’s Ethan Eppard in 1:51 and earning an 11-1 major decision win over Sentinel’s Conall Powers.

“He’s doing the right things to get better,” Moreno said. “He’s really bought into it. You see him wrestle, and he’s capable of it. He’s athletic, explosive, powerful. A lot of these guys, the biggest challenge is believing in themselves.”

Big Sky pulls off sweep

Big Sky opened the Garden City Duals by rolling to a 58-6 victory over Hellgate, winning five of the seven non-forfeited matches. During the hour-plus break, the team gathered in the locker room, and after Moreno gave his speech to the wrestlers, Rebish talked to the team.

“He’s the one who grabbed the team and told them to get their heads up, and he really rallied them,” Moreno said. “He’s really stepping up to be that leader.”

The Eagles rolled to a 35-0 lead against Sentinel, which beat them 36-21 last year, and won the dual based on possible remaining points when they took a 35-3 lead after eight of 13 matches. The final score was 42-18.

Rebish and Hunter Meinzen (145) were the only Big Sky wrestlers who won both of their matches without one being a win by forfeit or injury default. Dougie Swanson (152) and Joey Robinson (205) both avenged their loss to Hellgate with a win over Sentinel. Robinson, Meinzen and Tommy Leonard (285) has pins for Big Sky.

“It just shows that we can face those adversities, bounce back and be ready to wrestle without some of our best wrestlers out there,” said Moreno, who’s Eagles were without Dayne Martin (126), Dayton Evans (138) and Carter Johnson (120).

Sentinel rebounded to close the duals with a team win over Hellgate. Novik Thomas (120) and Jackson Bakken (126) had pins against Big Sky.

“We shuffled some guys around to try to shuffle up our lineup and knew those first couple ones (against Big Sky) would be big ones. You saw the momentum building there,” Sentinel head coach Jeremy LaPorte said. “I’m just glad we came back to win some more. Didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but it is the way it is. It’s good to have a good crosstown rival to keep the kids motivated.”

Hellgate scored two wins against Big Sky. Bridger Hall (152) got a takedown with three seconds left to score a 9-8 win over Swanson. Layne Cooney (205) took down Robinson with seven seconds remaining to break a tie and earn an 8-6 win.

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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