Subscribe for 17¢ / day

The Mount Rushmore of Montana high school wrestling is more a sweeping range than a single peak. There'd be 23 faces chipped into the craggy facade should the physical specimen exist off paper.

The monument stands to gain a new chapter this week when the all-class state wrestling tournament concludes Saturday night in Billings.

Exclusivity defines the four-timers club – the select company for wrestlers who've claimed state championships in each their four years of high school – and Columbia Falls senior Shonn Roberts could earn his membership this week. Friday the 138-pound senior enters the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark with three of the four taken care of and the bulk of another excellent season at his back.

But this winter hasn't been like the last few. The wins have required more fight, the losses a little more frequent, as the mental burden adds to the physical while chasing the legend.

"It's the toughest year so far," Roberts said. "But it keeps me more hungry."

***

Shonn Roberts got his first look at the sport that would define his high school experience when he was a kindergartner, and his body didn't carry too much more weight by the time he entered the halls of Columbia Falls High a decade later.

Roberts was small, peeking north at 100 pounds, and imprecise with his movements on the mat.

"My brother and I like to give him a hard time now," said Columbia Falls head coach Jesse Schaeffer, who runs the MatCats' wrestling room with his brother and assistant coach, Ben. " 'You used to be terrible.' He smiles and says, 'Yeah, I know.'

"He pushed through everything ... and his confidence has definitely been the biggest thing, his ability to believe in himself and solid wrestling."

Roberts made strides that freshman year; he eventually swept his way through the 98-pound State A bracket, finishing off title No. 1 with a 4-0 decision over Grayson Brenna, a champ the next year for Havre.

The sophomore season ended the same way on the mats in Billings with Roberts' hand held high on Saturday. All four of his matches in the 112-pound bracket yielded to the Cat, all four ending in pinfalls. He pinned two opponents in less than 50 seconds.

When Roberts emerged with a 126-pound title last February, capping a 40-0 season, the stage was set for his senior year. Twenty-three have climbed the mountain ahead of Roberts and he could join them – Sidney's Gresh Jones and Forsyth's Matt Weber are also there looking for No. 4.

***

It didn't take long for college recruiters to notice the wrestling dynamo from northwestern Montana. But while they were looking into him, Roberts was looking at one school in particular.

The summer after his junior year, the same summer of 2014 that saw Roberts log hundreds of hours of offseason practice time, he committed to wrestle at the University of Great Falls.

UGF finished second at the NAIA national tournament a year ago and the Argos are fifth in the most recent national rankings. But there's also that alluring Columbia Falls pipeline.

Caleb Schaeffer, brother to Jesse and Ben, is the head man at UGF and he's got three former MatCats on his roster this year.

"They're a great family," Roberts said of the Schaeffer clan, "and they've done a lot for me throughout my high school career. I'd like to stay with that tradition.

"It's just a really good wrestling program with a lot of support behind their wrestling team."

Roberts knew he needed to raise his game to prepare for the college level. That's hard to imagine, though, if you've ever wrestled him, teammate Kaleb Gravelin offered. Roberts is good at, well, most everything.

"All of it," Gravelin, a 132-pound junior and sparring partner to Roberts, said. "The drive and the passion for the sport, it's the love for it (that makes him so good)."

The Columbia Falls Schaeffers have watched their prize fighter add to his arsenal in his final year as a MatCat. Roberts is closing the gaps in his game, Jesse Schaeffer said.

"Bottom wrestling has been his biggest weakness – it's been a big, big challenge for him – but he's developed that area and his mat awareness," the coach explained. "He's progressed very, very well."

The competition next year will throw shadows across much of what Roberts has seen as a prep, though. With that in mind the three-time state champion made a decision that should greatly benefit his future, though add to his senior quest.

Roberts would no longer cut weight.

***

Roberts typically tips the scales at 150 pounds when he's "out of shape." He's 10 pounds lighter than that during the season, though, and with proper workouts and planning he could get another 10 off. But why not hang onto that and see what he can really do?

"It's my senior year and I needed to wrestle some tough kids," Roberts said of bumping up a weight class.

"We've discussed it in-depth quite often," Schaeffer concurred. "Going out, whether a three-timer or a four-timer – ya know, six of one, half dozen of another. Win, lose or draw he's ready for whatever comes out of that."

It wasn't long before the Wildcat saw just how tough his heavier class could be. Roberts lost twice during the run-up to the state tournament, including once to a wrestler that could be waiting for him in the 138 finals on Saturday.

Belgrade's Jarrett Degen, who knocked off Roberts in the finals of the CMR Holiday Classic in Great Falls in December for the C. Falls wrestler's first loss in nearly two years, is the top-ranked 138-pounder headed into the state meet and a defending champion from 132.

Roberts, who also fell to a Washington wrestler in the finals of the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula just after Christmas, is ranked second and carries a 36-2 record into the last tournament of the year.

He and 16 other MatCats will compete at state in Billings beginning Friday. And while Columbia Falls has a good shot to bring home some team hardware, it'll be Roberts' name etched in stone if 2015 falls in line.

"I'm just trying to get better every day," Roberts said, calmly, of the leadup to state. "Not focusing on everybody else, not Jarrett Degen, not any other names. Just making myself better."

0
0
0
0
0
You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.