Saturday, February 24, 2024

Whitefish wrestling readies for divisional meet

by BRANDON HANSEN For the Pilot
| January 31, 2024 12:00 AM

Injuries have taken their toll on the Whitefish's wrestling team, with the boys and girls squads at about 50 percent strength heading into the divisional tournament.

"We had planned on having larger numbers, but we're down some key and important point-getters," Whitefish head coach Danny Neff said. "We're not all about getting points; we're about getting kids the wrestling action they need so we can keep building in the program."

Whitefish had several duals and one tournament last week and now will wrestle at divisionals.

"We're going to put our wrestlers out there and see what we can do," Neff said.  

Whitefish had two wrestlers place second at the Girls Mission Mountain Classic in St. Ignatius on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Samantha Bennett placed second in the 120-pound bracket, posting a fall in 1:48 over Flathead's Eloise Smith and then a 7-3 decision over Flathead's Jessa Morris in the semifinals.

"Sam will be our long ranger girl, and she should have a pretty good draw at divisionals," Neff said.

Teammate Taylor Dorvall was second in the 126-pound bracket, scoring a 27-second pin over Flathead's Brynn Mailman in the quarterfinals and then a 34-second pin over Ronan's Aaliyah Steward in the semifinals.

Dorvall suffered a dislocated elbow in the championship bout, so she will be out for divisionals. Neff said she has been a great overall leader on the team during her first year of high school wrestling.

"Still, she will be traveling with us," Neff said. "She is very into the sport, is excited, and has that flame and fire in her to be a competitor."

Both of Dorvall's parents are nurses and were at the tournament in St. Ignatius during the weekend. They came on the mat to help their daughter, and Neff said he was extremely grateful for how they handled the situation and helped their daughter in a scary situation.  

In their matchup against Browning on Friday, Jan. 26, Landree Aurand (138) notched Whitefish's only points in a 70-5 setback, recording a 15-0 technical fall over LaBraun Shooter. On the same night, Whitefish fell to Bigfork 48-12. Henry Bennetts notched a pin at 160 pounds for the Bulldogs, falling Wyatt Elwell in 3:09.

"Henry has been battling injuries all season, whether it's an ankle, shoulder, elbow or something else," Neff said. "We finally got him out on the mat, and it was nice to see him there. A lot of the kids gravitate towards him and his leadership. Outside of wrestling, he is also a leader of the team in things like grades, keeping the team in check on trips and their own schooling."

Neff added he has been working hard as a senior, and the goal will be to get him on the podium at the start.

"He has worked hard for it," Neff said.  

At the Libby Mixer Matches on Tuesday, January 23, several Whitefish wrestlers picked up victories out on the mat.

At 132 pounds, Landree Aurance downed Polson's Levi Atkins in 36 seconds. Whitefish's Carter Olson also notched a pin at 138, putting Polson's Gabriel Houston on his back in 2:37. At 285, the Buldogs Sam Akey fell Polson's Durai Mahkuk in 3:06.

Olson also faced Libby senior Xavier Reatz of Tribby/Troy. While he was pinned, he held his own against the veteran Libby wrestler.

"What we saw from him in that match was really exciting, and there is a lot to where we can go from here since he is a freshman," Neff said.

Neff said he was also thankful for Whitefish Trainer Kate Smedley, who has been busy during this winter season but has been helpful and exceptional in making sure the kids are in tip-top shape before they compete.


Another wrestler who won't be at divisionals is Whitefish's Logan Hinley, who is also experiencing injuries.

"His body was just not complying, but the kid has so much heart for the sport," Neff said.

Whitefish will now wrestle at divisionals on Friday and Saturday, February 2 and 3.

"Each year, it seems like the east is the stronger region than the west and at divisionals there are going to be certain weight classes that is going to be really tough," Neff said. "Our goal is to take a bus to state every year, and if we wrestle well, we have a chance to all our kids."

Conditioning has been a focus in preparation for divisionals, as Whitefish prides itself on having the best-conditioned wrestlers.

"It's important to make sure we're healthy, have the proper technical skills, and their conditioning is good," Neff said. "We are making sure we finish strong.

The top eight finishers at the boys' divisional will advance to state, while a formula determines girls state berths since it is an all-class tournament.

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