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Mat Cats do well in Ronan tourney, but illness and injury taking toll

by AVERY HOWE
Photographer | January 10, 2024 2:00 AM

The Mat Cats traveled to Ronan for the Western Montana Duals Friday and Saturday, with the boys taking second place and the girls fourth in duals.

Friday was a high point for the boys team said coach Jessie Schaeffer. Columbia Falls defeated St. Ignatius/Charlo 72-0, Hamilton 66-3 and Frenchtown 34-33 before falling to Ronan in the first place match, 49-18. 

Saturday, however, was a different story. The boys team continues to suffer from illness and injuries, with five of their starters out of the lineup. 

“Team-wise, it would be nice to have a couple more kids make it through that second day,” Schaeffer said. He hoped that moving forward, the wrestlers would be able to “plug in” through the good, bad and ugly. 

Despite that, the team had six place in their rounds and three individual champions. 

Traic Fainter (113) took first with 30 team points, Dylan Delorme (145) with 25 and Rowdy Crump (182) with 26, his first individual win. 

Jaxon Sterling (120) took third with 22 points, Cash Byrd (126) fifth with 8.5 points and Gunnar Rathjen fifth with 15 points.

Being a new team, coach Ben Schaeffer was glad to see the girls place on Friday. They won 30-28 against Glacier High School, then lost 48-18 to Ronan. In the third place match, a “heartbreaker,” the girls fell 36-30 to Browning. 

“We just weren’t firing on all cylinders all the time,” Ben Schaeffer said. He noted that despite the losses, the girls were wrestling hard and even won a few rounds against competitors they had never beat before. “We need to be able to compete at that high level every time we step on the mat.”

Saturday started out strong, with every match in the first round for varsity a win. However, in the second round, the girls lost one of their team leaders when Lucie Love injured her elbow. Schaeffer said, “the wheels came off the bus,” after that, with tempo and morale down. 

Even with Love’s injury, the team had seven individuals on the podium, which Schaeffer said is the most by far they’ve ever had. 

Samantha Larsen (152) placed fourth with 16 team points, Vanessa Nace (100) fifth with seven points, Jaelynn Nace (107) sixth with 11 points, Paris Jerome (126) sixth with 11 points, Ella Timlick (132) sixth with seven points, Love (145) sixth with nine points and Kinsey Ward (165) sixth with 10 points. 

The boys traveled to Bigfork and the girls to Hamilton after presstime on Tuesday to kick off a busy week. Thursday, Jan. 11 they will head to Polson with a 5 p.m. start time, and then to Missoula Friday and Saturday for the Rocky Mountain Classic. Tuesday, Jan. 23 they will be in Libby. 

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