Hucke, Starkel win state A mat titles

Dillon heavyweight Donovan Hucke erupts with emotion following his state championship victory over Anaconda’s Bryce Wigert at Billings on Saturday. The win gave Hucke a 34-3 season record. Jess Alberi photo


Dillon’s Donovan Hucke and Kohltin Starkel returned home golden from the state meet last weekend in Billings, where both became Class A state champions in their respective weight classes.

Dillon’s also got high finishes from Parker Tezak and freshman Kwin Stoddard, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in their divisions

The Beavers as a team finished in ninth place, with 86.5 points, just two points behind Anaconda.

With Hucke and Starkel’s triumphs, Dillon got its first pair of state champions since 1986, when Nels Nelson, brother of current BCHS Head Wrestling Coach TJ Nelson, and Brian Mussard both brought home the top individual honors from the state meet.

Things got off to a great start for Dillon on Friday, as Hucke and Starkel both cruised through their opening round matches, and Stoddard, Tezak and Phil Vial each went 2-1 to advance to Saturday matches.

Hucke, a senior who has signed to play football for Montana Western next season, dominated the heavyweight division at the tournament from start to finish, as he pinned the first three opponents he faced: Robert Becker, of Hardin, at 1:23; Austin Krone, of Stevensville, in 46 seconds; and Christian Gomes, from Sidney, at the 2:42 mark.

Donovan entered his title match against Anaconda’s Bryce Wigert carrying a season record of 34-3, with two of those wins having come against Wigert in earlier meets.

Wigert and Hucke had meet three times on the year, most recently in Butte the week before, when Hucke won by decision to take the Southwest A divisional heavyweight championship.

Wigert had also pinned his first three opponents at the state meet coming into the championship bout and was looking to even things up between the two Southwest A conference rivals at two wins a piece on the season.

“From my prior matches against him, I knew that he only had one move and that I could take him down when I shoot,” said the 285-pound Hucke.

“He has a good throw, so I just needed to make sure that I didn't do anything that he could catch me in.”

Hucke had been up 5-3 in a match earlier in the year against Wigert when the Anaconda heavyweight caught him in a headlock and got the victory. 

On Saturday, their match started with Hucke scoring an early two points with a single-leg takedown, and then fighting for position the rest of the round to end the first round with a 2-0 lead.

Hucke started the second round on the bottom, and after a quick four- second escape and another takedown, Donovan closed the second with a 5-0 advantage.

The third period brought more of the same, as Hucke scored another two takedowns for the 9-1 major decision and state title.

“Donovan made a reputation for himself this year as a heavyweight that people really liked to watch wrestle,” said Nelson.

“He has a tremendous work ethic and is our hardest worker and most dedicated kid in the practice room, and you just don't see that much coming from a heavyweight, and I think that really says something.

“Donovan is a special and unique individual and I am really happy for him to see his senior career end as it has. It just couldn't happen to a better or more deserving kid.”

Hucke returned the praise back at his coaches.

“They are great coaches that bring a lot of experience to practice every day,”

said Hucke. “Coach Nelson, along with our assistant coaches, Ben Sulser and Tucker Taylor, know how to push you and how to get the best out of you. Everything just came together perfectly.”

After the final whistle had blown, Hucke celebrated with a hug for each one of his coaches and a special moment with his cancer-stricken coach, Steve Vezina, whom Hucke told, “This is all for you, Viz.”

Starkel's tournament started about the same, as he mirrored Hucke’s early results by pinning his first two opponents: Dillon Thorsteinson, of Whitefish, at 1:36, and Payten Bataldan, of Laruel, at 3:27.

In his third match, the local 106 pounder showed his great mat sense by beating tough Frenchtown opponent Cody Wamer in a 10-0 major decision.

“Kohltin had a great year and had to show a lot of discipline in managing his 106-pound weight, as he grew throughout the season,” said Nelson.

In his championship round, Starkel again rose to the occasion, as he squared off against a formable opponent in Havre's undefeated Keegan Kennelly.

Kennelly, who was 38-0 as he came onto the mat, had a victory over Kohltin last year in the state tournament, where he won the state title by just two points and was looking for an undefeated championship season this year. 

Starkel fell behind, 0-2, in the first minute of the match before scoring an escape and a takedown to go up, 3-2, at the end of one.

“Keegan comes out like a fireball, just hitting a bunch of shots, and the game plan was to stay real low and get him on his hands and to be patient and not force any shots,” said Starkel, who is just a sophomore.

“The coaches said if I could get out of the first period 0-0, or down by one, that they were pretty confident with my chances.”

In the second period, Kennelly was able to pull an escape of his own to tie things up at three with 1:23 left in the round. But Starkel would again shoot and score a takedown to make it a 5-3 affair going into the third.

It was clear that Starkel had control of the match and that he was wearing out Kennelly. Another escape and takedown lead to an 8-5 advantage for Starkel, and as Kohltin looked at the scoreboard with seven seconds between him and his championship, you could see the emotion starting to take over as the reality of his effort began to set in.

“I thought the match was amazing, easily the best match I have had all season,” said Starkel. “I can honestly say, I thought I wrestled mistake free.

“When i checked the clock with seven seconds left, all i could think was, I did it, that all the hard work has paid off. And standing on that no. 1 spot on the podium is the best feeling in the whole world. To know that all the hard work and dedication you have put into the sport has paid off, it is the most satisfying feeling ever.”

“It was neat to see the emotion come out of him,” said Nelson. “He really let down his guard after he won it and you could just tell that all the blood, sweat, and tears, and all the time traveling around the state before high school, had paid off for him.

"It was great to see it all come together for such a great kid.”

Starkel ended his amazing sophomore season at 38-3, and proved to everyone, including himself, that hard work and dedication really does pay off and is worth it in the end.

“The most exciting thing for us as coaches is that we still get him for another two years,” said the proud Nelson.

After winning his first match, 16-4, Dillon’s 195-pounder, Parker Tezak, ran into trouble in his second match of the tourney when he ran into Jaden Bryant, out of Belgrade, and lost 0-5. Parker would battle back, beating both Mike Corrigan, of Polson, 19-10, and Dayton Cogdill, of Butte Central, 6-4, before losing a tight one, 7-5, in the third-fourth-place match against Monty Jessop, of Corvallis.

Tezak would go on to beat William Ollinger, out of Browning, 7-4, for fifth place.

Freshman Kwin Stoddard also made a name for himself at the Metra by battling back from a first round pin by Kalob Gravelin, of Columbia Falls, to win three matches in a row before losing to Clayton Carter, of Laurel.

Although Kwin would go on to lose his fifth-place match, the experience he gained going 3-3 in his first state meet and chalking up over 25 wins on the season will undoubtedly help him in his three years still to come representing Dillon.

“I am proud of how our team came out and performed,” said Nelson. “We have a lot of young guys, and although I am sure some of them are disappointed, the experience they gained over the weekend will carry though to next year.”


Class A State Wrestling Tournament

Team standings – 1. Havre 294.5. 2. Sidney 268.5. 3. Columbia Falls 172. 4. Belgrade 155,5. 5. Hardin 140. 6. Corvallis/Darby 109.5. 7. Frenchtown 96. 8. Anaconda 88. 9. Dillon 86.5. 10. Polson 73.