Four young wrestlers from the Libby area competed in the 2018 Amateur Athletic Union’s national tournaments in Des Moines, Iowa in March.
Though it was his first time at a national tournament, 8th grader Hunter Hoover had the most success of the group while competing as part of the Montana team in the Lee Pamulak Middle School National Duals.
Hoover went 6-2, including one forfeit. In one match, he pinned an opponent from South Dakota in 34 seconds.
Sophomore Trey Thompson, who went 3-5 at the AAU 9-10 National Duals at Des Moines in the 138 pound weight class, said Hoover stands out athletically, but has difficulty finding other wrestlers in his age group who can face him in the 145 pound weight class.
Freshman Cody Crace, who went 1-7 in the 9-10 national meet, took some credit for getting Hoover into wrestling. It started when they were at the school for basketball, and Crace talked Hoover into trying wrestling.
From the start, Crace said he could tell Hoover had what it took to be a good wrestler.
Kelly Morford is head coach of the Libby High School wrestling team, but also has some familiarity with Hoover from helping with the middle school practices.
Going into something like a national meet, especially for the first time competing at that level, confidence can play a big part in how a wrestler handles the pressure, he said.
“I mean, they get some more mat because of the competition level, but Hunter went out there and went six and two and really wrestled well,” Morford said.
Hoover took the compliments in stride, and said he expects competition will be harder when he is competing at the high school level.
Morford said he was proud of all of the wrestlers who went to Iowa.
“Any time the kids want to do extra competitions in wrestling, it’s a great thing,” he said.
It’s good for the school’s overall program that wrestlers are active in the offseason, and that they are getting experience against wrestlers and styles they wouldn’t see otherwise, he said.
But, it’s also good for the wrestlers, who get to experience different places and people and see a little more of the world, he said.
“You get to see where you stand outside Montana,” said freshman Zack Morrison, who went 2-6 in the 126 pound weight class. Though he has been to other tournaments regionally, going to a national tournament 1,500 miles away from home gave a different perspective.
Thompson said it was his second year going to Iowa, and it has been worth the experience both times.
“You get to see all that different technique, different combinations to take home and try on kids who haven’t seen it,” he said.
It also serves as a skill check, showing the wrestlers weaknesses in their wrestling they may not have noticed otherwise, he said.
Even Crace, who has been to several national championships since he began wrestling at three years old, placing 2nd in six separate tournaments, said that there is always something to take away from national competition.
But the wrestling isn’t the only thing the athletes take away, he said. There are new friends and new places, and for some of the wrestlers, it’s an experience they’d be unlikely to have otherwise.
“It’s actually a life changer for some people,” he said.
Crace said he has seen wrestlers come back from the experience of a major tournament with a whole different perspective on life, even improving their grades and taking better charge of their lives outside of wrestling.
And there’s camaraderie built among the Montana athletes as well, Morrison said. Between the long ride down and the competition, he enjoyed getting to work with other wrestlers from across the state.
“It was brutal on the way down, but it makes it worth it for the experience and the good moments,” Thompson said.
“I’m just proud of those kids that are willing to go out there and do extra,” Morford said. ”And they get to have fun while they do that.”
2018 AAU 9-10 National Duals
Freshman Zack Morrison (2-6), Montana Maroon
126: Jaxson Minnick (Nebraska White) won by fall in 0:30 over Morrison; Zack Morrison won by forfeit; Jake Nieman (Iowa Red) won by fall in 1:22 over Morrison; Unknown (Unattached) won by fall in 1:01 over Morrison; Zack Morrison won by 10-2 maj dec over Ethan Ortman (South Dakota Blue); Lucas Comroe (Team Vision Quest) won by fall in 4:35 over Morrison; Mitchell Joines (Iowa White) won by fall in 4:19 over Morrison; Casey Faulkenberry (Nebraska Black) won by fall in 0:28 over Morrison
Sophomore Trey Thompson (3-5), Montana Grizzlies
138: Vinnie Bowlin (Iowa Gold) won by 11-4 dec over Thompson; Joey Ahern (Team Tennessee White) won by 11-1 maj dec over Thompson; 138 - Tyler Brown (Iowa Red) over Trey Thompson Fall 4:28; Thompson won by fall in 3:30 over Breckin Loftin (Nebraska White); Parker Seeley (Wyoming Brown) won by 9-1 maj dec over Thompson; Thompson won by fall in 1:25 over Hunter Mayrer (All Stars); Eli Loyd (Iowa Black) won by fall in 0:48 over Thompson; Thompson won by fall in 3:37 over Tucker Villhauer (South Dakota Red)
Freshman Cody Crace (1-7),
152: Joe Hinricks (Nebraska White) won by 18-6 dec over Crace; Seth Dewitt (Wyoming Gold) won by fall in 4:17 over Crace; Caleb Kloberdanz (Iowa Red) won by fall in 1:24 over Crace; Cody Crace won by forfeit; Parker Schier (South Dakota Blue) won by fall in 1:00 over Crace; Brayden Engelking (Team Vision Quest) won by 6-0 dec over Crace; Jasper Luckritz (Iowa White) by fall in 1:17 over Crace; Dylan Vodicka (Nebraska Black) won by fall in 3:12 over Crace
2018 Lee Pamulak MS National Duals
8th grader Hunter Hoover (6-2), Montana Grizzlies
145: Hoover won by 5-3 dec over Chevy Fackrell (Wyoming Brown); Hoover now by forfeit; Hoover won by fall in 0:34 over Lane Kruger (Team South Dakota); Joe Van Overshedle (South Dakota Platinum) won by 6-2 dec over Hoover; Hoover won by 7-1 dec over Leyton Raffety (South Dakota Silver); Hoover won by 7-2 dec over Kyler Hallock; Hoover won by fall in 2:25 over Baelin Eby (Penn Black Knights); Tristan Payne (Tennessee Red) won by 9-1 maj dec over Hoover