OWEN INVITATIONAL: Wrestling season kicks off in Polson

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POLSON — Eighteen teams representing two states and all Montana classifications will take to the mat to open the 2017-18 wrestling season today at Polson’s Owen Invitational.

The event, formerly known simply as the Polson Invitational before it was renamed the Owen Invitational in honor of longtime coaches and brothers Bob and Bill Owen, will host approximately 250 wrestlers in its 42nd year and will serve as an early indicator of which teams are capable of competing for state championships this season.

“One of the biggest things is trying to test the kids, and that’s why we’re trying to grow the tournament,” said Polson coach Kevin Owen, Bob’s son.

“We want to get the kids exposed to different competition right away. That’s why it’s a great tournament. Because we have all levels, from small schools to big schools to trying to get some out-of-state teams in here, it gives a really good test for all these teams.”

The stiff competition early in the season can pay off down the road, according to Kevin Owen, especially for the smaller schools that could struggle against larger teams and identify areas where they need to improve.

“It’s not an overwhelming tournament, but at the same time, you have two pretty hard days of testing your kids out at the beginning of the season,” he said.

“If they get beat up by a bigger school team or kid, that kind of shows them (they need to improve). Rather than just trying to beat Class A teams, we’re trying to compete with everybody. It’s a great tournament for that.

“You want to have competition right away, so it immediately sets the bar for the kids. By taking them to something like a lower-level tournament or having them go to something easier, we don’t see the beneift of that.”

Missoula Sentinel returns to defend its team title against many of the same squads it bested a year ago.

Columbia Falls, the five-time defending Western A divisional champion that finished second 9.5 points behind the Spartans at the Owen Invitational in 2016, returns along with Eureka, the defending Class B champion. The Lions placed third at the tournament last year, just ahead of host Polson.

Lake City and Coeur d’Alene, two schools from northern Idaho, will also be in attendance.

The first of two rounds of Friday action begins at 2 p.m. inside Linderman Gymnasium. The tournament will continue Saturday, with a 10 a.m. round preceeding the finals at 4 p.m.

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