At this time last year, Eureka entered the state tournament as the outsider and the underdog, having never won a state wrestling championship.
This time around, the target is squarely on the Lions’ backs as they enter this weekend’s state tournament in Billings as the state’s top-ranked team and the defending Class B-C state champions.
Whereas the goal last season was to capture that elusive first title, the objective this year is perhaps the only thing more difficult — to retain it.
Even so, Eureka coach Danny Lemer believes his team of 11 state qualifiers, down from 13 in 2017, is more than capable of doing just that.
“I feel we’re going to contend for a state title,” he said. “That’s their expectation. It’s kind of the standard at Eureka lately to be at the state championship level.”
Garrett Graves will seek to lead Eureka to another state title and add to his already storied legacy.
The Montana Griz signee boasts two football championships, the wrestling team championship and an individual wrestling title to this point, and he’s the favorite to bring home the 182-pound title again this year.
If he can do so, he’ll cap off his second straight undefeated season. He enters the state tournament 31-0 on the season and 149-21 in his career.
The last Eureka wrestler to win back-to-back state titles was Peter Schmidt in 1996-97.
If the Lions are to capture another team title, however, they’ll need major contributions from others, as well.
Senior Jonathan Schmidt lost his first match of the year at 160 in the divisional tournament but, like Graves, still enters the state tournament among the favorites to win an individual championship.
Schmidt finished second last year down in 138.
Eureka also possesses plenty of firepower in the lower weights.
Nathan Schmidt, a 120-pounder, is 36-5 this season after finishing fourth in the state last year as a freshman.
Hank Dunn, another sophomore at 132, was also fourth in the state last season and enters with a 21-5 record.
Freshmen Gunnar Smith (113) and Kyle Durden (120) are 34-6 and 26-5, respectively.
“It’s a different team than last year in the regard that we’re not too big, but we’re still full of a lot of talent,” Lemer said. “The guys, they want to keep that bar up high and keep that title.”
Mat action begins at the Billings MetraPark at 10:20 a.m. today.
All matches will be broadcast on NFHS Network, which can be accessed through mhsa.org.
Eureka State Lineup
113 — Gunnar Smith, Freshman, 34-6
120 — Nathan Schmidt, Sophomore, 36-5 4th at state 2017
120 — Kyle Durden, Freshman, 26-5
132 — Hank Dunn, Sophomore, 21-5 4th at state 2017
138 — Chance Muller, Sophomore, 27-18
145 — Isaac Petz, Senior, 21-15
152 — James Fehr, Junior, 14-6
152 — Nathan Cargill, Junior, 18-15
160 — Jonathan Schmidt, Senior, 32-1 2nd at state 2017
182 — Garrett Graves, Senior, 31-0 1st at state 2017
285 — Sam Johnson, Senior, 22-11