Ratliff, Sparks bound for National AAU Championships

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  • THOMPSON FALLS eighth-grader Elijah Ratliff has qualified for the National AAU Wrestling Tournament to be held March 29 and 30 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Vicky Croft)

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    ROMAN SPARKS, right, of Thompson Falls has been invited to join the Montana freshman-sophomore team at the National AAU Wrestling Championships set for March 29 and 30 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Joe Sova/Clark Fork Valley Press)

  • THOMPSON FALLS eighth-grader Elijah Ratliff has qualified for the National AAU Wrestling Tournament to be held March 29 and 30 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Vicky Croft)

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    ROMAN SPARKS, right, of Thompson Falls has been invited to join the Montana freshman-sophomore team at the National AAU Wrestling Championships set for March 29 and 30 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Joe Sova/Clark Fork Valley Press)

It has been a very busy, and sometimes hectic time, for young amateur wrestlers over the last four or five weeks. The high school season ended in late February, and grapplers from 4 through 18 have spent hours on the mats during practice and competition.

The Thompson Falls Blue Hawk Wrestling Club was well represented at the Montana State AAU Folkstyle Tournament, held last Thursday through Saturday, March 7-9 in Great Falls. The tourney usually draws upwards of 2,000 wrestlers.

Two Blue Hawks will be making the trip to a state well known for wrestling for a multitude of decades — Iowa. T-Falls eighth-grader Elijah Ratliff and sophomore Roman Sparks will be competing in the National AAU Wrestling Championships March 29 and 30 in Des Moines.

Ratliff qualified by earning second place in the 125-pound class in the Schoolboy division at the State Folkstyle Tournament last weekend. He will be a member of the Montana middle school squad.

Sparks did not place, but wrestled well enough to get invited to be part of a Montana freshman-sophomore team in Des Moines. He competes in the 126-pound class in the Cadet division.

T-FALLS FRESHMAN Trae Thilmony, runner-up at 113 pounds at the high school state tourney, did not wrestle at the State Folkstyle Tournament due to a back injury. He will be an alternate on the Montana freshman-sophomore, or will have the 113-pound slot on the junior-senior team, according to his father and coach Mike Thilmony.

Ratliff advanced to the championship match at 125 pounds, but was pinned by a tough Havre opponent.

Sparks lost to Carson DeRozier of Helena the AA state champ this year, in the quarterfinals. He was eliminated by Zach Valdez of Colstrip, who finished fifth at the state tourney in February.

“He had a pretty good tournament,” coach Thilmony said of Sparks.

Of the 15 Blue Hawk wrestlers who competed in Great Falls, five were place winners. To qualify for a berth at the National AAU Tournament, grapplers had to finish in the top two.

The folkstyle tourney was a three-day tournament that featured the best wrestlers from all over Montana.

“It’s not an easy tournament,” Thilmony said. “You’ve got the whole state, from corner to corner. It’s a tournament you want to see your kids wrestling at so they an see a high level of competition. Our club team is really a feeder program for our high school team … I’m pretty pleased with how the kids wrestled.”

THILMONY TALKED about how the Blue Hawk wrestlers fared at the tourney in Great Falls and mentioned their placement.

In the Tot division were Weston Haun, Neala Block and Hartleigh Block (second). Lane Thilmony, Tristan Kelly, Weston Block, Grayson Stevens, William Baldwin, Andrew Sundstrom (fifth), Paul Sundstrom (fourth) and Noa Stevens (fourth) wrestled in the midget (9-10-year-old) division. Paul Sundstrom drew praise from the coach since he was in a very large Novice 65 bracket.

In the Schoolboy division were Ratliff (second), Max Hannam and Sparks. Josh Baldwin competed in the Elite division.

Montana will send three middle school division teams, two freshman-sophomore teams and one junior-senior team to the National AAU Championships. It’s a dual tournament. Day one featured pool duals. On day two, the top teams, by record, in each pool is seeded into the championship bracket. The other four teams in each pool go into consolation brackets.

The Montana teams have a record of success in Des Moines — with a freshman-sophomore team earning second place in their pool last year, just missing the championship bracket. Both Montana middle school teams qualified for the championship bracket in 2018.

FOR THE first time, Thilmony said a Montana K-8 and freshman-sophomore girls’ teams will compete at nationals.

“There are a lot of those Midwestern teams that are very competitive and the Eastern teams as well,” Thilmony said. He was a Montana coach the last three years, but had not decided if he would fill that role in Des Moines later this month.

The Montana teams meet in Glendive on Wednesday, March 27 and then travel by charter bus to Iowa on a red-eye cruise. Wrestlers will begin competition on March 28, with five matches each the first day.

Thilmony indicated that a few Blue Hawk Wrestling Club members might compete in the Montana Open the last weekend of March at MetraPark in Billings. Also a number of Plains/Hot Springs high school wrestlers usually go to the tourney.

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