BILLINGS — Bob Owen has either been coaching wrestling for 41 or 42 years.
It depends who you ask.
And he’s either retiring as Polson’s head coach or he isn’t.
That depends on who you ask, too.
But no matter who’s right about what, Bob and a bushel of other coaching Owen boys — plus a young, balanced roster poised to place the Pirates back among wrestling royalty — mentored eight top-four finishers and guided Polson to second place in Class A at the All-Class state wrestling tournament, which concluded Saturday at MetraPark.
Owen, who says he’s been at Polson for 40 of his 41 years as a high school coach, keeps insisting he’s retiring as the head coach to turn over the program to three of his assistant coaches and the family’s next generation: his son Kevin and nephews Brett and Matt, who are the sons of longtime Pirates assistant coach Bill Owen.
“I just feel elated that I can turn (the team) over to those guys,” Bob Owen said. “I know exactly what’s going to happen. Those three (coaches) are going to build it right to the top.”
So, boys, is it Bob’s last year as a head coach?
“If it’s up to us, it’s not the last year,” Kevin said.
While the Owens work out their coaching titles next year — Bob says he will stay on as an assistant — they have a budding powerhouse of a team to work with. Polson went 8-0 in the consolation semifinals after a horrid start to the day, and of the eight Pirates who finished either third or fourth, five are either freshmen or sophomores. The Pirates concluded the tournament with 147.5 points as a team, more than 30 points ahead of third-place Hardin, but still well back of Havre (213), which won its fourth-straight championship.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been up in the trophies, a long time,” Bob Owen said. “It feels good.”
The Owens estimated it’s been about 10 years since the Pirates claimed a top-three finish at state, and after entering the day in second place it looked like it was all falling apart in the semifinals. Polson went 0-6 in that round, including three losses by top seeds.
“We had a very tough round,” Bob Owen said. “But while that was going on, what people didn’t see, were those kids in the back door that were fighting through the consolations, then we just got them up after that.
“The toughest match in wrestling is that one coming off a loss in the semifinals, and we went eight for eight in that round to get them all back. Those are hard matches and those kids all found a way.”
Divisional champs Mateo Quinones (103), Parker Wenzel (120) and Cameron Brown (132) all finished in third place after semifinal losses.
Senior Jaben Wenzel won five-straight matches after a first-round loss to finish third at 138, and fellow senior Thunder Morales won three straight after a second-round loss to finish fourth. RJ Pierre (103), Parker Adler (145) and Mike Corrigan (205) also finished fourth.
Columbia Falls just missed a top three finish, wrapping up the tournament in fourth place with 113 points. Unlike Polson, the Mat Cats did advance a wrestler to the finals when junior Mason Fetters pinned Brenden Roan of Hardin in the first minute of their semifinal match.
In the championship round, Fetters ran into Belgrade’s Jarrett Degen, who finished off an undefeated season with his fourth straight state championship.
“I think I did all right, he’s definitely a really good (wrestler),” Fetters said of Degen. “He’s one of the greats that’s ever come through Montana.”
Six Mat Cats finished in the top six, with Ben Windauer claiming third place at 126 pounds. Hunter Peterson (fourth, 132), Winfield West (fifth, 113), Storm Kemppainen (fifth, 170) and Colten McPhee (sixth, 160) also earned medals.
A pair of Whitefish wrestlers were on the podium as well. Steven Quimby won the fifth-place match at 285 and Konrad Zinke finished sixth at 170.
Still, the day belonged to the Owen family, five members strong and surrounding a second-place plaque while the area emptied around them.
And with one more debate to settle.
“I put it down on paper for (Bob) and he’s on his 42nd (season),” Bill Owen said.
“He probably doesn’t know that, he’s not much of a mathematician.”
Math whizzes, perhaps not, but those Owen boys are some kind of wrestling coaches.