Chase Randall believes Mead had the means to win a 4A team title at last year’s Mat Classic.
Two key injuries ultimately forced the Panthers to settle for fourth.
Randall was widely expected to push for a 126-pound state title after finishing second as a sophomore, but he sustained his season-ending injury in the title round of the prestigious Tri-State Invitational last season.
On a mat return against Jake Bibler of Frenchtown, Montana, Randall dislocated his elbow. The pain was immediate.
“It was terrible, something you never expect to happen,” Randall said.
“It was devastating,” Mead coach Phil McLean said.
Teammate and standout 220-pounder Ben Voigtlaender went down with an injury at the Mat Classic, costing Mead even more points.
“I could have tried to come back for districts, but I didn’t want to force it,” Randall said. “I didn’t want to rush anything.”
Randall is healthy now, though, and appears primed to win his first state title.
Ranked No. 1 in the latest state wrestling poll, Randall leads a young squad with strength in its lower weights, including sophomore Ryan Clark (138 pounds), who is ranked third.
Defending state champion Chiawana is the overwhelming favorite.
Mead, which recently placed second at Tri-State after being edged by Idaho power Post Falls, is off to a 5-0 start in Greater Spokane League duels and is competing in the Rocky Mountain Classic this weekend at Sentinel High School in Missoula.
Mead won the sizable Montana tournament last year without Randall. The Panthers will need him this year to finish at the top. The Panthers graduated three-time state champion Chase Tebbets and two-time champion Cameron Crawford, but they return 11 wrestlers with state tournament experience.
Mead, one of the most tradition-rich wrestling programs in the region, has had Randall on its radar since he was a pint-sized wrestler in the district’s youth organization.
“I remember him wrestling at 5 years old. He had a shaved head and we called him ‘Animal,’ ” McLean said. “He’s been tough as nails and has been a leader in the mat room.
“He’s been scrapping hard. He embraces high-level competition.”
He’s getting it in his own league.
Randall lost to Gonzaga Prep freshman standout Q’Veli Quintanilla in a 6-5 decision last month. Quintanilla, ranked second in 4A behind Randall, has since gone on to win the Rollie Lane Invitational, the biggest tournament in Idaho.
Randall also beat defending State 3A champion and North Central sophomore Kenndyl Mobley last month in 10-1 major decision.
Randall plans to join United States Coast Guard and enroll into the U. S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, which has an NCAA Division III wrestling team. USCGA is ranked No. 11 in the latest national poll.
McLean hoped that Voigtlaender would return this season after suffering a shoulder injury, but the 2018 Tri-State champion will turn his focus to getting healthy for college football. The Greater Spokane League Defensive Most Valuable Player hasn’t signed or committed to a Division I football program but has been offered by Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana State and Georgetown, according to 247sports.com.