Bulldog grapplers enter Johnston era

Cory Johnston is excited.

The first-year Butte High head wrestling head coach has 46 wrestlers out for the season, including a good number of returning athletes and 15 freshmen. He’s got a solid group of assistant coaches, and the first competition of the season comes Friday in Kalispell.

“I don’t think I’ve been this excited at the start of any other season, including the ones I wrestled,” Johnston said following a weekend practice.”

The Bulldog wrestling room was an active, energetic place last Friday, with coaches shouting instruction and encouragement to wrestlers working hard in preparation for the first duals of the season against the Braves and Wolfpack.

There was an extra coach on the floor Friday, as Mark Johnston – Cory’s dad – was on the mat helping with instruction. The elder Johnston spent 17 seasons as the head coach of the Glasgow Scotties and led the team to five state titles. He was also a state champ at 112 pounds for Butte Central in 1981.

“He called about a week ago and asked if he could help over the break,” Cory Johnston said. “It’s great to have him around. I told the kids, ‘Anything I’ve showed you, he showed me.’”

The assistant staff – Geno Liva, Eric Dunmire, Jarret Rowling, Tyler Johnston, Dan Larsen and Craig Remsen – also has Johnston excited.

“My staff is tops in the state. No doubt about it,” Johnston said.

Butte’s varsity lineup heading into the weekend, which includes duals with Flathead and Glacier on Friday and the Helena Duals on Saturday, is led by half a dozen seniors, including the lone returning Bulldog state placewinner in Kelly Merrick, who was fifth at 132 last spring.

Merrick and fellow senior Tyler Ossello were both listed as varsity possibilities at 132 for the weekend. Other seniors in the lineup include Braxton “Ax” Henningsen at 138, Kaleb Ferriter at 145, Kyler Smith at 152, Kadon Queer at 170 and Quinn Cunneen at 182.

Juniors who earned a spot include Tyler Casey at 113, Tyler Vetter at 126 and Kadin Schonsberg at 160. Sophomores making the trip are Gabe Tierney at 120 and heavyweight Jeff Queer, while freshmen Will Queer (103) and Kyle Harding (205) will get their first varsity action.

Johnston said he was pleased with the effort shown by his team, and also the high number of freshmen out for the sport.

“We’ll compete,” Johnston assured. “I don’t know where we’re going to be at the end of the season, but people will know they wrestled us.”

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