Athletic Butte High boys out to open some eyes

Bulldogs begin season Saturday at Bozeman Gallatin

By Bill Foley

Butte High boys’ basketball coach Matt Luedtke was disappointed with his team’s second practice of the season.

The coach blamed himself for breaking his rule of sticking with a practice plan and not harping on one drill for too long.

The next day, Luedtke said he was talking with his coaches in their office before practice, having a nice back and forth about what went wrong. Then, he realized that the coaches were a few minutes late for their own practice.

Luedtke walked into the Richardson Gym to see his players had already begun to practice on their own.

“Man, it set the tone and we had a really good practice,” Luedtke said.

The coach cannot help but smile when talking about the leadership and drive that moved showed. He also smiles when talking about the talent of the Bulldogs. (Roster; Schedule)

“I think this is my most athletic team since I’ve been in Butte,” the third-year Bulldog coach said. “The kids are all lock in, and they’re excited about the game on Saturday.”

Butte High will open the 2021-22 season Saturday with a non-conference game at Bozeman Gallatin. It is the first of three non-conference games the Bulldogs will play before the Christmas break.

The Bulldogs will also play host to Belgrade on Dec. 17 before closing out their December slate Dec. 23 against Butte Central.

“I’m excited for this year’s team,” said Luedtke, who took Butte High to the Class AA State tournament in each of his first two seasons.

Last year, the Bulldogs knocked off Billings Senior in a loser-out game at State for their first State tournament win since the 2007 semifinals.

This year, Butte High is looking for a third straight trip.

Seniors Kenley Leary and Kooper Klobucar lead the Bulldogs into action.

Leary brings by far the most varsity experience to the Bulldog lineup after playing in all 41 Butte High games over the last two seasons.

Luedtke said Leary is a leader with his voice and with his actions. He will run the point for the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-6 Klobucar, who was listed at 320 pounds on the Butte High football roster, is a player Luedtke is really excited about.

“Kooper can dominate down low,” Luedtke said. “He has the skills to do it. But he can also shoot the three. He’s probably the best passer in the state. He’s got great feet and hands, man, and that kid is working hard this year.”

Luedtke said that Klobucar was limited last season because of conditioning. After a strong football season, Klobucar is in great shape this time around, the coach said.

“The way he is working this year,” Luedtke said, “it looks like he never wants to come out of the game.”

Juniors Jace Stenson, Cameron Gurnsey and Casey Merrifield will round out the starting lineup for the Bulldogs. Junior Jonas Sherman and sophomore Bo Demarais will be the first players off the bench.

Gurnsey and Stenson saw quality time for the Bulldogs on varsity last year. Merrifield, who was battling injuries, played in one game. Luedtke said his shooting touch has been on display in practice.

The coach figures Gurnsey and Sherman, two 6-foot high jumpers, will vie for Butte High’s first game dunk since Luedtke came to town.

Luedtke said Demarais is an example of a player who worked hard in the offseason to earn a spot on the varsity roster. The coach said he never missed a workout, summer game or open gym.

“That’s why he’s a varsity guy,” Luedtke said. “We’re not picking him because he worked hard. We’re picking him because he’s better than the other guys because he worked hard.”

With the talent he has, Luedtke said he figures to be more of an up-tempo team. He said his team will likely play more like his teams in Choteau that captured back-to-back Class B titles in 2015 and 2016.

Junior Kale McDonald will miss the season because he underwent surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum following the football season.

Butte High was hit hard by graduation, losing five seniors from last year’s team. That include includes Jake Olson, who took his talents to the University of Montana football team, and Billy Kelly, who signed to play hoops at the University of Providence.

The Bulldogs also lost Mikey O’Dell, who transferred to Three Forks.

The Bulldogs will likely use just the seven players on varsity, for the most part, early in the year. Luedtke said he is looking for players to “step up” from the varsity/junior varsity roster to contribute.

That roster includes three sophomores and six freshmen. Players vying for playing time include juniors Alex Watson and Sean Ossello; sophomores Garret Sharp and Nolan Casey; and freshmen Dylan Bache, Tocher Lee, Colton Shea, Jason Johns, Trey McCarthy and Spencer Callaghan.

Butte High also has a sophomore team and two freshman team made up of a total of 17 players.

Luedtke is high on the freshman class. He pointed out his Uptop traveling team compiled a 33-3 record as eighth graders last season.

Assisting Luedtke will be Chad Jonart, Matt Pokorny, Shawn Wetzel, Jake Evans and John Magnus.

“I’m really excited about my staff,” Luedtke said. “They’re awesome guys.”

Luedtke also pointed to his managers Kamber Leary, Kaicee Liva, Gussey Lean and Maddie Luedtke as important players on the team.

The Bulldogs open Western AA play Jan. 7-8 when they travel to Kalispell to take on Flathead and Glacier. Butte’s first home conference game is Jan. 15 against Missoula Hellgate.

Butte High, which will alternate between the Butte Civic Center and the Richardson Gym for its home games, will go to Helena for the Western AA Divisional March 3-5.

The Class AA State tournament is the following week in Billings.

Luedtke isn’t looking that far ahead just yet. The coach said he is looking forward to his three non-conference December games. In particular, he said he is eyeing the Butte High-Butte Central game and playing in front of a packed gym.

The coach said he is expecting his Bulldogs to open some eyes.

“Hopefully, we can go and win some games, and people will want to come out and watch us,” he said.