By Bruce Sayler
The Butte High and Butte Central wrestling squads might be more team in each’s regard than at any time of this fast-ending high school season.
They will be in divisional tournaments this weekend and now appreciating each friend’s dedication to the hard work and end goal that captured them and held them in the wrestling room afternoons since late November.
Sweat and pain has been anticipated. Reward is now sought.
“Everything is good and we were able to get healthy,” Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said. “This week, we came off a nice break of last week from competition. So, we got to practice more on technique instead of preparing for (specific) competition.”
The Bulldogs will be in Great Falls on Saturday for the Eastern AA Seeding Tournament at CMR Fieldhouse.
The Eastern AA is loaded with returning place-winners from last year’s state AA tournament. Among them is Butte High senior Jeff Queer, who is defending his 285-pound title won at both the seeding and state tournaments in 2017.
Butte Central will be vying in the Western A Divisional on Friday and Saturday in the home gym of defending divisional champion Columbia Falls.
“We had a good practice today,” Robin Moodry, head coach of the Maroons, said Wednesday. “Things are starting to click. (The Maroons) know what they need to do and they’re looking forward to it. They’re excited for wrestling at divisionals.”
The Western A will wrestle its first round at 4 p.m. on Friday, then will resume action at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The Eastern AA seeding tourney, with C.M. Russell High serving as host, will go on all day Saturday in the CMR Fieldhouse.
“Our division is a meat-grinder,” Johnston said, pointing to the prowess of state AA contender Bozeman along with the competitiveness of the Billings and Great Falls schools. “We’re young with just three seniors and so it’s exciting for the kids. We beat each other up in this division and so it’s really going to be a fight at the divisional.”
The Bulldogs will take 24 wrestlers to the seeding tourney with two entered at every weight class except the 126- and 205-pound spots.
Johnston said his lineup will have junior Wil Queer and freshman Keagan Gransbery at 103 pounds, freshman Cameron Cox and sophomore Wyatt Queer at 113, senior Gabe Tierney and sophomore Tarryn Powers at 120, sophomore Scout Allen at 126, junior Dale Kent and freshman Anthony Liva at 132, sophomores Cory West and Jerek Rosenleaf at 138, junior Kole McGrath and sophomore Dylan Averyt at 145, sophomore Quinn Sullivan and freshman Christian Vetter at 152, junior Carl Anderson and freshman Domonick Scown at 160, sophomore Kobe Moreno and junior Austin Endy at 170, sophomores Kameron Moreno and Myles McClernan at 182, senior Greyson Mandic at 205, and senior Jeff Queer and junior Kyle Harding at 285.
Three-time state champion Charlie Klepps of Billings Senior will also be at the Eastern AA along with reigning champions Jace Rhodes of Billings West, Leif Schroeder of Bozeman, Jordan Komac of Great Falls High and Isaac Romero of Helena High.
Tierney, a sixth-place finisher at state last year, is Butte High’s other returning place-winner.
Johnston is optimistic about the chances of his senior leaders and the rush of youth he is about to unleash on the CMR mats.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re focused on our effort and ready to place as high as you can for a good (first-round) spot at state.
“Don’t tell me what you want, show me what you got.”
The top eight place-winners in each weight class will advance to the February 9-10 state tournament in Billings. No team scores are kept at the seeding tourney and no awards are presented.
Still, the young Bulldogs are stretching their leash.
“The kids are excited and ready to go,” Johnston said. “We have a scrappy bunch. Our kids like each other and our kids are gelling. Our kids deserve it.”
Moodry will go to Columbia Falls with just three Maroons to go to the mats. However, two are returning state place-winners. Senior 103-pounder Roy Russell was sixth last year and junior Clay Fisher was the Class A runner-up at 126 pounds. Freshman 138-pounder Cade Stillwagon rounds out the squad and has shown potential to grab a place and state trip.
The top eight place-winners at the Western A will go on to the state meet in Billings.
“The boys are ready,” Moodry said. “We have no idea as to where we might be seeded, but it doesn’t matter to these kids. The name of the opponent nor the seed he is matters.”
Moodry agreed that to win or place, the wrestler has to tangle with the top opposition somewhere along the bracket, anyway.
“It’s time for them to bring their A-game,” Moodry said. “We want to peak the next two weekends. It would be nice to get a top four or five spot for a better first-round seed at state.”
Moodry threw much of the credit for the Butte Central wrestlers’ progress to assistant coach Andrew Holmes.
“Andrew has been putting in a lot of time,” Moodry said. “He’s been throwing some new things out there that I’ve really liked — some different ways to practice and things like that.”
The Western A will have a strong field, too. Columbia Falls, Ronan and Frenchtown should be in the hunt for hardware when they get to state while Polson, Libby and Corvallis have always been solid entries, too. Hamilton, Stevensville, Whitefish, Dillon and Browning also have some talented individual contenders.
Brent Tezak of Dillon and Riley Gurr of Frenchtown are two-time state champions. Jake Bibler of Frenchtown won a state title last year. In all, the divisional should see 24 wrestlers who placed at the State A tourney last February.
“Our goal is to try to get the boys to the state tournament and see where we go from there,” Moodry said. “I think they can do well.”