By Bruce Sayler
The growl was in the Bulldogs Friday as the Butte High wrestlers enjoyed a good first day of the Western AA Seeding Tournament in the Butte Civic Center.
Both teams shined – the boys and the girls. They combined to put 25 wrestlers into Saturday’s semifinals with guaranteed qualification for the state AA tournament next weekend. The top eight boys in each weight class will move onto the state tourney, again as part of the All-Class Tournament in The Metra in Billings. At least the top four in each girls’ class will likely qualify, too.
The Butte High boys put 15 into Saturday’s semis. No team scores are kept in the seeding tourney, but the Bulldogs and Flathead High of Kalispell looked to be the leaders. Results are available on the trackwrestling.com Website.
“It was good, really good,” Butte High head boys’ wrestling coach Cory Johnston said. “We got a lot into the semis. We stressed in practice this week not to just get to State, but to finish well getting to State.”
The Bulldog girls stormed into the semifinals with 10 holding down spots. It might’ve been their best team effort to date. Head coach Geno Liva was pleased.
“We have come on stronger (through the season),” he said. “Our first tournament was our worst of the year. We did a couple little things more each week in practice and made improvements week by week.
“One thing we really concentrated on this week was being pinners. Even late in the matches, even ahead boy four or five points with 13 seconds left, we’re pushing for the pins. We’re wrestling six-minute matches.”
Saturday’s action will begin at 11 a.m. and wrestling will be continuous until the tournament ends, as long as all individual between-bout rest times are honored.
Butte High’s boys in the semifinals are Keegan Hunt and Tyrese LeProwse at 103 pounds, Ryder McEwen and Joey Ward at 113, Grady Winston at 126, Kip Pumnea and Reid Whitlock at 132, Bryton Hardesty at 138, Will Stepan and Karson Pumnea at 145, Trey Hansen at 160, Cohen Grunhuvd and Kade Schonsberg at 205, and Mason Christian and Kade Schleeman in the 285-pound limit class.
A bad shoulder has nagged Zach Tierney through much of his high school career and aggravation of it took him out of the lineup this week as Butte High’s 285-pound limit star. His wrestling career is likely over, but he has signed to play football at Montana Tech. Christian bumped up a class from 205 to take his spot. Christian won the state title at 182 last year and is signed to continue his mat career at West Liberty University in West Virginia next fall.
“Zach got injured,” Johnston said. “Mason had talked about maybe challenging at heavyweight some time and decided to make the move when we had an opening.”
The Butte High girls advancing to the semifinals are Payton Liva (Geno’s daughter) at 100 pounds, Kaylee LaPier at 107, Aydin Gonzales at 114, Sophie Grunhuvd (now owner of a 28-1 season record) at 120, Teya Edwards and Neveah Grunhuvd at 132, Mattie Stepan at 145, Hayla Hoffman at 160 and Makenna Bazo and Ashlee Wilcox, both in the 235-pound limit class.
Three Grunhuvds, two Stepans and two Pumneas reaching the semfinals for Butte High verify the wrestling family sport claim.
Johnston said practice centered on simply “grindout performances” this week.
“We focused on finishing while you’re tired,” he said.
He noted some examples.
“ ‘Schlee’ beat a guy who was fourth at State last year,” he said of Schleeman’s 1-0 tussle with Forrest Howell of Flathead. “That was huge for ‘Schlee.’ Joey Ward did a really good job against a kid (Zane Gehring of Helena High) who beat him up earlier in the season.”
Ward got his revenge with a pin in 3 minutes, 6 seconds. However, he has to wrestle classmate and teammate McEwen in the semifinals, guaranteeing the Bulldogs of a championship match spot at the 113-pound weight.
Unusual, Johnston roamed the three boys’ mats during the competitions, looking in and advising on each of the bouts Butte High had wrestlers competing instead of staying in any one mat corner to coach an individual match for a wrestler. His trusted staff complemented the maneuver.
“I stayed in the middle and moved anywhere,” he said. “I was just bouncing. I stayed in for a couple of matches, but a couple didn’t last very long.”
Liva indicated he has hopes his team’s momentum gained Friday will launch the Bulldog girls to more success Saturday.
“We did compete really well,” he said. “We got quite a few in the semis and we’re looking for a great start in the morning.”
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