By Bruce Sayler
It is crowded at the top in the Eastern AA Conference for high school wrestling in Montana. The mid-January coaches’ poll showed the top five teams in the State AA rankings all being from the Eastern division.
So, advancing large contingents of qualifiers to next week’s state AA tournament in Billings will be difficult for any of them, and high seeds won individually will be at a premium. Such, for the Eastern AA, will all be sorted out on Saturday when the seven Eastern AA members tangle in Bozeman’s high school gym to determine which contestants will go on to State. The top eight place-winners in each weight class will proceed to the floor of The Metra arena in Billings.
The Butte High mission this year has been to build team depth with a look toward enhancing the Bulldogs’ chances to advance several past the Saturday’s Eastern AA seeding tournament.
No team scores will be kept and no awards will be presented. Spots at state are all what’s at stake. The Eastern AA seeding meet is set for an 11 a.m. start and shared goal is to advance as many team members as possible. Butte High head coach Cory Johnston said 26 Bulldogs, two in each weight class, will enter Saturday’s fray. Bozeman, Billings Senior, Billings Skyview, Billings West, Great Falls C.M. Russell and Great Falls HIgh are on the same type of journey and also headed for the Bozeman clash. Rounds will follow each preceding one until the one-day tourney is completed.
“Now, it’s not about getting one or two guys on the podium,” Johnston said. “It’s about getting the team there.”
The mid-January rankings said Bozeman is No. 1 in the state, followed by Billings Senior, Billings West, Butte High and Great Falls High. Helena Capital, is No. 6, was the highest-ranked team from the Western AA.
Johnston said it has been a good regular season for the Bulldogs, and noted that some losses were incurred along the way because of using second-stringers in some tough spots to help prepare them for this postseason. The plan included 10 Class AA bouts for as many Butte High wrestlers as possible to put them in a more favorable seeding position for the seeding tournament, Johnston said. Ten bouts is required to be seeded into the tournament.
“Our depth has been huge because we’ve been able to place kids,” Johnston said, referring to regular-season tourneys the team entered. “Some have been multiples in some weights. And, we have moved kids around in (weight classes). We’ve done it with a lot of different kids. We’re trying to put them in the best spots.”
A solid senior group and ranked wrestlers will center the Bulldogs’ competitive lean. Sophomore Keagan Gransbery is Class AA’s top-ranked 103-pounder and a veteran of last year’s state tournament.
“It’s amazing what size can do,” Johnston said. “Keagan was undersized last year, but came in this year with size and a great attitude.”
Junior Kameron Moreno tops the state AA list at 205 pounds and is a returning state place-winner. The physical, strong Moreno showed a lightning takedown move in his most recent bouts.
Other ranked Bulldogs include Christian Sherman at 103, Wil Queer at 113, Anthony Liva at 132, returning state place-winner Carl Anderson at 160, Quinn Sullivan at 170 and Kole McGrath at 182.
Johnston, too, has faith in the Butte High backups. He said hopes are 20 to 24 Bulldogs will go on to the state tournament, though all 26 wrestling this weekend would be nice.
Queer, Anderson and McGrath are among those providing senior leadership, along with Gabbie Parini, Dale Kent, Billy Cunneen, Austin Endy and Kyle Harding.
Parini will be the first girl to wrestle in the postseason for Butte High. She has been drawing attention from recruiters for college women’s wrestling programs, Johnston said.
“We’re deep at 103 and we’re deep at 160 and up,” Johnston said. “Our middles are a little light, but we’re as strong as we’ve ever been (in his tenure).
“We have a competitive wrestling room. All of our kids are of the caliber to win, so the room is competitive. We’re leaving some good wrestlers home (because of the two per weight class limit).”
So, the Butte High entries for the seeding tournament are Gransbery and Sherman at 103 pounds, cousins Wil and Wyatt Queer at 113, Connor Konda and Gavin Vetter at 120, Scout Allen and Moosie Henningsen at 126, Liva and Parini at 132, Kent and Jerek Rosenleaf at 138, Dylan Averyt and Joe Sandoval at 145, Cunneen and Tucker LeProwse at 152, Anderson and Christian Vetter at 160, Sullivan and Dominik Scown at 170, McGrath and Myles McClernan at 182, Moreno and Endy at 205, and Harding and Ty Raiha in the 285-pound limit class.
Allen is back after missing the last few weeks healing a broken leg suffered before Christmas in the Great Falls CMR Holiday Classic tournament. Kobe Moreno, a state place-winner last year, remains unavailable due to tearing his ACL in the Bulldogs’ first football game last fall. The recovery period is usually about a year.
The seeding will be Butte High’s last as an Eastern AA member. The Bulldogs will move to the Western AA alignment next school year.