By Bruce Sayler
It is as if the high school wrestling teams are facing two opponents every time out this season – the opponents on the mats and the coronavirus that idles contestants weekly while they still try to maintain their weights and keep their skills.
Some of Butte High’s wrestlers returned to the fold Friday and Helena High had five open weight classes. Butte High won the dual meet 54-15 in the Butte Civic Center.
Butte High head coach Cory Johnston harvested the good the competitions yielded.
“I thought in the big, matches – the ranked and the ranked-unranked matches – our kids really came out and set the tone,” the coach of the Bulldogs said. “Our other guys were working hard and we’re working as hard as we can to get our other guys some experience. Without divisionals this year, we have to get as many opportunities as we can for everybody.”
Johnston said that, due to the pandemic limits and affects on the sport, the Western and Eastern Divisional tournaments have been scrapped for 2021, and that advancement to state will be by seeding-type criteria, likely to be determined in deliberations. The state Class AA tourney will be held March 5-6 at Flathead High School in Kalispell, the Montana High School Association announced on Friday.
Butte High pin wins versus the Bengals Friday were by Trey Whitlock at 103 pounds, Kip Pumnea at 132 and Anthony Liva at 145. Kyler Raiha was a 4-2 decision winner at 120 pounds and Connor Konda posted a 3-0 triumph at 138. Forfeit victories for the Bulldogs were awarded at 113, 126, 152, and 205 pounds, and in the 285-pound limit weight class.
Whitlock entered as the top-ranked 103-pounder in Class AA and swarmed fourth-ranked Kaleb O’Shea to stay undefeated. Whitlock was up 5-0 on O’Shea after a first-period takedown and second-period 3-point near-fall before scoring the fall in 3 minutes, 57 seconds, just before the period-ending buzzer would have sounded.
“Trey wrestled a really tough kid and it was a very dominant win by Trey,” Johnston said, “against a kid ranked highly in the state.”
Raiha came out fast against Nathan Elmose and shot the single-leg for a takedown and 2-0 lead off the whistle. Elmose proved to be tough, but scored only on penalty points against Raiha – on a hold that slipped into a choke and then again on a third false start. Raiha’s reversal in the third period clinched the 4-2 decision. Raiha is ranked fourth and undefeated and Elmose is ranked fifth.
“Two kids ranked that close showed what Kyler was after,” Johnston commented on Raiha’s aggressiveness.
Pumnea brought his Flying Wallenda style of wrestling and No. 4 ranking at 132 pounds to his match. Ian Mehrens of Helena chalked up a 5-0 lead with a takedown and three-point near-fall against Pumnea. The Bulldog, though, spun a reversal and cut the deficit to 5-2 by the period’s end. Pumnea started on bottom to start the second period, turned a reveral on Mehrens and stuck him in a 3:23 pin.
“Kip started in a hole, but points just don’t seem to matter to him,” Johnston said with an almost-getting-used-to-it smile. “They don’t affect him in that way in feeling (urgency). He’s special that way, but he’s also really talented.”
Konda’s bout was a grueler, using a first-period takedown and second-period escape to defeat Cameron Wyant. Johnston said the grinding type of match and result was similar to the wrestlers’ previous meetings.
Liva’s efforts were similar Pumnea’s. Liva found himself down quickly 2-0 after David Kemp caught him with a takedown. By the end of the first period, however, Liva had a 3-2w edge on an escape and takedown. He had the top position in the second period and drove Kemp into a 2:43 pin.
“Anthony is wrestling at a really high level and is getting better and better,” Johnston said.
Konda holds a No. 6 ranking at 138 pounds and Liva is No. 4 at 145.
The Bengals’ wins were a decision by Kaleb Kirklin at 160 pounds and pins by fourth-ranked Justice Seamons at 170 and Kaleb McKay at 182.
Some of the Bulldogs’ upper-weight regulars were out of the lineup. No girls’ bouts were wrestled, either.
“This time of the year, great shape is tough to get in unless you’re in matches,” Johnston said about the woes of quarantine inactivity and the need to involve as many wrestlers as he can in varsity competition.
Butte High’s dual meet scheduled with Helena Capital for Saturday has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns in the Capital program. The Bulldogs are to wrestle at Missoula Hellgate on Monday to make up a meet postponed earlier because of the pandemic.
Butte High 54, Helena High 15
103 pounds – Trey Whitlock, Butte, pinned Kaleb O’Shea 3:57. 113 – Maverick McEwen, Butte, won by forfeit. 120 – Kyler Raiha, Butte, dec. Nathan Elmose 4-2. 126 – Keagan Gransbery, Butte, won by forfeit. 132 – Kip Pumnea, Butte, pinned Ian Mehrens 3:23. 138 – Connor Konda, Butte, dec. Cameron Wyant 3-0. 145 – Anthony Liva, Butte, pinned David Kemp 2:43. 152 – Morgan McClernan, Butte, won by forfeit. 160 – Kaleb Kirklin, Helena, dec. Riley Downey, 9-4. 170 – Justice Seamons, Helena, pinned Dominik Scown 1:59. 182 – Kaleb McKay, Helena, pinned Tucker LeProwse 3:37. 205 – Kade Schleeman, Butte, won by forfeit. 285 – Zach Tierney, Butte, won by forfeit.