Butte wrestlers hunt titles as state returns to Metra

Butte wrestlers hunt titles as state returns to Metra
Butte High wrestlers gather on the mat before a dual with Belgrade Dec. 14 at Butte High's old gym. (Bill Foley photo)

Girls kick off tournament on Thursday

By Bruce Sayler 

 Butte High head coach Cory Johnston is taking the tedious approach as he prepares Butte High’s wrestlers for this week’s state Class AA tournament. 

The tourney, once again being held in The Metra at Billings as part of an all-class event, will go Thursday through Saturday. Girls begin the schedule with a 4 p.m. first round on Thursday. 

The tournament was split into three sites last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The AA boys’ tourney took place in Kalispell and the juggernaut Flathead program was able to win in its home gym. The all-class state girls’ tournament was held in Billings, at Lockwood High School. Flathead won that one, too. 

“One match at a time, one round at a time, one minute at a time,” Johnston said about what the Bulldogs’ focus will be. “I’m looking forward to it.” 

Butte High is looking to move up from last year’s fifth place in the boys’ tournament and fourth place in the girls.’ The Butte High roster has 20 boys and 13 girls entered. Many have previous state tournament experience. 

Girls in weight classes 103 to 170 will launch the tourney, beginning with Thursday’s 4 p.m. round. Those in 182 and up will start in the 5:30 round. The boys will begin their rounds at 10 a.m. on Friday while the girls resume their competition. The tournament finals for both are to start at 4 p.m. on Saturday. 

“We’re looking good and revving to go,” Johnston said. “We’ve been sharpening the axe a little bit this week. We’ve been working on our conditioning, and staying healthy.” 

So far, it’s been good. The coach said “everybody’s healthy.” 

He said he likes the positioning going into the extravaganza, which is traditionally attended by a large Butte contingent. 

He pointed out that the Bulldogs placed 19 wrestlers in the top five spots of their respective weight classes at last week’s Western AA Seeding Tournament in Missoula, the qualifier from this side of Montana for the state AA meet.  

The entries include five boys who placed in last year’s meet – Trey Whitlock, Kyler Raiha, Maverick McEwen, Kip Pumnea and Mason Christian – and two girls – Hayla Hoffman and Ashlee Wilcox. 

Both Whitlock and Hoffman were runners-up at state in 2021. Raiha and Christian won the seeding tourney in their classes last week. 

Butte Central will have one entry in the Class A meet being held at the same place and same time. Freshman James Holmes will be representing the Maroons in the 126-pound class. 

Butte High’s entrants are Reid Whitlock at 103 pounds, Trey Whitlock and Grady Winston at 113, Raiha and Cole Worley at 120, Karson Pumnea and Gunnar Yelenich at 126, Kip Pumnea and Will Stepan at 132, McEwen and Trey Hansen at 145, Connor Konda and Kade Schonsberg at 152, Gavin Vetter and Morgan McClernan at 160, Riley Downey and Aden Cuchine at 170, Christian at 182, Cohen Grunhuvd at 205 and Kade Schleeman in the 285-pound limit class. 

The Butte High girls entered are sisters Madyson LaPier and Kaylee LaPier at 103 pounds, Bella Real and Jessie LaPier at 113, Aydin Gonzales and Taylor Burke at 120, Maria Hanson at 126, Teya Edwards at 132, Chaelin Scown at 170, Hoffman and Wilcox at 205, and Rian Ferriter and Makenna Bazo in the 285-pound limit class. 

Kaylee LaPier, Gonzales and Hanson all wrestled in last year’s state tournament, too. 

“We don’t have too many fresh faces in the boys’ lineup,” Johnston said, referring mostly to first time state entrants. “Only (freshmen) Karson Pumnea and Stepan. And, we’re hoping all our girls get a couple of matches, at least, at State.” 

Johnston recounted the Bulldog boys’ “fantastic season” in tournament terms, listing second-place finishes in The Mining City Duals and in the Gillette, Wyoming-hosted Pat Weede Memorial duals, and the Tom LeProwse Invitational in Bozeman; and fourth-place finishes in the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic in Missoula and the Class AA Duals in Great Falls. Johnston noted the Bulldogs were No. 2 among Montana teams in the Jug Beck tourney. 

“So, there’s been a lot to be excited about and a lot to be happy about,” Johnston said. “We have to wrestle well this weekend.  

“It’s kind of a rarity, but we might be the only team to have wrestled a dual meet against every other Class AA team this season. I think it’s been a really good gauge for how we’ve been sitting. And, in The Mining City Duals and Class AA Duals, we had a chance to see everybody.” 

He said focus on the right-now is a most important quality for the next few days. 

“You can’t do anything about what’s next in the bracket,” Johnston said, “only what is in front of you at that moment.” 

Christian has battled three intense grinders with Flathead standout Noah Hatten-Poe with Christian having two of the one-point wins.  

“He grinded them out and will now have to grind it even harder,” Johnston said. “And, Kyler Raiha and Cole Worley at 120 are both super tough, pushing each other and feeding off each other’s energy.” 

The weight class should be one of the highlight divisions this year of the tourney. 

The depth has proven to be pretty good for the Bulldogs and they were missing three state qualifiers from last season because of injuries – including two-time state heavyweight place-winner Zach Tierney, who didn’t get to wrestle at all this year, his junior season, because of a shoulder injury aggravated playing football. Canyon Mullaney and Wiley Dallaserra both missed most of the last part of the season with injuries. 

All three could very well be back in camp next year. 

“My gut feeling is we’re going to have a good weekend,” Johnston said. 

All Bulldogs in the boys’ tournament are going in with winning records with McEwen’s 20-6 and Christian’s 19-3 marks topping the list. 

Butte High has won 17 state AA wrestling team championships, including 13 in a row, 1980-92. The last one for the Bulldogs was in 2003. 

Butte fans are gathering Thursday evening for a rally social to be held at the Doubletree Inn. Ballroom A, in Billings. Johnston said it is due to start at 7:30 p.m. or after the girls complete their first day of tournament. Prizes, food and beverages are on the agenda, the coach said. 


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