By Bill Foley
After posting a 12-1 record in duals this season, it is pretty clear that Butte High has a good duals wrestling team.
Now, the Bulldogs are about to find out just how good of a tournament team they have.
Butte High’s wrestlers will compete in their first tournament of the COVID-19 season this weekend, and it is a big one. It is the big one.
Flathead High School will set the scene for the Class AA State tournament, which will stand alone for the first time since a tornado rendered MetraPark in Billings unplayable in 2011.
With 25 wrestlers heading to Kalispell, the Bulldogs boast the most wrestlers in the meet. Billings Senior has 24, while Billings West and Kalispell Flathead each will take 23.
Of the 25, nine will have to win a “piggyback” match to get into the bracket of 16 in the weight class. Bulldog coach Cory Johnston said those matches could go a long way to determining if the Bulldogs can capture hardware at the tournament.
“We’re bringing the most guys in the AA,” Johnston said. “As long as we can punch a few of the guys who wrestle in the piggyback matches, we will be in good shape.”
The coach, who is closing the book on his sixth year with the Bulldogs, said his wrestlers have to compete within themselves.
“We don’t have to do anything special,” he said. “We just have to wrestle to their ability. If everybody does their job, we’re going to be in good position.”
Butte High will send 11 wresters with State experience, including three place winners. The other 14 will be making their first trip.
Johnston said he expects those 14 to surprise some people this weekend.
“It will be a surprise to everybody but us,” he said.
Senior Keagan Gransbery will wrestle at State for the fourth year. He is looking to continue counting up after placing third at 103 pounds as a sophomore and second at 120 as a junior. This year, Gransbery is the No. 2 seed from the Western AA at 126 pounds.
Juniors Kyle Raiha and Trey Whitlock placed sixth at State for the Bulldogs a year ago, Whitlock at 103 and Raiha at 113.
This time around, Whitlock is the No. 1 seed at 103 pounds. Raiha is seeded second at 120.
Maverick McEwen might be a freshman for the Bulldogs, but he is no stranger to big-time wrestling tournaments. He is a two-time middle school state champion, and he heads to Kalispell as the No. 1 seed at 113 pounds.
Seeds were determined by records in the regular season and set at the Western AA coaches meeting last week.
Sophomore Zach Tierney will be making his second appearance at State as a heavyweight. This time he is the West’s No. 1 seed.
Senior Anthony Liva is the No. 2 seed at 145 pounds, while sophomore Mason Christian is No. 2 at 185 pounds. Butte High No. 3 seeds are sophomore Kip Pumnea at 132 pounds, junior Connor Konda at 138 and Gavin Vetter at 152.
Pumnea, Konda, Liva, Gavin Vetter, junior Riley Downey, Christian Vetter and senior Cohwen Houchin are all State tournament veterans. Christian Vetter, a senior at 170 pounds, missed last season after injuring his knee before the football season.
Making their first State appearances will be seniors Tucker LeProwse and Tanner Huff, juniors Cole Worley, Gunnar Yelenich, Wiley Dallaserra, Morgan McClernan, sophomores Canyon Mullaney, Bryton Hardesty and Cohwen Grunhuvd, and freshmen Derek Averyt, Aiden Cuchine and Kade Schleeman.
That depth gives the Bulldogs scoring opportunity. It also helped prepare the Bulldogs for the big stage.
“We have the most competitive wrestling room in the state, and they make every else better,” Johnston said.
“I’m really excited. I’m excited for our seniors,” Johnston said. “They’re looking forward to this weekend. This is the culmination to a lot of years of work, and the young guys feel like they have something to prove.”
Great Falls High is the defending champion, but Billings Senior was the top-ranked team in the final Class AA wrestling poll. Billings West was No. 2, followed by Kalispell Flathead, Great Falls High and Butte High.
The Bulldogs placed fifth last year and sixth in 2019. Butte High is looking for its first team trophy since the Bulldogs captured third place in 2006.
Butte High’s last state championship came in 2003, the year most of their seniors were born.
Meet results can be followed live on trackwrestling.com.
The following wrestlers will compete for the Bulldogs. Their seed is in parenthesis.
103 — Trey Whitlock (1), Canyon Mullaney (6)
113 — Maverick McEwen (1), Cohwen Houchin (6)
120 — Kyle Raiha (2), Cole Worley (5)
126 — Keagan Gransbery (2), Gunnar Yelenich (6)
132 — Kip Pumnea (3), Derek Averyt (9)
138 — Connor Konda (3), Wiley Dallaserra (7)
145 — Anthony Liva (2), Bryton Hardesty (9)
152 — Gavin Vetter (3), Morgan McClernan (8)
160 — Riley Downey (8) Aiden Cuchine (10)
170 — Christian Vetter (6)
182 — Mason Christian (2), Cohwen Grunhuvd (10)
205 — Tucker LeProwse (9), Tanner Huff (10)
285 — Zach Tierney (1), Kade Schleeman (7)
Correction: Butte High senior Cohwen Houchin competed at state as 103-pound wrestler last year. The first version of this story omitted that fact.