Maroon, Bulldog wrestlers aim for seeding meets

With the bulk of the wrestling season behind them, local grapplers have one day of competition remaining between themselves and a ticket to the All-Class State Wrestling tourney Feb. 8-9 at Metra in Billings.

Butte High head coach Jim Bob Humphrey will take 23 wrestlers to the Eastern AA seeding meet Saturday at Bozeman High School, while Butte Central head coach Robin Moodry will bring seven Maroons to the Southwestern A divisional meet Saturday in Dillon.

The top eight wrestlers in each weight class at the Eastern AA meet will advance to state, while the top four move on at the Southwestern A.

Both schools bring talented wrestlers to the qualifying meets, and both squads feature a young group of athletes. Central has six sophomores and a freshman, while more than a quarter of Butte High’s entrees are freshmen.

Moodry isn’t too concerned about inexperience, as four of his wrestlers already have state tourney experience, while Clay Stillwagon and Zach Hart both placed at last year’s state meet.

“We’re going to try to make a good showing in Dillon,” Moodry said. “The last couple of weeks the kids have really stepped it up in the wrestling room. If they all wrestle to their capabilities, we’ve got a good shot at sending all of them. We just need to show up to wrestle on Saturday.”

Stillwagon is the second-ranked 98-pounder in the Class A ranks, as one of his two losses this season came at the hands of top-ranked Keegan Keneally of Havre. Central sends Bryce Noctor at 105 pounds and freshman Sean Cooney at 119. Hart checks in at 135, while talented sophomore Keighton Svejkovsky is at 140. Ben Holt wrestles at 189 and Liam Doran is at 215.

Moodry, whose wrestling room has been relatively quiet the past few seasons, said he’s enjoying having more athletes out for the sport.

“Practices are a lot better,” he said. “There’s so much more you can do with a few more guys around.”

Butte High’s overall numbers are up as well. Humphrey, in his first season of coaching, used his position as an assistant football coach to get a few more wrestlers out for the team. Even at this late point in the season the Bulldogs still have more than 40 wrestlers working out.

Humphrey met fellow Eastern AA head coaches at 7:30 p.m. Friday to determine seeds in Saturday’s meet, which is slated to begin at 10 a.m. The Bulldogs should have a number of high – if not top – seeds for the one day event.

Led by sophomore Levi Renz and senior Jarret Rowling at 135 pounds, Butte High hopes to fare well at the coaches meeting before the real work begins on Saturday.

“We’ll try to get Levi and Jarret on opposite sides of the bracket,” Humphrey said

Butte brings Blake Bowen at 98 pounds, while Tyler Ossello is the lone representative at 105 after Kelly Merrick suffered a broken collarbone. The 112-pound slot is manned by Kaydon Queer and Bridger Mooney, while standout freshman Ax Henningsen is at 119.

Joey Blunt and Taran Bennett provide a solid one-two punch at 125, while Willy Shea will look to keep momentum at 130. Guy St. John and freshman Kaleb Ferriter will compete at 140, while Tommy Challeen and Andre Vialpando will make the Bulldogs hard to beat at 145 pounds.

Bryce Armstrong and Andrew Anderson give Butte High a nice edge at 152, while Wyatt Merkel and Cian Randall hold down the 160-pound weight class. Lee Cannon is the top man at 171, while Nick Challeen moved up to take the No. 2 role at that weight.

“Nick feels like he’s been more competitive wrestling at 171,” Humphrey said.

Leaving 189 open, the Bulldogs look to Johnny Walker at 215 pounds along with heavyweights Billy Robinson and Cameron Huston.

“I look forward to the weekend,” Humphrey said, noting that his team had just completed its best week of practice this season. “We had a lot of our younger guys in wrestling varsity against Billings Senior and West last weekend. I think they realized how close they are, and they all came in ready to work.”

Butte High has a good chance at qualifying the bulk of its entrants into the seeding tourney, and at earning high seeds as well.

“This weekend our main goal is to get our ticket punched for state,” Humphrey said. “Then we’ll have five more days of practice to see what we can do.”