Optimistic Bulldogs, Maroons ready to hit mats

Optimistic Bulldogs, Maroons ready to hit mats
Dominik Scown of Butte High works toward a victory by decision of Kaleb McKay of Helena High in a 170-pound match Jan. 14 at the Butte High old gym. (Butte Sports file photo by Bill Foley)

By Bill Foley

A whole lot of uncertainty hangs in the air as Butte High and Butte Central gets ready for the wrestling season.

Where will Butte High wrestle? Will all the matches be at the Civic Center like the first one? Will they wrestle at Butte High’s old gym? Or new gym?

Where will the state tournaments be held? Will there be seeding and divisional tournaments? Will the season of the coronavirus even finish?

The answers to those questions will likely remain unanswered for some time.

When it comes to the Bulldogs and Maroons, however, one thing is certain. Both teams enter the season feeling optimistic that they will do good things when they do get on the mats. That includes three wrestlers from Butte Central, a Butte High boys’ team, and the first-ever Butte High girls’ wrestling team.

The Bulldogs have 10 girls out for the inaugural Montana girls’ wrestling season. (Butte High roster; Butte High schedule; BC schedule)

“One way or another we’ll put out a good product,” said sixth-year Butte High coach Cory Johnston, who adds the title “girls’ head coach” to his business card. “This is probably he most excited I’ve been.”

The Bulldogs open the season at home Tuesday in a dual with Missoula Hellgate. That meet will be at the Civic Center, where the two spectators per wrestler will be able to space out. Butte Central’s wrestlers will open Saturday in Hamilton with the Broncs, Ronan and Dillon.

“We have three strong,” longtime BC coach Robin Moodry said. “I’m really happy with the guys we have. They’re very excited and energetic.”

Johnston’s Bulldogs return 13 of the 19 wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament last year.

That includes senior Keagan Gransbery, who finished second at state at 120 pounds last February. He placed third at 103 pounds as a sophomore.

“He took second and third and has a whole lot of wins in between,” Johnston said. “He’s come in with a phenomenal attitude. Since the first day of practice, he’s been a leader. You can tell the urgency in Keagan. You can tell the focus. I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”

Gransbery could wrestle anywhere from 120 to 132. Johnson said he has several wrestlers sitting at the same weight, giving the Bulldogs depth.

Bulldog Keagan Gransbery pins Bozeman’s Tucker Schmidt at 120 pounds Jan. 28 in Butte. (Butte Sports file photo by Bill Foley)

Depth could be a strength from top to bottom for the Bulldogs. Despite losing some big-time talent to graduation, Johnston said his team is as balanced it has been in his run at Butte High.

“It always seemed like we’re top heavy,” Johnston said, referring to the heavier weights. “This year we are balanced, and we’re two deep at most weights.”

Three other Bulldogs are back after placing at state last year. Senior Dominik Scown (170 pounds) and junior Trey Whitlock (103) and Kyler Raiha (113) placed fifth in Billings.

“Trey Whitlock, he’s been consistent. He just kind of puts his head down and goes,” Johnston said. “Kyler Raiha, he hasn’t missed a beat from last year. He kind of surprised a lot of people. He didn’t surprise us, but he surprised a lot of people.

“Scown, he’s been a huge leader. He came off of a state placing last year, and I think he was the only underclassman that placed at state in his weight.”

Other Bulldogs coming back with state experience are sophomores Kip Pumnea, Reid Whitlock and Zach Tierney, juniors Cohwen Houchin, Gavin Vetter, Connor Konda and Riley Downey and seniors Anthony Liva and Aiden Pezdark.

Johnson pointed to sophomore Wiley Dallaserra and senior Tucker LeProwse as wrestlers who were on the cusp of making state last year. He is also excited about the additions of junior Gunnar Yelenich and Maverick McEwen.

Yelenich transferred to Butte High from Butte Central, while McEwen joins the team after winning a pair of middle school state titles while wrestling for the East Bullpups.

The Bulldog lineup will also be bolstered by the return of senior Christian Vetter. The future Montana Tech football player missed his entire junior year with a knee injury.

“Christian Vetter is back,” Johnston said. “He doesn’t even look like he’s lost a step.”

Johnston said Liva is in great wrestling shape after spending a lot of time working with his father, Butte High assistant, Geno Liva during the pandemic.

“We have a ton of the returners who are looking good,” Johnston said. “Kip Pumnea, he hasn’t put on a lot a ton of weight, but he’s added muscle. He’s going to be tough for anybody.”

The coach then turned his attention to Tierney, whom legendary Butte High coach Jim Street said was the best freshman heavyweight he has ever seen.

“He’s turned into a different dude,” Johnston said of Tierney, who is coming off outstanding seasons in baseball and football. “Last year he was more than happy learning behind the two Morenos (Kameron and Kobe) and letting them do the thing. This year, he stepped up, and you can tell he’s hungry. He’s got a lot of fire.”

Bulldog Zach Tierney works toward a pin of Dillon’s Anthony Weary Jan. 31 at Maroon Activities Center. (Butte Sports file photo by Bill Foley)

Johnston said his Bulldogs could take on a different look from week to week with their versatility.

“We’ll be our typical selves, moving around in duals and looking for the best matches,” he said of his coaching staff.

Days before Butte High’s competition, Johnston still does not have a list of wrestlers by weight. Instead, he broke up his team in to three classifications — lower weights, middle weights and upper weights.

The lower weights include Gransbery, Houchin, McEwen, Raiha, the Whitlock brothers, Yelenich, junior Cole Worley, sophomores Tanner Bair, Jimmy Blow, Jeremiah LaPier and Canyon Mullaney, and freshmen Mayson Armstrong, Derek Averyt, David Babb, Wyatt Gross, Kaleb Grunhuvd, Camron LeProwse, Luke Verlanic and Grady Winston.

The middle weights include Dallaserra, Konda, Pezdark, Pumnea, Gavin Vetter, senior Bradyn Thomas, juniors Morgan McClernan and Jakob Neilson, sophomores Cohen Grunhuvd, Bryton Hardesty, Kale Schonsberg and Aidan Tierney, and freshmen Adien Cuchine and Trey Hansen, Cayden McNeil.

The upper weight group includes Christian Vetter, Tierney, Scown, Liva, LeProwse, Downey, senior Tanner Huff, sophomore Mason Christian and freshmen Kade Schleeman and Caleb Yeoman.

Johnston said he was pleasantly surprised to get 10 girls out for the team. He said he will get those girls as many matches as he can. While they probably won’t compete in straight-up duals, the coach said he will make sure his girls get matches at each date on the schedule.

When the opposing team has no girls, as is the case with Hellgate, Johnson said the Bulldogs could wrestle against each other.

The girls will use the regular season to get ready for an all-class state tournament. Like with everything else, though, details on that tournament have not been set.

Johnston said he expects this year to be the start of something great with the girls’ program.

“I was surprised that we had the interested, and I’m excited about it,” Johnston said. “I’m telling people that 10 will be the least amount we’ll ever had.”

Johnston said he constantly reminds the girls that they have the chance to “make history.” Someone could be Butte High’s first girl state champion. They could become the first Butte High’s girls’ team to make state.

That is something not afforded to the boys, since they wrestle for a storied program that won 17 state championships between 1980 and 2003.

Rylinn Mullaney is the lone senior on the girls’ team. She will be joined by sophomores Maria Hanson, Hayla Hoffman, Kaylee LaPier, Kera Moreno, Chaeli Scown, Abby Seeger and Ashlee Wilcox, and freshmen Addison Endy and Aydin Gonzalez.

“We’re treating them just like anybody,” Johnston said.

The Bulldog boys and girls will get their first taste of action Saturday in an intra-squad scrimmage at 6 p.m. While fans will not be allowed, Johnston said it will have a dual feel. The lights will be turned off, and each wrestler will enter to his or her own walk-up song.

Butte Central’s John Crossman takes control of Dillon’s Anthony Weary Jan. 31 at the Maroon Activities Center. (Butte Sports file photo by Bill Foley)

Over at Butte Central, senior John Crossman, who transferred from Butte High after his sophomore season, is back to highlight the Maroon lineup. He qualified for state at heavyweight last season.

Moodry is high on his chances of making another run this season.

Crossman will be joined by sophomore Luke Garrison at 152 pounds and junior Brayden Keane at 120. Keane missed last season with an injury, and Moodry said he is looking good.

“I think he has some pretty high expectations,” Moodry said.

Garrison is coming off a strong season on the gridiron for the Maroons.

“Luke’s maturing every day,” Moodry said. “He’s getting stronger by the minute. He’s a good athletic kid.”

Like with Johnston, Moodry is taking advantage the unusual extended practice time before the season begins. Normally by this time, the teams would have a ton of matches and multiple tournaments under their belts.

“I like to make sure that they’re technically sound. This is the longest I ever remember having practices before a competition,” Moodry said. “We’ve had a lot of time to get a lot of things in. It’s been nice on that aspect.”

That, Moodry said, is reason he joins Johnston with his optimism for his wrestlers once the season begins.

“We’ve had practice for almost a month now,” Moodry said. “Now it’s time to compete.”

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