For years, Butte wrestling insiders claimed that some of the best matches in the state were wrestled in the Butte High wrestling room on challenge day.
The Bulldogs went public with their first round of challenge matches Monday, as the Butte High wrestling team took to the old school gym to battle for varsity and junior varsity positions for the opening weekend of the prep wrestling season.
Brand new Butte High head coach Jim Bob Humphrey said he liked what he saw following 24 intrasquad matches held Monday at the newly dubbed Purple and White Duals.
“We were very competitive in quite a few places,” Humphrey observed. “I feel pretty good about it.”
Butte High showcased a lot of youth – 14 of the 34 wrestlers on the mat Monday were freshmen – in addition to good overall numbers. Humphrey said he looks for at least 20 more wrestlers to compete for positions once they log the requisite 10 practices before competition.
The Bulldogs will fill each of the 15 weight classes at the varsity level, and though they’re a little thin in a few places, they’re stacked at others.
One of the notably tough weight classes Monday night was at 130 pounds, where junior Willy Shea got the better of fellow junior Guy St. John and tough freshman Taran Bennett. Shea took a 6-2 lead after two periods in his match against St. John, then managed to hang on through a hard-fought third round where St. John collected a takedown, but couldn’t get any closer than the 6-4 final score.
In the second match, Shea had to rally from behind, as Bennett looked strong throughout. Both wrestlers produced multiple reversals through the match, though Shea got the last one with 16 seconds left to break an 8-8 deadlock. The additional near-fall points gave Shea a 13-8 nod in the tight match.
The 171-pound class also saw tight competition, as sophomore Lee Cannon managed a third-period escape in his 1-0 squeaker over junior Nick Challeen. Cannon advanced to the match with a pin over Justin Best, while Challeen utilized upper-body throws in his pin of big freshman Cole Gillespie. Gillespie came back to down Best in the consolation match.
A number of other weight classes weren’t as closely contested, as the Bulldogs look to some experienced returners.
Butte senior Jarret Rowling registered a first-period pin of freshman teammate Brandon Jenkins at 145 pounds, and appears to be at the top of his form. Fellow Bulldog senior Gage Weston displayed excellent technique in his win over talented freshman Kaleb Ferriter at 135 pounds, while 140-pound sophomore Levi Renz racked up a technical fall over freshman Nick Whalen.
At 160 pounds, senior Bryce Armstrong scored a technical fall over Wyatt Merkle and a pin of freshman Cian Randall, who looks to have a promising future on the mat. Senior Tommy Challeen ruled the 152-pound class, pinning Kyle Christie at the end of the first period, then running up multiple takedowns to post a technical fall over Andy Anderson.
Senior 189-pounder Blake Kraus pinned 215-pound Brad LaFromboise, while Billy Robinson utilized aggressiveness and upper-body strength for a quick pin of Sean Swisher at heavyweight.
At the other end of the weight spectrum, freshman Kelly Merrick registered a couple of solid victories at 105 pounds, downing Kyler Smith and Bridger Mooney by fall. Experienced freshman Braxton Henningsen also looked solid, dispatching Mooney in the first period. Senior 125-pounder Joey Blunt was sharp in his first-period pin of freshman Kaydon Queer.
“I’m pleased with the kids we’ve got going,” Humphrey said. “It’s a great group, and they’re all working well.”
Butte will see its first competition of the season Friday, as the Bulldogs varsity squad will host Kalispell Flathead and defending State Class AA team champion Kalispell Glacier at 2 and 4 p.m. They will then head north on Saturday to compete in the one-day Helena Duals. The Butte High junior varsity team will spend Friday and Saturday wrestling in the Cascade Invitational.
“We’ll beat each other up this week and then we’ll do it again (challenge) next Tuesday,” Humphrey said. “We’re liable to have a very different lineup for the Mining City Duals.”
The home duals meet will be held Dec. 7-8 at the Butte High gyms, and will feature most of the Class AA teams in addition to some of the tougher Class A and B-C teams in Montana.
“We just want to compete and get better every day,” Humphrey said of his new team. “I ask a lot of them, and they’re responding to the challenge.”
105 – Kelly Merrick p. Kyler Smith 1:00. 112/119 – Braxton Henningsen p. Bridger Mooney :30. 125 – Joey Blunt p. Kaydon Queer 1:38. 130 – Willy Shea d. Guy St. John 6-4. 135 – Kaleb Ferriter p. Colby Whittington 3:27. 140 – Nick Whalen p. Bryce Liebel 5:59. 145 – Jarret Rowling p. Brandon Jenkins 1:22. 152 – Andy Anderson md. Cody Rawson 12-3. 152 – Tommy Challeen p. Kyle Christie 1:59. 160 – Cian Randall p. Quin Cunneen :43. 160 – Bryce Armstrong tf Wyatt Merkle 15-0. 171 – Lee Cannon p. Justin Best :52. 171 – Nick Challeen p. Cole Gillespie 3:07. 189/215 – Blake Kraus p. Brad LaFromboise 2:28. 285 – Billy Robinson p. Sean Swisher :18. 105/112 – Kelly Merrick p. Bridger Mooney 3:02. 130 – Willy Shea d. Taran Bennett 13-8. 135 – Gage Weston p. Kaleb Ferriter 2:14. 140 – Levi Renz tf Nick Whalen 19-3. 152 – Tommy Challeen tf Andy Anderson 27-12. 152 – Kyle Christie p. Cody Rawson :42. 160 – Bryce Armstrong p. Cian Randall :45. 171 – Lee Cannon d. Nick Challeen 1-0. 171 – Cole Gillespie p. Justin Best 5:30.