Butte High wrestler Jeff Queer had his sights set on a state wrestling championship since the end of last season.
He took on big step closer to achieving that goal, Saturday at Butte High School.
Queer scored a 14-5 major decision over Billings West’s to win the heavyweight division at the Eastern AA Divisional Tournament, which featured a handful of the top teams and wrestlers in the state.
Queer’s name was already on that list.
The senior was one of four Bulldog wrestlers who advanced to their respective championship matches but he was the only one to come out with a win.
“They all wrestled against real tough kids,” Butte High coach Cory Johnston said of the four who advanced to the final round. “Two of three were against the No. 1 kids in the state. It’s nice because we’ve got those matches on film. There are things that we’ll have to fix if we’re going to have kids be state champions.”
Tyler Casey, at 113 pounds, remained in the championship bracket throughout the tournament before finally losing to Bozeman’s Leif Schroeder.
Willie Anderson (138) and Kadin Schonsberg (145) also advanced to first-place matches before losing to Kai Stewart (CMR) and Jace Rhodes (Billings West), respectively.
Nine additional Butte wrestlers did well enough on Saturday to earn the trip to Billings for next weekend’s State Championship.
“I saw a lot of heart,” Johnston said. “I saw a lot of guys that didn’t want their season to end. I saw a lot of good things. We avenged a ton of losses that we’ve had throughout the year. A lot of kids that we never, ever beat before, we beat them (Saturday). It was a really good day overall.
“We’ve got 13 going to state and no bottom seeds, so that’s kind of nice.”
Teams like Bozeman, Great Falls and Billings Skyview seem to be a step ahead of everyone else.
The Hawks sent seven wrestlers into Saturday’s championship matches and will be 19 wrestlers strong when they arrive in Billings next weekend.
Skyview had six wrestlers vying for championships at the divisional, though coach Joe Malchuski thought his team’s overall numbers could have been better.
“We came in a little sick and had guys that didn’t make it through the day, and we were expecting them to,” Malchuski said. “We had guys on separate sides of the bracket that somehow found a way to meet each other on the back side and knock each other out. That kind of prevented us from bringing as many to state as we wanted to. I wanted to bring at least 20.”
He’ll have to settle for 16.
“I was surprised by some of the other teams, like Bozeman and Great Falls,” Malchuski added. “Great Falls has got 18 and Bozeman’s got (19) so…”
Bozeman seems to be content with where it is sitting at this point and coach Nate Laslovich figures that a few tweaks during the week should put the Hawks in prime position to take home some coveted hardware.
“That’s kind of where I figured we would be,” Laslovich said. “Some just need to make little adjustments, technically, and other need to get into better shape. Some guys just looked tired.
“From a whole team perspective, I think we need to keep doing the same things that we’ve been doing. We’ve had a great season and we just need to plug away for one more week.”
Each coach has his own message for his respective team, and they all seem to make sense.
Johnston did what he could to make sure his wrestlers weren’t overwhelmed by the implications of the divisional tournament and hopes his team keeps that in mind moving forward.
“I think there are some styles right now that are catching up with guys,” Malchuski said. “They know what we do and we know what they do. There isn’t much you can change at this point in the game so they just have to hammer away at what they’re doing and be one step ahead of the guy.”
Lalchuski added, “In a week, you can improve. I’m not saying that we’re going to significantly improve but all of these guys can do little things different and it’s kind of nice that we can build this week. We have a very high ceiling. It’s not like we’re at the top of our game. We’ve got a young team and a lot of guys can make improvements and get better.”