NEW PALESTINE — There’s regular season Gunner Butt and there’s postseason Gunner Butt.

Both are really, really, good, but the postseason brings out the best in the 126-pound class sophomore wrestler from New Palestine High School, the Daily Reporter’s Hancock County Wrestler of the Year.

Butt placed fourth in his weight class at the IHSAA Boys Wrestling State Finals in Evansville earlier this year. It was the highest finish of any county wrestler. He was also the only county wrestler to win a semi-state title.

“I’ve always described him, even last year, he’s a gamer,” New Palestine wrestling coach Andrew Frey said of his standout sophomore. “He loves to compete. When the stakes are higher at sectional, regional, semi-state, he really rises to that. But, more importantly with Gunner, he does a really good job of not letting the moment be too much for him.

“He knows it’s a big match, but he doesn’t really feel the pressure. He knows it’s there. He knows they are big matches, but he doesn’t wrestle too nervous. That’s something he’s done really well, handling the pressure of big matches. I think that helps him, maybe the other guys are nervous and he can handle it really well.”

Butt agrees. He shifts to high gear when it comes to the IHSAA postseason tournaments.

“From the beginning (of the season) I feel like I’m still learning. When I get to the middle that’s when I start to take off, but when it comes to the sectional, regional and semi-state, that’s when I feel like I am at my best. I feel like that’s when I’m most focused and ready to wrestle,” he said.

With a 35-7 overall record, Butt had his setbacks along the way, but those setbacks are what continue to make him better.

In fact, he used his wrestling setbacks for a school project, an assignment for Mrs. Haney’s Speech class entitled, “Failure is Good.”

“I did a project over it last year and I was like, ‘you know what, I’m going to live by this,” Butt said. “That’s a good rule you can live by, that failure is good (because it helps you get better).”

Losses seem to be nothing more than a learning experience for the talented wrestler.

Frey said Butt doesn’t get too high when he wins or too low when he loses.

“He does a really good job at reflecting once the match is over,” Frey said. “Whether he won or lost, he is really good at almost giving himself constructive criticism. Like, if this didn’t go well, he can understand how to make it better or he asks a question, ‘In this position, what am I missing?’ That’s something you can’t really coach a kid to do and he does a really good job of that. That’s what makes coaching him pretty fun.”

He was defeated twice during the season, in close matches, by Mt. Vernon’s Eli Broady, but when the two met again for the semi-state championship the outcome was reversed.

Butt won the match and secured a higher seed for the state finals. He had lost 6-4 to Broady in a regular-season dual meet and 3-2 in the regional final, just one week prior to the semi-state. Butt won the semi-state matchup 7-3.

A year ago, he lost in the semi-state championship. It was a goal to win it this year, as well as avenge the losses to Broady.

“My big highlight of the year was getting over that hump at semi-state,” Butt said. “Last year, I got beat pretty bad (6-2, by Perry Meridian’s Hurai Lian) in the final. But I was like, ‘This year, I’m going to win it.’ I won semi-state and I knew if I won semi-state I’d have the best draw I could ask for at state.”

“It was probably mindset,” Butt added on winning the semi-state title. “I was a little skittish the first time we wrestled. The second time, I knew I could beat him, but I wasn’t in the right state of mind. The third time, I just had my mind focused on beating him. I wanted that rematch. I was hoping he beat (Cathedral’s) Gavin Bragg (in the semifinals). When I heard he beat him, I was like, ‘Yes!’ Now, I can get my revenge.”

Butt won his first two matches in the state tournament and just missed reaching the state championship bout with a close loss in the semis. He lost a 3-1 decision to No. 1 ranked Isaiah Schaeffer of Evansville Mater Dei. Butt came into the match ranked No. 14.

It’s all fueling the New Pal soph to get to the top of the podium.

He wrestles in numerous tournaments across the nation and recently wrestled in an international competition in Estonia, that took place during spring break. The Tallin Open is the largest youth freestyle and Greco tournament in Europe. He proudly carried the American flag for the United States wrestlers during the parade of tournament participants.

“Where the flag was, there was a big group of U.S. (wrestlers) there, but nobody wanted to carry it. I think they were too scared,” Butt said of being the flag bearer. “I was like, I’ll take it.”

He got the opportunity to go up against wrestlers from France, Poland and Ukraine. He went 3-2, in freestyle wrestling, and was 13th in a 54-wrestler bracket for his weight class.

He has national competitions coming up later this spring and summer and plans on returning to Estonia next year.

“It was all a learning experience for the freestyle part,” Butt said of his first international competition.

It’s all about learning and putting that knowledge to use in getting what he wants, a state championship, as well as win titles in the high school offseason with his club group, the Contenders Wrestling Academy.

“I’m just looking to get better. Wherever I land next year is wherever I land, but once I get to next year, I know I want to be a state champ,” Butt said. “That is my main goal and main focus … I’m looking for higher things, too, like being a national champion at Fargo or Super 32 (national tournaments).”

2024 Daily Reporter All-Hancock County Wrestling Team

First Team

106 – Ty Barnhart, Mt. Vernon

113 – Brayden Volz, Eastern Hancock

120 – Jett McGuire, Greenfield-Central

126 – Gunner Butt, New Palestine

132 – Cole Vandygriff, New Palestine

138 – Peyton Hornsby, New Palestine

144 – Bryce Doss, New Palestine

150 – Elijah Alonso, New Palestine

157 – Brooks McKeeman, Mt. Vernon

165 – Mason Thompson, Greenfield-Central

175 – Silas Frye, Greenfield-Central

190 – Clay Guenin, Greenfield-Central

215 – Devin Kendrex, Mt. Vernon

285 – Brayden Flener, Greenfield-Central

Second Team

106 – Braeden Ayres, Greenfield-Central

113 – Connor Bayliss, Mt. Vernon

120 – Wes Harbert, New Palestine

126 – Eli Broady, Mt. Vernon

132 – Cameron Volz, Eastern Hancock

138 – JJ Harlow, Greenfield-Central

144 – Nate Miller, Greenfield-Central

150 – Kannon Zuber, Greenfield-Central

157 – Jaedyn Jeffries, New Palestine

165 – Gabe Flick, New Palestine

175 – Elijah Kiner, Mt. Vernon

190 – Colin Whetsel, New Palestine

215 – Shaun Glass, New Palestine

285 – William Glesing, New Palestine

Wrestler of the Year: Gunner Butt, New Palestine

Coach of the Year: Andrew Frey, New Palestine