Oak Hill High School senior Zoe Buteau’s goal is to be the first girl to win a state championship in a Maine Principal’s Association sanctioned meet. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
LISBON — Zoe Buteau selected an unusual endeavor for her senior project at Oak Hill High School — she organized a preseason high school wrestling meet.
Buteau has another senior project that would not only be unusual, but historic, if she completes it — winning a state wrestling championship.
If she can accomplish the feat, Buteau, who wrestles for the Lisbon/Oak Hill co-operative team, would become the first girl to win a state championship in a Maine Principal’s Association sanctioned meet.
As a junior, she became just the fourth girl to win a regional title, earning the Class B South crown at 120 pounds.
Buteau was 21-7 overall and 13-0 after dropping down from 126 to 120 pounds going into the state meet. Winning the regional title garnered her a great deal of media attention, which she believes threw her off mentally and physically heading into the state meet. Seeded second, she lost in the first round, 6-5, to Brandon Weston of Foxcroft.
“I feel like it was just a lot of nerves,” she said. “I had three or four interviews during the week and all of the stress just came up. At states, I didn’t feel good. I was puking all day and stuff like that. I just wasn’t in good shape at all at states.”
Winning a state championship is still the ultimate goal for Buteau, an all-MVC field hockey player for Oak Hill this fall. But she hasn’t done anything different or made any plans to avoid those nerves this year.
“I’m going one day at a time, working my way up (to states) as I would any other year,” Buteau said. “I had a lot of field hockey (during the summer and fall) and also regular work. I think I wrestled in one tournament.”
Buteau grew up around wrestling, tagging along with older brothers Levi and Danny, then stepping onto the mat herself by second grade. The family traveled around the country for USA Wrestling tournaments, which laid the groundwork for all three to have successful high school sports careers.
Levi, the oldest, was an important part of Oak Hill’s state football titles, but was so beaten up enough by those title runs that he stopped wrestling.
Danny, now a sophomore wrestling for Husson University, won four state wrestling championships.
Zoe said Danny, who served as a referee for his sister’s senior project, still gives her pointers. Although Zoe admits she sometimes rolls her eyes at her brother’s critiques, as many siblings would, she finds the feedback invaluable.
“Sometimes, it’s like, ‘You’ve got to change this,’ and I’m, ‘OK, Danny,'” she said. “But even when you’ve been doing something for a long time, you’re still going to learn something in the process.”
Not many wrestlers can school Zoe Buteau on the finer points of the sport, Lisbon/Oak Hill co-coach Ted Albasini said.
“Her knowledge and skill (set her apart),” he said. “And she wants to win. If she gets to 120 (pounds) this year, she’s got a good shot.”
Knee and elbow problems set Buteau back early last season. She’s healthy to start this season, which could have a lot to do with how she ends the season.
“This year, we’re going to have a whole season with her,” Albasini said. “It’s all about conditioning and time on the mat. She didn’t have the time on the mat last year until about halfway through. It makes a big difference. It makes a difference with seeding and all of that kind of stuff because you’ve got to get the wins. She will get them.”
Buteau enters the season, which starts Friday, with 74 career victories. With good health, she should surpass 100 for her career.
Her track record, experience and knowledge of the sport are important not only to her success, but the team’s as it enters its second year as a co-op, Albasini said.
“She’s our captain. She leads the team,” he said.
Buteau remembers being the only girl competing in meets when she first started.
“I was always ‘that one girl that wrestled’ until middle school, when there were a lot of other girls that came up,” she said. “It was awesome to see that. It’s hard when you’re wrestling guys and that’s all you’re wrestling.”
Buteau has won national titles in all-girls meets but hasn’t had the opportunity to compete in an all-girls state championship meet sanctioned by the MPA. That will change next February, when the MPA holds its first all-girls state wrestling championship.
Buteau, who is still considering her college options in hopes of studying in the medical field and continue wrestling at the club level, said the tournament is long overdue.
“I think it’s about time. They should have done it a long time ago,” she said. “I definitely think it’s going to help girls’ wrestling a lot more.”