The Nikiski wrestling team is pinning its hopes of a Class 1-2-3A state championship on the quality of its athletes -- not the quantity.
Eleven Nikiski grapplers will take to the mats when the Bulldogs play host to the 2011 1-2-3A state tournament Friday and Saturday.
Perennial power and defending state champion Bethel features 16 athletes -- including at least one in every weight class -- but Nikiski coach Adam Anders expects his team to compete for the top prize. Nikiski has not won a state team title since a run of four straight in the late 1990s.
Skyview, Homer and Seward also will compete as action begins at 10 a.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday. The finals are slated for 5:15 p.m. Saturday.
"We are very aware we don't have the numbers of some of our opponents, but we are just counting that each of our wrestlers will be able to have great tournaments," Anders said. "We are still very much setting our sights on winning a state title, but we recognize we have to wrestle our absolute best."
Josh Brown, Kaden Spurgeon, Corey Green, Lincoln Johnson and Henry Eide earned individual titles in their respective weight classes last weekend at the Denali/Kachemak Conference tournament.
For the Bulldogs to earn the team crown at state, each of those wrestlers must make deep runs through the bracket.
Anders said that's an entirely possible scenario.
"We expect to have five guys in the finals," the coach said. "We are going to have to wrestle above and beyond and break some new ground, but if we can do that, then we have a very good shot."
Spurgeon took gold last year in the 145-pound weight class. Wrestling this weekend at 152, he is ranked No. 1 and is poised for a repeat.
Following the senior are conference champions Brown (145), Green (160), Johnson (182) and Eide (heavyweight).
But the Bulldogs need strong efforts from their six wrestlers who did not win conference titles.
Those athletes are Dakoda Neely and Tyler Handley (113), Trey Zimmerman (120), Mike Stangel (138), Morgan Sauve (160) and Orry Hyatt (195).
Also helping the Bulldogs is the fact they get to wrestle on their home mats.
"That's definitely a huge advantage," Anders said.
Skyview, meanwhile, qualified nine wrestlers.
Leading the way are a pair of 106-pounders in Hannah Hutchison and Austin Craig.
Those athletes finished second and third, respectively, at the conference tournament. Hutchison advanced to the championship match thanks to an overtime win over Craig in the semifinals.
Coach Neldon Gardner anticipates both will place in the top six.
"I expect them to place that high and possibly improve from there," Gardner said. "They both have the potential to do that."
Senior TJ Checketts, who placed second at the conference tournament, represents the Panthers at 126. Gardner expects the returning state participant to crack the top six and perhaps the top four.
Sam Janorschke, another returning participant, should contend for a medal at 132.
However, Gardner said there's a good chance Janorschke will face defending state champion Will Patrick of Sitka in the semifinals, making for a tough road to the title match.
Not that the coach is ready to count out Janorschke.
"Anything can happen in the tournament. You're the underdog and you have nothing to lose, so you go for it," Gardner said. "He definitely has the potential and has been wrestling well in practice and is looking strong."
Unranked Kyle Zimmerman will grapple at 145 for the Panthers, who also have a potential medalist in Cody Williams at 152.
Gardner expects Williams to enter the competition ranked No. 3 in his division, with a possible match looming in the finals against top-ranked Spurgeon.
At 182, Alex Rodriguez will likely come in ranked No. 4 or 5 and Gardner said he believes Rodriguez can finish on the podium.
Jacob Lawson, who is unranked but has defeated a top-six athlete, will compete at 220.
Rounding out the contingent for Skyview is heavyweight John Alexander, who was pinned by Nikiski's Eide in the championship bout at the conference tournament.
Alexander held a lead in that match, but was pinned with about 20 seconds remaining.
"He knows he's capable of wrestling with Henry," Gardner said.
For the team race, Gardner said the Panthers have the potential of finishing in the top three, but something closer to sixth place is more likely.
The team was in contention to advance as many as 14 athletes to state after a strong first day of the conference tournament, but a sluggish Day 2 derailed those hopes.
"When I went to bed Friday, I thought we were going to win the regional tournament," Gardner said of last weekend. "But they hit a brick wall. I don't know what went wrong. Some were tough matches, but others we were winning and got rolled."
Gardner hopes the Panthers peak this weekend.
"The kids have been working hard and I appreciate their hard work," Gardner said. "We're looking forward to getting out there."
Homer has five wrestlers in the competition, led by 160-pounder Mark McGregor and 195-pounder Joe Resetarits. Both placed second in their respective weight classes last weekend.
Also competing for the Mariners are Calvin Johnson at 106, D.J. Marsengill at 132 and Mick Wells at 182.
Marsengill and Wells have 25 wins apiece, while Johnson has a team-high 31.
Homer coach Chris Perk said each of his grapplers has a shot at the podium.
"That's kind of the team goal, to wrestle four years in the Mariner program and have a shot at placing in the top six at state," Perk said.
Meanwhile, Seward's best hopes for individual titles come at 126 and 195.
Jed Wilde will wrestle in the lighter weight class after winning it at the conference tournament. Teammate Sam Rininger took conference gold at 195.
Also in the mix for the Seahawks are Terrance Anogiak at 113 and Tyrone Anderson at 170.
Voznesenka won't be represented.