The Nikiski Bulldogs earned a third-place team finish at the ASAA 1-2-3A State wrestling tournament on Saturday at Nikiski, highlighted by the 195-pound championship match, pitting the Johnson brothers for the crown.
Senior Lincoln Johnson came in as the favorite, having pinned all three of his opponents on Saturday, but had to contend with his freshman brother, Luke, who also pinned all three of his opponents. It the end, it was Lincoln walking away with the title after a close 3-0 match, a victory that defended his state title (he won the 182-pound title a year ago), and capped off his senior season with a 21-1 record.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Lincoln said. “I enjoyed getting the state championship again, but I’ve always known from my freshman year that it was both of our goals to become four-timers, and I knew he just wanted to make it to the state final, but knowing that it was his goal to become a four-time champ, and he had to go through me, it ended it.”
According to Nikiski athletic director Dylan Hooper, Saturday’s 195-pound finale was the first time two brothers faced each other in a 123A state tournament championship.
“It’s something when you’re at home and wrestling around, but going to a live venue, it’s quite a bit different,” Lincoln said. “It’s not like we can go chill out and be done in 15 minutes. It’s something that everyone is watching and you’re going to remember it forever.”
Other than one match Lincoln had that went three minutes, 34 seconds, both brothers pinned each of their opponents in 1:33 or quicker. In their championship match, they went all six minutes.
“It’s a neat experience, especially going against my brother,” Luke said. “I said in my bio, I can’t think of a better way to end the season than wrestling him. I’m going to come back and use this experience and work harder and hopefully win a title.”
So, since they are both very talented and are very familiar with each other, what exactly gave Lincoln the edge on Saturday?
“I just basically have a couple more years of experience,” He said. “That’s about it, and being the older brother, I’ve got a little more time to grow and experience this because I’ve done it. This is going to be one of the times he can learn from it, and that’s going to help him later.”
Luke said his chances were best if he could stay on his feet.
“He got me down to a spot that wasn’t good for me, and he can dominate me from the ground, so I tried to stay on my feet and move around, but it just didn’t work out,” he said.
Nikiski coach Adam Anders said that when it’s two teammates wrestling each other, there’s not much a coach can do on the sidelines other than watch and give them help when needed.
“Our hope was that they wrestled a good match and nobody got hurt, but other than that when two wrestlers face each other, we don’t coach them a lot, we’re just there if they need us and hope for the best,” Anders said. “They push each other in the room every day and they know each others every move, so it was a low scoring match. It was probably one of the best matches of the night.”
In the team standings, Nikiski just nipped Dillingham by a point, taking the third spot with 130.5 points. Bethel won the team title with a total of 187 points, and Kotzebue was second with 139.5 points. Skyview finished ninth with 91.5 points, Homer took 12th with 56 points, and Seward took 18th with 40 points.
Nikiski’s other state finalist was senior Morgan Sauve, who missed out on a championship by a score of 6-4 to Sitka’s Mitchell Boord.
“I just got to work off the bottom more,” Sauve said of his match. “I was definitely nervous, but I was excited because of all the people here at home cheering us on.”
Sauve is a four-time state qualifier, and a two-time region champion, but Saturday’s match was his first as a finalist.
“(The coaches) were saying to keep it up and keep the pace going, because I was leading for a while, but I just need to work off the bottom better,” Sauve said.
Nikiski also took home the academic award for holding the highest grade-point average.
“We have a small team this year but it’s all kids like that,” Anders said. “Great students, great kids, great student-athletes, and it’s just been a great year.”
Skyview qualified two athletes to the final rounds — freshman Seth Hutchison in the 98-pound class, and senior Sam Janorschke at 132 pounds. Hutchison walked away with his first state title in a 10-1 decision over opponent Gavin Maslem of Glennallen, and became the fourth in his family to do so, joining siblings Zeb (two state titles), Eli (four titles) and Michaela (one title).
“It makes me feel a lot better, that I can get up there with them,” Hutchison said. “I guess I could do it.
“I used the fireman, I tried to practice that one and use it on him, and he shot and I was able to make some moves in the beginning and from then on it was 7-0 and I had the match the rest of the way.”
Janorschke came close to completing his high school career with a championship, but was not able to record a pin in the final moments of his match while trailing in the point count. He lost to Nome’s Emery Booshu in a 6-4 decision.
“I just threw in a couple of leg rides, grabbed his arm and squeezed for all that it was worth,” Janorschke said. “I knew that he was tired and the clock was running down, so I just scrambled to get whatever points I thought I could get, and at that point throwing the double leg rides from that angle was awkward but it seemed like the best choice at the time.”
Janorschke said he was satisfied with his performance overall, as he honestly not expecting to win the match against a defending state champion. Skyview coach Neldon Gardner was pleased with the performance of the Panther’s.
“They both wrestled very well. Sam wrestled the best match that he could, and he was taking on a defending state champ, and he pushed the kid right to limit on conditioning but came up a little short,” Gardner said. “I thoroughly enjoyed coaching them both.
“I’m not disappointed at all, I’m happy with the guys and they wrestled hard this year.”
Homer qualified one state finalist on Saturday, which came in the form of senior Mark McGregor, who lost a 5-1 decision to Trevour Chavez of Bethel.
“He’s a good wrestler, and was more ready than I was,” McGregor said. “Things didn’t go my way, and I fell behind on points and had to struggle to get the lead back.”
McGregor counted the loss as an example of less experience than Chavez, but said he harbors no regrets.
“In the first round I lost because of a scramble,” McGregor said. “I took a shot and he ended up on top, and then I was just fighting to come from behind, and you have to be more aggressive that you want to be.”
Homer coach Chris Perk agreed with McGregor, saying that the senior could have used more aggression in the early stages.
“I think early on we had Chavez on his heels guessing a little bit, and so maybe (Mark) should’ve been a little more aggressive early,” Perk said. “I don’t think he took advantage of the early positioning. And then, once he got called for stalling, Mark I think forced him into a bad shot and wrestling down on a returning state champ isn’t good.”
Perk also noted a few Homer athletes who did not make it to the championship round that could have, such as junior Calvin Johnson, who was seeded second heading into the tournament. Johnson did take fifth-place honors, beating TJ Cox of Nikiski in an 18-2 technical fall.
“I’d say that we wrestled OK, we won a lot of matches,” Perk said. “I don’t think we wrestled our best today, but we finished the season on a good note.”
Class 1-2-3A state wrestling tournament
Teams scores (top 25): 1. Bethel, 187; 2. Kotzebue, 139.5; 3. Nikiski, 130.5; 4. Dillingham, 129.5; 5. Valdez, 124.5; 6. Mt. Edgecumbe, 124.5; 7. Sitka, 95.5; 8. Nome, 91.5; 9. Skyview, 91.5; 10. Houston, 91.5; 11. Eielson, 72; 12. Homer, 59; 13. Wrangell, 54; 14. Cordova, 50; 15. Unalaska, 46; 16. New Stuyahok, 43; 17. Craig, 40; 18. Seward 40; 19. ACS, 39; 20. Grace, 30; 21. Glennallen, 26.5; 22. Aniak, 26.5; 23. Haines, 24; 24. Metlakatla, 23; 25. Unalakleet, 23.
98 pounds — 1. Seth Hutchison, Sky; 2. Gavin Maslen, Glen; 3. Alex Gray, Nome; 4. Tecumseh Hensley, Bet; 5. Deirdre Creed, MtE; 6. Jonathan Kingsland, Sew.
106 — 1. Darin Davis, Sit; 2. Gage Hoffman, Bet; 3. Aaron Drake, Hou; 4. Alec Magalong, Un; 5. Calvin Johnson, Hom; 6. TJ Cox, Nik.
113 — 1. Brettlyn Reich, Kot; 2. Leif Erickson, Nom; 3. Dakota Garner, Eie; 4. Austin Craig, Sky; 5. Trevor Creed, MtE; 6. Gavril Kalugin, Voz.
120 — 1. Dave Towne, Val; 2. Wesley Gilroy, ACS; 3. Shawn Gardiner, Dil; 4. Avery Chiklak, Bet; 5. Kalib Dunlap, Eie; 6. Grant Valiquette, Sky.
126 — 1. Anthony Walsh, Gra; 2. Josh Mendenhall, Bet; 3. Tanner Thain, Cra; 4. Cisco Davila, Hou; 5. Jerome Williams, Nap; 6. Kris Thorsteinson, Pet.
132 — 1. Emery Booshu, Nom; 2. Sam Janorschke, Sky; 3. Avery Coplin, Bet; 4. Joe Kohler, NS; 5. Tylor Handley, Nik; 6. Matthew Anelon, New.
138 — 1. Scott Hansen, Kot; 2. Jaren Sumauang, Sit; 3. Keefe McIntosh, Val; 4. Kurt Dingwall, Wra; 5. Adam Downing, Val; 6. Nicholas Christopher, NS.
145 — 1. Austin Rake, Val; 2. Cade Schlagel; 3. Noah Roetman, Kot; 4. Tanner Thomassen, War; 5. Tyler Phillips, Eie; 6. Michael Stangel, Nik.
152 — 1. Isaac Deaton, Val; 2. Brayton Lieb, Bet; 3. Josh Brown, Nik; 4. Jimmy Thomsen, Hai; 5. Zach Haviland, Kot; 6. Junyor Erickson, Nom.
160 — 1. Trevour Chavez, Bet; 2. Mark McGregor, Hom; 3. Joshua Roetman, Kot 4. Brandon Hursh, Val; 5. Nick Hughes, Hoo; 6. Anthony Minnillo.
170 — 1. Mitchell Boord, Sit; 2. Morgan Sauve, Nik; 3. Devon Phillips, Kot; 4. Dylan Magnusen, Un; 5. Sam Rininger, Sew; 6. Wyatt Dunlap, Eie.
182 — 1. Michael Matthew, MtE; 2. Shlyer Johnson, Un; 3. Sonny Flensburg, Dil; 4. Jeffrey Rooney; War; 5. Cody Howard, Cor; 6. Isaac Peacock, Kot.
195 — 1. Lincoln Johnson, Nik; 2. Luke Johnson, Nik; 3. Elliott Anderson, Sit; 4. Mason Kimber, Cor; 5. Scott Carpenter, Bet; 6. Paul Hamilton, KC.
220 — 1. Luke Wagner, Hou; 2. Paul Johanson, Mte; 3. Austin Sjong, An; 4. Connor McConnell, Un; 5. Ben Voss, Barr; 6. Josh Steams, Hai.
285 — 1. Thomas Hoseth, Dil; 2. Marty Vera, Met; 3. JBruce Crow, Bet; 4. Spencer Walcott, NS; 5. Tyler Scott, ACS; 6. Gusty Akelkok, MtE.