Last weekend at the Kachemak Conference wrestling tournament, Skyview broke Nikiski’s four-year, team-championship reign, scoring more points than the any other school to capture their final conference wrestling title.
Starting today, the final meet of the season will pit the best wrestlers around the state against each other for each of the 15 weight classes at Anchorage Christian Schools.
The two-day, Class 1-2-3A State tournament is split into individual sessions. Today, session one (preliminaries and championship quarterfinals) starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m., while session two (championship semifinals) goes from 6 to 8 p.m.
Saturday, the morning will start at 9 a.m. with session three, which consists of the consolation rounds. The third-fourth place and fifth-sixth place finals commence at 2:30 p.m.
At 5 p.m., the lights will dim, the spotlight will shine, and the state championship finals for each weight class will take center mat.
Bethel (the defending state champions), Kotzebue and Skyview figure to be among the top teams vying for a state championship, with Nome and Valdez not too far behind in the darkhorse category.
Unlike a dual meet, the team points that are doled out at a state tournament are dependant on the advancements of each individual wrestler. When a wrestler wins a match and advances into the next round — even in the consolation bracket — two points are awarded.
In that regard, every win is important, no matter how it’s attained.
The following is a closer look at each Peninsula school.
Twelve grapplers clad in purple will take to the mats at ACS on Friday, the final ensemble of Skyview wrestlers at a state tournament in school history.
The Panthers were led by three weight class champions at the conference tournament last weekend — Austin Craig at 106 pounds, Seth Hutchison at 113 pounds and Bailey Blumentritt at 145 pounds.
“I feel fine about them,” said Skyview coach Neldon Gardner. “We still have a few kids with minor injuries, one with a sickness, but the kids are working exceptionally hard and I think they’re going to do fine.”
Hutchison’s bout with Calvin Johnson is one that could be repeated at state. Both wrestlers are tabbed as fierce, scrappy and talented athletes by their coaches, and Hutchison just won Outstanding Wrestler honors at the conference meet.
In addition to the three conference champs, Skyview qualified Ryan Winter (finished third at 120 pounds), Grant Valiquette (second at 126), Charles Gibbons (fourth at 132), Sean Turvin (third at 145), Cajewl Musgrave (third at 170), Ashton Mahan (fourth at 170), Sage Hill (second at 195), Lisha Oftedal (third at 195) and Taylor Macrae (third at 285).
Gardner said his goal for the team is to finish in the top three at state.
“Bethel and Kotzebue are strong, and in addition Nome has an exceptionally strong team,” Gardner said. “It’s not about having so many kids, but they have some quality kids.
“When you get to state, if you have at least eight good kids, I think you should be top five. So, I think we’re going to have to have seven or eight in the top three this year to battle with those teams.”
The team retired one of Skyview’s two wrestling mats this week, and Gardner said they plan to roll up the second mat on Tuesday n ight. The mats are not the original ones that Skyview began using in 1990 when the school opened, but those 23-year old mats are still around, according to Gardner.
“We rolled up one of them yesterday, and we’ll be preparing for the Reno tournament next week, so after that we’ll roll the last one up for the final time,” Gardner said.
The Bulldogs were led by three conference champions last weekend at home — Nathan Carstens at 126 pounds, Tyler Handley at 138 pounds and Luke Johnson at 195 pounds.
Other Bulldogs that qualified to state are Michael Stangel (finished second at 152 pounds), Dylan Broussard (fourth at 152) and John McCormick (second at 182), bringing the total of Nikiski statebound wrestlers to six.
According to coach Adam Anders, sophomore Luke Johnson likely stands the best chance at taking a state title. The biggest reason? He doesn’t have his older brother standing in the way.
Last year at the state meet, then-senior Lincoln Johnson beat Luke in the 195-pound final in a 3-0 decision. It was the first time in 1-2-3A state history that two brothers met in a final bout.
“He’s the No. 1 seed, he’s been to state before, and he’s undefeated,” Anders said. “He’s just been doing it so long.”
Anders said Carstens also could make it to the 126-pound state finals as a sophomore, along with Handley, a junior.
“But, we don’t want to count our chickens before they hatch,” Anders said. “Our focus is just getting each of our wrestlers as far as they can, to be wrestling at their best.”
Anders credited the Nikiski Freestyle Wrestling Club as helping each athlete get to state.
“It’s an excellent program, and we’re fortunate in that Nikiski has a big club,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunities for us to build on that.”
It’s been several years since Homer has brought a double-digit number of wrestlers to the state tournament. This year, the Mariners qualified 10.
Sophomore Jadzia Martin won the 98-pound conference title last weekend, one of the few female wrestlers to win a conference title in Alaska, and could join an even more exclusive club at state if she wins — a club that currently holds members such as Skyview grad Michaela Hutchison and Kenai grad Hope Steffensen.
“We emphasized all week that she could be a champion, and we just kept instilling that in her,” Homer coach Chris Perk said on Saturday. “Sure enough she made it happen. She’s wrestled for a long time, she’s a veteran of the sport, and it’s just really cool that it worked out for her.”
Along with Martin, Homer qualified from the conference meet Martin Welty (finished fourth at 98 pounds), Jared Brant (second at 106), Calvin Johnson (second at 113), Jaime Rios (fourth at 120), Ravi Cavasos (fourth at 126), Timmy Woo (third at 132), David Jack Woo (second at 138), Pedro Ochoa (third at 152) and Jordan Reynolds (second at 220).
“Calvin’s in the mix for a state title, he was holding his own against (Seth) Hutchison,” Perk said. “Calvin’s won over 100 matches in high school, so he has some of the most mat experience.”
Five of Homer’s 10 statebound wrestlers are freshman, according to Perk, who added that the young members are getting the benefit of the youth wrestling clubs in Homer.
“The Popeye program has been great, and the last few years over 50 kids have come from that,” Perk said. “The next few years you’ll see some more.”
Perk said his squad is looking to come away with a top-10 points finish at state.
“We need to go there and wrestle six minutes at a time, and take each match separately and seriously,” Perk said. “Whatever happens we’ll move on to the next one.”
Like Homer, the Seahawks will be bringing one of their largest contingents to state in the last decade with 10 on the state roster.
“A few years ago we had four, and it’s probably been since the late ’90s or early 2000s since we’ve had this many,” said Seward coach Ronn Hemstock. “The region has changed size and shape so many times that it’s hard to say how many wrestlers we’ll be bringing each year.”
At the conference tournament last weekend, Seward produced two champions — senior Nick Zweifel at the 170-pound division and junior Howie Hubbard at 285 pounds.
Along with those two, Seward qualified Sully Hauze (finished second at 98 pounds), Nic Woodard (fourth at 106), Terrance Annogiuk (second at 120), Paxson Berry (fourth at 138), senior Dakota Nickell (second at 145), senior Tannen Berry (second at 160), Ben Miranda (third at 220) and Justin Schutter (fourth at 285).
“I guess we just peaked at the right time,” Hemstock said. “They’re a fun group to work with. It’s a mingling of people and personalities. It’s family.”
Hemstock said the conference team finish — third place, just 2.5 points out of second — was certainly surprising, and now he believes his team can get a top-10 finish at state.
“I hope the kids pull it together and finish the season well,” Hemstock said. “I’m pretty excited to make the trip.
“Everything’s gravy now. Let the chips fall where they may.”
Gavril Kalugin fought his way to a second-place finish at the 132-pound division. A pin from Nikiski’s Nathan Carstens with 45 seconds left in the championship bout sealed his fate.
With the result, Kalugin returns to improve upon the sixth place he had last year at 113 pounds.