The consensus amongst Kenai Peninsula wrestling coaches is clear Colony or Wasilla will emerge as the conference champion.
“Colony and Wasilla are both in the hunt for a state title,” said Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell. “It makes it difficult to sneak guys in (to state) that aren’t studs.”
Homer coach Chris Perk is picking the Knights.
“Colony, I think this year is finally their year,” he said. “They’ve got more depth this year.”
But with six state slots up for grabs in each weight class at the Northern Lights Conference wrestling tournament at Skyview today and Saturday, look for a plethora of peninsula wrestlers to qualify for next weekend’s state tournament at Chugiak.
A three-time state placer and defending state champion at 125 pounds, Homer senior Simeon Daigle (130 pounds, 38-3) is ranked No. 1 by akmat.org and is the obvious choice to win a conference title. In all likelihood, he should also claim another state championship.
“He’s doing real well,” Perk said.
His brother, sophomore Ben Daigle (112), suffered an injury late last season but is now ranked third with a 30-4 record.
“Him and (Colony’s Kyle) Wilson this weekend will be a battle,” Perk said. “The winner should be No. 1 (seed) at state.”
Soldotna’s Erick Morris (152) is also in the running for the conference title. Ranked fourth, the senior won one state match last season and, according to Truesdell, has been improving all year.
But Morris isn’t the only Star with a shot at advancing to state. SoHi’s upper weight classes could dominate at conference.
“Some of it has to do with SoHi being a football school,” Truesdell said. “It just seems like it’s been like that year after year that the upper weights have been real solid.”
At 171 pounds, junior David Japhet won the Homer Round Robin Rumble on Saturday and Truesdell expects him to be heading to state.
“He has had a spectacular year,” he said. “He has an outside chance at placing at the state tournament.”
Junior Ethan Waters (189) also had a great year, according to his coach.
“He was a pretty average wrestler his freshman and sophomore years,” Truesdell said. “And all of a sudden, this year he’s developed into a state-type contender.”
Looking to make a return trip to state is junior Matthew Strieby (215), while heavyweights Les Baker (junior) and Nate Strieby (freshman), ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, are also vying for spots.
“They’re both tough, tough kids,” Truesdell said of his heavyweights.
Kenai’s stud is 189-pound senior and defending conference champ Michael Dormady.
While ranked only fifth by akmat.org, Kardinals’ coach Dave Boyle believes Dormady will qualify for state.
“The last couple of tournaments, he’s been wrestling as well as I’ve ever seen him wrestle,” Boyle said. “If that continues, he should do really well this weekend.”
He also said returning state qualifier Cody Booth (140) and heavyweight Mitchell Canavan (No. 3), who placed fifth at state last year after claiming a conference title, have good chances of moving on.
“They’re both wrestling well now,” Boyle explained. “If they’re both at the top of their game, they should do very well.”
Returning all six state qualifiers from last season Dormady, Canavan, Booth, John Hughes (119), Chris Osbekoff (119) and Jason Dambacher (160) Boyle is hoping for an even better showing this year.
“We had a wonderful region tournament last year and we went to state and we were kind of blocked by the lights of the big show,” he explained. “This year we focused on state as much as the region tournament so the kids who do sneak through will have the confidence to maybe push to see if they can win a few matches at state.”
Top-ranked junior Eddie Buffington (160) was Skyview’s best shot at winning regional and state championships this year. With Buffington ineligible, however, defending state champion and fifth-ranked Michaela Hutchison (112) should be their top grappler.
“She can win it all on a good weekend,” Panthers’ coach Neldon Gardner said. “If things go her way, she can win regions.”
He’s also expecting big things out of Michaela’s sister, Monica, who will compete at 103 pounds.
“On a good weekend, we could take around 10 or more,” said Gardner, adding that Alex Janorschke (119), Luke Morse (135) and Russ Bacon (215) all have state experience. “On a not so good weekend, we might end up with five or six going to state.”
Other state contenders from Homer include returning state qualifiers Tris Brymer (145) and Robby Brymer (125) and freshmen Alex Hediger (119) and Billy Edge (160).
“He’s wrestling with a lot more confidence,” Perk said of Hediger. “He’s starting to make better decisions on the mat taking less risks and keeping himself out of bad positions, which he was doing earlier in the year.”
In the end, though, the initial draw could play a major role.
“When you take six (to state) and you place fifth or sixth, sometimes it will come down to the luck of the draw, where you’re put in the bracket,” Gardner explained. “Where you’re drawn into the bracket is a big deal.”
Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew.carroll @peninsulaclarion.com.
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