The Skyview wrestling team is counting on depth to topple top-ranked Wasilla at the Region III/4A Wrestling Championships Friday and Saturday at Wasilla High School.
The Region III/4A tournament returns after two years off due to a split schedule. Wasilla won the tournament in 2000.
"It's nice to have this tournament back," Homer coach Chris Perk said. "I think Region III probably has had the toughest wrestlers for 10 or 15 years now."
Perk, along with all the other coaches contacted for this story, said the team battle should come down to Wasilla and Skyview.
Skyview, ranked second in the state, has defeated Wasilla in dual meets three times this year.
But in large team tournaments, the Panthers have consistently come up just short in battles with the Warriors.
In those large team tournaments, Wasilla has rode Corey Crane, ranked second in the state at 152; Abe Salmon, ranked first at 160; and Jed Wade, ranked first at 189; to team titles.
"They're going to have the front-runners, but we're hoping to come through and surprise some people," Skyview coach Neldon Gardner said.
In the large team tournaments where Skyview has come up short, each team was only able to enter its top wrestler at each weight class. At the region tournament, each team enters its top two wrestlers at each weight class.
"Where we're hoping to make up the difference is in second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishes," Gardner said. "From what I've seen, they've got 14 or 15 solid kids on jv and varsity. We've got more like 16, 17, 18 solid kids."
Skyview does have one front-runner in Eli Hutchison. Hutchison, at 112 pounds, is 32-0 in the state of Alaska this year, and 36-2 overall.
Gardner said senior Justin Rainwater has settled in at 171 and is a good bet to make the finals.
A number of other wrestlers will shape Skyview's final team placement by where they finish in the top six, including Sam Denison at 160, Brandon Cleveland at 140, Clark Buffington at 119, Elliott Gauthier at 103, Shane Michael at 145 and Jimmy Miller at 145.
Finally, two wrestlers that shifted weight classes for Skyview could shake up the team standings.
Dallas Seavey will move up from 125 to 130. Last weekend, Seavey knocked off Homer's Monte Garroutte, the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 130.
Also, Cody Phipps has moved up to 135 from 130 and Gardner said Phipps is more comfortable wrestling there.
Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell doesn't expect to battle with Wasilla and Skyview for the team crown, but he does expect to make some noise at the tournament.
"I think our front line is as good as anybody's on a good day, but the second line of Skyview and Wasilla is a little bit tougher than ours," Truesdell said.
The coach wants 10 to 15 wrestlers to get top-six finishes, which would push them through to state. Although the Stars are ranked eighth in the state, Truesdell has his sights set on a top-five finish at state.
The core of that effort will come from seniors Johnny Howarth, Colton Goracke, Shawn Weigle and Josh Brantley. Goracke is ranked third in the state at 160, Howarth is ranked fourth at 160, Weigle is ranked second at 215 and Brantley is ranked fourth at 275.
Brandy Goracke, ranked fourth in the state at 130, also should be a factor in the loaded weight class of 130. Finally, Truesdell is looking for TJ Stone to make an impact at 152.
Homer is taking just 10 wrestlers to regions, but that 10 is of such quality that Perk is hoping to take fourth at regions and push seven wrestlers through to state.
At 103, Homer's Camron Hagen is ranked first in the state and hasn't lost a match at his weight class all year.
At 130, Monte Garroutte is ranked first and coming off a close loss to Seavey last weekend.
At 189, Jim Pollack is ranked third in the state and rounding into form after returning from a baseball trip three weeks ago.
Louden Greiner is having a solid season at 112, but must get past Hutchison to take a region title. Finally, Perk tabbed Adam Hediger as a sleeper to watch at 171.
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