Panthers hunting for fifth state championship

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

Not all wrestling championship teams can be like Skyview's squad of 1996-97, when Neldon Gardner's squad scored 233.5 points to top runner-up Service by more than 100 points.

Some titles have to be like the one won by Gardner's Skyview squad in 1998-99, when Skyview topped runner-up Palmer by 31 points for the state title.

The Panthers did not even beat the Moose in regions that year. Skyview went 2-4 in championship matches at regions, but rebounded to claim four individual state titles.

When the state wrestling tournament starts today at Chugiak High School, Gardner is hoping his team can mirror the squad of 1998-99, which won the second of Gardner's four state wrestling titles at Skyview.

The Panthers, who finished second at state last year, finished second at the Region III tournament Saturday to Wasilla.

The Warriors had a huge advantage at that tournament due to depth. Wasilla had 28 wrestlers at the tournament, while Skyview had 21.

This week, depth won't be as big of an advantage. Wasilla had 20 wrestlers make the cut for state, while the Panthers claimed 17 positions at state.

"We gained ground on them in terms of numbers," Gardner said. "There were a number of matches (at the region tournament) that could have went either way that made the difference."

State will not be like the Region III meet because it will not be a two-team battle. Region IV champion Service, Region VI champion Lathrop, Region V champ Ketchikan and Region IV runner-up Chugiak all have shots at winning the state crown.

Gardner said the team that places eight to 10 wrestlers in the top six should have an excellent shot at the state crown.

"It's going to come down to whose team is feeling the best, the healthiest, and whose team is mentally prepared and makes their breaks happen," Gardner said.

Skyview will be led by Eli Hutchison, one of five at the meet who will be defending a state title. Hutchison, now at 119 pounds, won at 112 last year.

Hutchison is one of three Panthers ranked at the top of their weight class by The others are Dallas Seavey at 130 and Brandon Cleveland at 152.

Those three were the only wrestlers to win region titles for Skyview. Three Panthers lost in the region finals and would love revenge at state.

Jake Savely, a 145-pounder, lost to Palmer's Trevor Pempek, the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the state. Zach Rohr lost 3-1 to Jed Wade in the finals at 189. If Rohr could top Wade at state, it would rob the Wasilla senior of a fourth consecutive state title.

Clark Buffington beat Chris Odom, ranked No. 1 at 135, at regions, but then lost to Homer's Monte Garroutte in the finals.

Gardner said many other wrestlers will be crucial in the state bid. Elliott Gauthier is ranked No. 5 in the state at 125, but will wrestle 119 at state because 125-pounder Shane Strausbaugh is back in the lineup.

Also for Skyview, Tyler Wehrli is ranked No. 5 in the state at 160 and Joel Morse is ranked No. 6 at 275. Gardner sees Zach Aragon as someone who could turn it on for a great tournament at 140, while Jessie Grant could score some key points in a wide-open field at 215.

Behind Skyview, Soldotna will be the peninsula team with the most wrestlers at state. The Stars have eight wrestlers qualified.

"Hopefully, we'll be in the top 10," SoHi coach Jeff Breakfield said. "It'd be nice to be in the top five, but there's some stiff competition and we've got a young team."

Breakfield also would love for a couple of his wrestlers to make the finals. Brandy Goracke is ranked No. 3 at 140, while Ben Breakfield, battling a shoulder injury, is No. 3 at 160. Sean Whitmore also is ranked No. 4 at 275 for the Stars.

The tournament also should be a good opportunity for freshmen Jake Ciufo (112) and Erick Morris (125) to get state experience.

Breakfield also said Scott Foster (130), Shane Tachick (140) and Jake Howarth (152) could place if they wrestle well.

Homer brings five wrestlers to the state tournament. All of the wrestlers are ranked.

Heading up the group are region champions Monte Garroutte (135) and Simeon Daigle (103).

Homer coach Chris Perk said Daigle has gotten physically stronger over the course of the last month. That strength could help Daigle top Gerry Carillo, the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 103 who topped Daigle 4-2 earlier in the season.

Garroutte also is looking good after coming out on top of a field that includes four of the five top-ranked wrestlers at 135 at regions.

Also for Homer, Louden Greiner is ranked No. 7 at 125, Adam Hediger is ranked No. 6 at 171 and Jared Weaver is ranked No. 5 at 275. Perk said those wrestlers should medal, and could make the finals with excellent tournaments.

Kenai will bring three wrestlers to state.

TJ Olick finished second at 152 at regions to make state.

Senior Billy Loosli placed sixth at the competitive 135-pound weight class to make state.

Freshman Mitchell Canavan also punched his ticket to state by placing fifth at 275.

"Mitchell improved a lot just in one year," said Kenai coach Tony Prior. "By the time he's a senior, he's going to be a tough cookie."

Kenai Peninsula State Wrestling Qualifiers

Homer -- Simeon Daigle, 103 pounds; Louden Greiner, 125; Monte Garroutte, 135; Adam Hediger, 171; Jared Weaver, 275.

Kenai -- Billy Loosli, 135; TJ Olick, 152; Mitchell Canavan, 275.

Skyview -- Eli Hutchison, 119; Elliott Gauthier, 119; Shane Strausbaugh, 125; Dallas Seavey, 130; Peter Angenson, 130; Clark Buffington, 135; Zach Aragon, 140; Jake Savely, 145; Sebastian Spicher, 145; Brandon Cleveland, 152; Josh Carlon, 152; Tyler Wehrli, 160; Antonio Silva, 171; Nick Hannok, 171; Zach Rohr, 189; Jessie Grant, 215; Joel Morse, 275.

Soldotna -- Jake Ciufo, 112; Eric Morris, 125; Scott Foster, 130; Brandy Goracke, 140; Shane Tachick, 140; Jake Howarth, 152; Ben Breakfield, 160; Sean Whitmore, 275.

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