This past Friday at the North/South Tournament at Soldotna High School, Skyview's Zac Aragon discovered what everybody in Nikiski already knew -- never underestimate the power of Nikiski senior Joey Wicker to pull off a comeback.
Wicker trailed Aragon by two points as the quarterfinal match entered the final 30 seconds. However, Wicker was able to pull off a takedown to tie the match.
Then, in sudden-death overtime, Wicker won the match 7-6 when he managed an escape.
Won a state title wrestling at 119 pounds as a junior.
Has an 18-5 record this year, good for a third-place ranking in Class 1-2-3A.
As a junior, led Nikiski's soccer team with five goals.
As a junior, was on a Nikiski cross country team that finished second at the Class 1-2-3A state championships.
Out of sports
Has a 3.1 grade point average at Nikiski, including a 4.0 last semester.
Wants to be a chef.
Wicker went on to take third-place at the tournament and move his record to 18-5. That information would only be mildly notable if it weren't for the fact that Wicker wasn't expected to wrestle at all this season.
Two games into the football season, Wicker quit battling an injury in his left quadriceps and went to see a doctor. The prognosis on the injury was that Wicker would not be able to wrestle until January.
Problem was, the Class 1-2-3A state wrestling tournament will be held Dec. 12 through 14 this year. That meant that Wicker, a state champion last year at 119, would have had no chance to go for another state crown.
Wicker said when he started his rehabilitation, he didn't have any hope of wrestling this year. He was just hoping to be whole enough to get back on the soccer field this spring.
"As the weeks went on and on, I had more movement and no tightness," Wicker said. "It was starting to feel like my leg again.
"That's when I started to get excited about being able to wrestle this year."
When Wicker got back on the mat in the beginning of November at the Ninilchik Invitational, it did not surprise the coaches that know him best.
"He gives 100 percent all of the time and pound for pound, he's the toughest kid I've ever coached," Nikiski soccer coach Jim Coburn said. "Those are the things that allowed him to come back from that injury."
Former Nikiski wrestling coach Steve Gillaspie, following Wicker's career from his new outpost in Sitka, also spoke highly of Wicker's drive.
"Having had the injury this fall, it would have been very easy for him to shut down shop and not come back to defend his state championship from a year ago," Gillaspie wrote in an e-mail.
"Over the years, many have taken state championships for granted. They really have no idea on the timing and work involved in getting to the top."
Wicker started wrestling in seventh grade, when Gillaspie sat him down, and, according to Wicker, "promised me the world" in wrestling.
With his run through the state tournament as a junior, Wicker fulfilled Gillaspie's seventh-grade prediction of a state title.
He also came through in a deal he had with 2002 Nikiski graduate Neil Fucci. After both wrestlers had disappointing finishes to the season in 2001, both made a deal that they would win state titles the following year.
This year, Wicker is ranked third at 135 in Class 1-2-3A. Even so, he still talks about getting into better condition and honing his technique.
"The thing about Joey is he's a pretty good wrestler," Nikiski wrestling coach Abe Porter said. "He's been doing this long enough. He knows all the moves.
"He just doesn't give himself enough credit sometimes."
This attribute also strikes Coburn.
"He's a little better than he thinks he is," Coburn said. "Sometimes, I think that's what drives Joey. He's his own worst critic."
Wicker also started playing soccer in seventh grade. He made the varsity squad as a freshman, and saw regular minutes as a substitute as a sophomore.
As a junior, after starting the season at forward, Wicker was moved to center midfield to shore up Nikiski's midfield. He ended up leading the team with five goals.
"I'm excited about this year," Wicker said of this year's soccer season. "I think state is in reach."
Wicker also has always played a sport in the fall. He played football as a freshman, sophomore and senior. As a junior, he ran cross country and was on the Nikiski team that took second at the Class 1-2-3A state meet.
In addition to playing sports, Wicker has found time to do other things. In school, he has a 3.1 cumulative grade point average after getting a 4.0 last semester.
Wicker's career goal, as parents Tammy and Mike are probably happy to note in this cooking-mad week, is to be a chef.
He said his jones for cooking goes back to his days as a camp cook in Boy Scouts. Last year, he competed in a national culinary arts event in Kansas City, Mo., as part of his involvement in the Vocational Industrial Club of America.
Wicker also enjoys the outdoors, is a state finalist for the Wendy's High School Heisman award, and works as a part-time lifeguard at the Nikiski pool.
"He had to leave right after one of his matches at a tournament this year so he could get to work," Porter said. "He's made wrestling a priority, and I appreciate that.
"I also appreciate how many things he's able to fit into his schedule."
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