In 1999, Skyview wrestling coach Neldon Gardner proved he knows how to make a team peak at the right time when he came back from losing regions to take the state title the next week.
If Friday's convincing 52-15 dual meet victory over visiting Soldotna is any indication, Gardner and the Panthers could be up to their old tricks again.
Skyview, the defending fall state champion, came into this season with high hopes for a repeat. However, injuries, illness and grades have conspired to keep the Panthers' full potential under wraps for most of the season.
"We had to get over a couple of obstacles early in the season," said Skyview senior Ben Nabinger, who along with Mike Lasky, Tom Wagenaar, Nate Morse and Vance Gaddis was honored on senior night. "Actually, we've had to get over a couple of obstacles a couple of times."
But Friday's victory over the Stars, coming on the heels of a top-notch performance Thursday against Seward and Kenai, showed Skyview is turning the corner.
In their only other dual meet against Soldotna this year, Skyview lost 34-32 in the third-place dual meet at the Peninsula Duals on Nov. 3.
"They were missing a couple of kids this time, we were missing a few kids last time," Gardner said. "I don't know if that made a difference.
"What I do know is my kids are wrestling exceptionally well right now. As coaches, we talk about reaching the top of the mountain, or peaking, as we get to regions and state. They're right on the money, where we want them to be, right now."
Gardner said what has him excited is the team is aggressively shooting for pins instead of merely trying to milk out one-point victories. Friday, Skyview broke down Soldotna with arm bars and half nelsons, and that resulted in a number of pins.
The Panthers picked up five pins, with Dallas Seavey, Cameron Gardner, Tom Wagenaar, Nate Morse and Justin Rainwater all getting the big-point wins that resulted in the lopsided final score.
All Skyview wrestlers and coaches interviewed Friday agreed the team's newfound zest is about two weeks old. Gardner said he turned the workouts up a notch in the mat room, and the kids responded.
"Our conditioning is really helping us out," Wagenaar said.
The Panthers also are getting nearer and nearer to full strength, with people like Cameron Gardner, Neldon's son, back in the lineup. Gardner wrestled his ninth match of the season Friday.
"I've been around this stuff a long time," Cameron Gardner said. "I figured our team would get it together sooner or later.
"That's the way it always seems to work out at Skyview."
The Panthers also got a victory from Lasky by disqualification at 125, a decision from Brandon Cleveland at 130, a major decision from Nabinger at 135 and a decision from Vance Gaddis at 171.
The Stars received pins from Seth Letzring (215) and Zack Boll (275).
Soldotna also took the night's closest match, which came at 160 pounds. Soldotna's Johnny Howarth and Skyview's Zach Rohr faced off, with Rohr carrying a 5-3 advantage into the final period.
One minute into the final period, Howarth scored a reversal to tie the score, but Rohr retook a two-point lead by reversing the reversal 13 seconds later.
Howarth notched an escape with 26 seconds left in the match to draw within one, then recorded a takedown with 18 seconds left and hung on for the 8-7 victory.
"Even the kids that lost wrestled well," Neldon Gardner said. "That's what I like to see. Nobody likes to lose, but if you give it your best effort and learn from it, that makes losing a little bit easier.
"We like winning here, and if you learn from your losses you'll win eventually."
Gardner was talking about specific matches in that case, but the rest of the state should take note that he just as easily could have been referring to his revitalized team, as well.
SKYVIEW 52, SOLDOTNA 15
103 -- Alex Jauregui, Sky, won by forfeit.
112 -- Dallas Seavey, Sky, p. Luke Ciufo, 4:25.
119 -- Double forfeit.
125 -- Mike Lasky, Sky, won by disqualification over Brandy Goracke.
130 -- Brandon Cleveland, Sky, dec. Jeremy Kaufmann, 9-6.
135 -- Ben Nabinger, Sky, m.d. Tyler Cameron, 14-6.
140 -- Cameron Gardner, Sky, p. Ryan Fuller, 5:38.
145 -- Tom Wagenaar, Sky, p. Nic Warton, 3:24.
152 -- Nate Morse, Sky, p. T.J. Stone, 5:35.
160 -- Johnny Howarth, Sol, dec. Zach Rohr, 8-7.
171 -- Vance Gaddis, Sky, dec. Todd Ghormley, 12-5.
189 -- Justin Rainwater, Sky, p. Cason Simpson, 5:39.
215 -- Seth Letzring, Sol, p. Ole Olson, 3:08.
275 -- Zack Boll, Sol, p. Joel Morse, 5:43.
171 -- Sam Denison, Sky, dec. Todd Ghormley, 11-4.
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