A predominantly young contingent of wrestlers from the Kenai Peninsula will travel to Anchorage for the Kachemak Conference tournament today and Saturday, hosted by Anchorage Christian Schools.
While the main goal of many of the peninsula athletes participating in the meet will be to gain experience for the future, there also are hopes that more than a few wrestlers will be able to place in the top four in their weight classes, securing a trip to the 1-2-3A state championships.
“Some of them have never been to a region meet like this,” said Nikiski coach Lucas Peless. “... We have a couple that did well at regions last year, one that lost in double overtime and one that’s a two-time state runner-up. We’ll use this experience to build from.”
Peless said senior Justin Tumbaga, his two-time state runner-up and the top-ranked 1-2-3A wrestler at 145 pounds, will be the wrestler to watch at the conference meet.
“He’s been focusing on this opportunity to show what he can do,” Peless said.
Peless, in his first season coaching the Bulldogs, said he’s enjoyed working with the team.
“Nikiski wrestling is full of tradition and tradition brings strength to a team,” Peless said. “There’s a certain attitude expected of Nikiski wrestlers, and the older ones have passed that on to the younger ones.”
Looking to build some new tradition will be wrestlers from Cook Inlet Academy, which is fielding a team for the first time since 1988. Five wrestlers came out for the team this season, and four will wrestle at the conference tournament.
“I think we have a couple of kids that may qualify for state,” said CIA coach Chuck Kopp. “Even though they’re young, they’re very competitive.”
Kopp’s squad includes Derek Buntz (112 pounds), Zach Cialek (140), Tyler Taplin (275) and Kopp’s son Chuck (145). Aaron Rowley (189) will not be able to compete at the conference meet due to a shoulder injury.
While the squad is small and young, Kopp said several seventh- and eighth-grade wrestlers will make the jump to the high school team over the next couple years and expects the Eagles to be fielding a full lineup before too long.
Also from the peninsula, Ninilchik’s Austin Vanderford has been one of the top wrestlers at 135 pounds. From Seward, Coty Beck (189 pounds) and James Aase (215) each have put together solid seasons.
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