Colony finds strength in numbers: Knights expected to take home Northern Lights Conference wrestling crown for 3rd straight year

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008

A group of coaches were comparing notes two weeks ago at the Homer Rumble when Colony head man Fred McKenney admitted the latest eligibility check took a bite out of his team.

"They lost 21 wrestlers this last eligibility," Soldotna coach Bill Carlson recalled. "Now they only have 100 wrestlers."

It's going to be real difficult to defend their Northern Lights Conference tournament crown today and Saturday at Soldotna High School now.

"I just feel real sorry for them," Carlson added with a touch of sarcasm and a laugh. "What a selection."

The Stars, meanwhile, lost six grapplers during the last round of checks and are taking 12 to the tournament in their own gym.

Skyview also dropped a couple and is bringing 21.

Still a far cry from the century mark, though.

"Colony has been tough all year so far. They've got some returning wrestlers that are state champs and I don't foresee any major changes there," Carlson explained. "I know with our recent grade eligibility issues, we're not going to create any new challenges for them."

The Knights also are on pace to capture their third consecutive state crown next weekend at Chugiak High School.

The three-peat would come on the heels of another trio of state championships by familiar NLC and Valley foe Wasilla, proving just how challenging it is to claim one of the coveted six state berths up for grabs in each weight class at the conference tournament.

"There's been 10 state championships out of our region since 1997," said Skyview coach Neldon Gardner, now in his 25th season at the helm of the Panthers. "If you get through our region, most of the time, you'll end up winning matches at the state tournament, because very few kids get to go to state from our region that aren't qualified wrestlers."

There's a handful this year who won't just be going, but will probably be competing for the top spot on the state podium.

Soldotna sophomore Braden Price (160) and junior Nathan Strieby (HVY) are leading the way.

Price, a transfer student from Michigan, is the second-ranked 160-pounder in the state by, trailing only two-time defending state champion Nolan McBryde of Chugiak.

"He had a lot of technique but the season has been effective for practice time, mat time and controlling his balance, building his confidence," Carlson said. "Initially he had some close matches that was more defense. More recently he's been an effective offensive wrestler and that can make all the difference."

Strieby, the top-ranked heavyweight in the state who placed third at state last season after not placing as a freshman, has adapted to a style more suitable of a lightweight, shooting more often than throwing.

"He's capable of throwing, but he has a lot more good, solid options," Carlson said. "He's doing better on the mat wrestling as well. He can work in all positions.

"We've had some bigger guys in the room practicing with him one-on-one and that's going to play a big role in how he performs."

Carlson is also hoping his son, Jesse (152), can advance to state for the second straight season, and said Wes Fuxa-Koch (119) should also place high.

Also gunning for one of the six state spots is Ryan Hanley (112), who placed fifth at state last season, Cody Carroll (130), Keith Porter (140), Jesse Chumley (215) and JV grapplers Forrest Vest (119), Dallin Carlson (140), Tanner Link (152) and Edward VanVelzor (160).

"I wouldn't be surprised to see more than a majority of them qualify for state. At least our varsity lineup," Carlson said. "The four JV wrestlers ... every one of them have that possibility. It will be whether they can avoid mistakes and be aggressive offensively."

Skyview's best chance at a conference championship comes in the form of 112-pounder Bryce Wilson, a sixth-place finisher at state last season who is currently ranked sixth.

Also looking to return to state is fellow 112-pounder Monica Hutchison and Jared Thomas (152), while 103-pounders Hannah Hutchison and Eldon Brown, Cody Stephenson (119), Kyle Day (130), fifth-ranked freshman Austin Tennis (135) and Steven Lawson (171) are all vying for state berths.

Gardner said his three seniors, Danny Maciariello (130), sixth-ranked Kenny Mahan (189) and Adam Byrne (215), are also expecting to advance to the big dance.

"Even though it's a short season, we're excited," Gardner said. "Regions and state are the two big tournaments you practice for."

Kenai coach David Boyle said returning state qualifiers Chris Osbekoff (125) and John Hughes (130), ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, as well as Donny Dormady (189), have the best opportunities of the Kardinals' 12 grapplers to make the conference finals.

"We're hoping to send seven or eight to state," he said. "We'll have to wrestle really well to pop into the finals at any given weight.

"I think he might surprise some people this weekend," Boyle added of Dormady. "He's been coming on week by week. He's been wrestling well and looking good lately."

Also looking to contend for state berths is Quintun Pribbenow (119), who also qualified last year, Doug Duniphin (145) and Freddie John (189).

Homer's Ben Daigle (140), Robby Brymer (145), Mitch Wyatt (152) and Eric Weinfurter (160), the Fab Four as they're known around The Spit, could be wrestling in consecutive championship matches come Saturday afternoon.

A senior ranked third in the state, Daigle has consecutive fifth-place state finishes the last two years, while the third-ranked Brymer and Weinfurter, also seniors, have been to state three and two years, respectively.

Homer coach Chris Perk expects Wyatt, ranked fourth, to contend for a championship, too, despite his sophomore status.

"There's been three tournaments where they've all made the finals," he said. "It's fun to sit in the corner four matches in a row.

"That's our goal," Perk added of this weekend. "That would be real cool actually."

He's also hoping to get Eli Garvey (103), Alex Hediger (135) and sophomore Larry Croft through the bracket.

Although it could be tough having to face those boys from Colony, all 100 of them.

"Its frustrating when their JV team beats you," Perk laughed. "That's a heartbreaker."

Matthew Carroll can be reached at

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