Their tickets have been purchased.
Their spots reserved.
Now all the Nikiski wrestlers have to do is confirm their reservations by placing in the top three at the Kachemak Conference Tournament at Nikiski High School on Saturday starting at 9 a.m.
With this year's state tournament being held in Sitka, Bulldogs coach Lucas Peless has already booked eight plane tickets for the next weekend's journey, anticipating that many grapplers will qualify for the big dance.
"I haven't told them who I put on there but I told them we had to buy tickets already and I wasn't willing to buy 14 tickets just because that's all the wrestlers I have," he explained. "We were going to make some choices and if they wanted to be on that list ... they have to prove it. I had to give them names. We're excited."
Included in that group of hopefuls are sophomore Matt Parker (103), ranked third by akmat.org, seniors Ancel Ware (140) and Josh Vance (171) and freshmen Nathan Stangel (112) and Karl Buccholz (152).
"Just from looking at who's been around in the state ... they've beaten a lot of their opponents at those weights and we're just looking forward to a good tournament," he said.
Peless realized booking the trips in advance isn't the most desired situation, but he believes it could help inspire his team, consisting of mostly freshmen.
Also working in their favor is the fact that the tourney is being held in their own gym.
"Having it be here at home in front of our hometown crowd, that's always a plus," Peless said. "You get to sleep at home in your own bed. It's more in your comfort zone. Not sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of another school or a hotel room."
Also looking to punch his ticket to state is freshman Kovy Harbick (125), who Peless said has a great shot at doing so.
"And as a freshman, that's a great milestone to achieve," he said, adding every one of his wrestlers has a realistic opportunity at qualifying. "These freshman that I've got really want to make it there in their first year."
With only three berths up for grabs this year, the Southeast Conference being awarded the rotating fourth spot this season, the most exciting matches should be the championship semifinals, with the two winners automatically advancing to state, and the consolation finals, with the loser being eliminated.
"The semis ... it's a bloodbath, because anyone that wins knows their worries are over. Those are the ones where you see somebody going the extra mile because it really makes a difference," said Seward coach Ronn Hemstock. "The finals are almost anticlimactic because if you win or lose you're going to state. The finals are almost boring."
At the same time, though, he'd love to have any of his 17 wrestlers reach the championship match.
Senior Brandon O'Brikis (215), ranked No. 1 in the state, and third-ranked junior Dylan Beck (152), have the best chance at doing so.
"Those two kids are our frontrunners and we've got a solid pack behind them. I'm hoping to get 10 or 11 kids to state," Hemstock said. "I might have a bad day ... and get less, or we might have a really good day and take more."
Matt Nyholm (145), Koal Backlund (160) and fifth-ranked Alan Logan (189) all have the ability to become region champions as well.
He also said newcomer Jonas Romero (HVY) has a been a bright spot this season and has come a long way since the beginning of the year.
"I'm hoping to get him squeaked through," he said.
When it came to choosing a team to capture the region crown, Hemstock didn't hesitate for a second.
"I think ACS will wipe us all out. Everybody else is battling for second place," he said. "They probably have 25 kids they'll enter in the tournament. They've got two at about every weight and they're tough as nails. Nikiski, Grace Christian and us will be battling for second."
Cook Inlet Academy coach Chuck Kopp said he has two wrestlers that should hopefully place in the top three.
Senior Zac Cialek (152) and sophomore Cody Dutcher (145) have both made vast strides throughout the year.
"Particularly in the later season, they've come on really strong," Kopp said. "It's been a great season and we just really desire to see the boys finish well and have all that work pay off."
Looking to defend his state championship is Ninilchik's Austin Vanderford (160), the top-ranked wrestler in the state after winning a crown at 152 pounds last season.
Vanderford is fresh off a title at the Glenn Vandergaw Classic at Dimond High School when he edged Chugiak's Nolan McBryde, 8-6.
He also won championships at the King of the Mountain tourney at Seward, the Skyview Invitational and the ACS Invitational and went undefeated at the Octoberwrest Takedown Tourney at Homer in mid-October.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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