Competition for the state high school fall wrestling crown gets pared down this weekend at the Area Championship meets.
The area meets replace the region tournaments under the Alaska School Activities Association's declassified fall wrestling schedule, and six wrestlers in each weight class from each of the four area meets will qualify for the ASAA State Wrestling Championships Dec. 15 and 16 at Kenai Central High School.
Area 1 consists of the Region I Bush and Western Alaska schools while Area 2 covers Southeast, or ASAA's Region V.
The Kenai Peninsula schools will be split between the Area 3 meet at Grace Christian in Anchorage and the Area 4 meet hosted by Skyview High School.
Joining the Panthers from the peninsula for the Area 4 meet Friday and Saturday will be Kenai and Seward. Soldotna, Homer, Nikiski, Ninilchik and Seldovia will travel to the Area 3 competition.
Nikiski was unseated as the Class 1-2-3A state champion last season by Seward, but the Bulldogs still have visions of state titles dancing in their heads and, with their No. 2 ranking among the state's coaches, look to be the favorite at the Area 3 meet.
Nikiski coach David Martian said his Bulldogs picked up valuable experience with their trips to Barrow and Ketchikan this season.
"Without those trips, (last Saturday's Kenai Duals) would have been the fifth weekend (all the peninsula teams) were in the same place," Martian said. "It was a benefit for us to go to those other places and see some fresh faces."
The Bulldogs have an impressive lineup for the area meet, including Neil Fucci, a state champion last season, and Chris Roofe, a runner-up a season ago. Chris McCaughey, Joshua Meeks, Joey Wicker and Steven Calderwood all picked up placements at last season's 1-2-3A state meet.
A young Soldotna squad is hoping to make some noise the Area 3 meet.
"We have a lot of kids that are right in that fifth- or sixth-place range," said Stars coach Sarge Truesdell. "There could be 12 or 13 kids going to the state meet, or if they don't pull it out, seven or eight.
"I think our kids will show up. They've been working hard and they're peaking at just the right time."
Several Soldotna wrestlers will be looking to make a repeat trip to the state meet. Colten Goracke, T.J. Stone, John Howarth, Jared Carlson and Travis Bass all wrestled at the 4A championship meet last season, and Luke Ciufo and Justin Whitmore have been coming on strong this season.
The Homer Mariners had one athlete qualify for the 4A state meet last season, but there's plenty of young talent ready to make the jump this year, including Monty Garroutte, Devion Hagen and Chris Fraker.
From Ninilchik, Rex Savely will look to reprise the performance that landed him in the 1-2-3A state finals last season. Teammate Steve Miller also is wrestling well.
Skyview, ranked No. 1 in the Alaska coaches' poll, is the favorite to take the Area 4 title on its home mat.
The Panthers are laden with seniors, and four Skyview wrestlers that placed at last season's 4A state meet -- Neil Strausbaugh, Ron Winger, Chris Rice and Ian Leach -- along with eight wrestlers that qualified for last season's state meet -- Jonathan Pharris, Cody Phipps, Melina Hutchison, Ben Nabinger, James Sadler, Ron Plate, Vance Gaddis and Carey Johnson -- are back with this season's squad.
Kenai will host next week's state meet, and the Kardinals would love to have some wrestlers qualify for the event. Jacob La Shot went to the 4A state meet last year, and Charlie Wiles is wrestling well.
Seward rounds out the Area 4 field, and the Seahawks have been getting strong performances this season from Darien Draper, Zach Rininger, Devon Loomis and Corbin Stirling.
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