During the summer, Seward is largely a tourist town. That will allow it to be a wrestling town today and Saturday.
Seward will host the small-schools state wrestling tournament, with about 220 wrestlers coming from 44 schools.
The meet will be held at the Alaska Railroad Dock Terminal, located on Port Avenue. The building is used in the summer as a connecting point for tourists going to and from cruise ships, trains and buses.
The building is big enough that it is capable of holding four mats in one room, which will allow participants and spectators the ability to see all the action.
Up until the 1997-98 sports calendar, when the big-schools and small-schools seasons were split up, the state wrestling tournament for all schools was held at the same time in a large building like the Carlson Center in Fairbanks.
Since the split, the small-schools tournament has struggled to get into a venue big enough for four mats to be taped end-to-end in the same room.
"This is the first time since that split that all mats are taped end-to-end," Seward coach Ronn Hemstock said. "You can sit in one chair and not miss a single match.
"It's more of a gala event than in the past."
Hemstock said the idea to hold the tournament in the terminal came from former Seward athletic director Rich Houghton. Houghton and Hemstock discussed the idea one day over a cup of coffee and things went from there.
From there, multiple members of the community put out all the effort it takes to host a state tournament. This will be the first Alaska School Activities Association-sanctioned state championship in any sport to be hosted by Seward.
"The whole town really got behind this," Hemstock said. "It's kind of nice to see."
Hemstock also likes the fact that even though the event is happening in Seward, it is taking place at a neutral site and not at one of the participant's high schools.
Based on its performance at the Anchorage Christian Schools Invitational, usually a good indicator for state, ACS will be the favorite to maintain its Class 1-2-3A state title. The Lions, who qualified 20 wrestlers for state, won the ACS Invitational by 25.5 points over Bethel. Dillingham was third, while Nikiski was fourth.
"You never know what's going to happen at a state tournament," said Nikiski coach Abe Porter, whose squad qualified seven for state. "ACS has more kids at state and we have less, so things are really in their favor."
Porter said his squad will be battling teams like Dillingham, Bethel and Kotzebue to try and finish as high as possible.
Nikiski will be led by Lance Penhale, who is looking to become the first three-time state champion in Nikiski's history. Penhale has won two state titles at 103 pounds and this year he is undefeated at 112 pounds.
"He's the favorite, but, again, you never know what will happen at a state tournament," Porter said.
The other Nikiski wrestler to win a title last week at the Kachemak Conference tournament is Nikiski senior Jared Mazurek. Mazurek will be seeking his first state title after being slowed the last two years by broken collarbones.
Porter also is looking for big things from Jordan McCaughey, Justin Tumbaga and Travis McCaughey.
Dave Rorrison is one of the better small-schools heavyweights, but he also has an injured knee. Josh Vance is the final qualified Nikiski wrestler, and Porter is anxious to get him some state experience.
Seward qualified six wrestlers for state.
"It's actually a small number compartively speaking to years past," Hemstock said. "All these guys have worked pretty hard, but most of them are in pretty good weight classes. We'll see how the chips fall."
Those qualifying for the Seahawks are Matt Adams at 130, Charley Rininger at 140, William Clock at 145, James Aase and Kabe Tippit at 215 and Gus Linville at 275.
The peninsula also will be represented by Voznesenka, Seldovia and Ninilchik at state.
Representing Voznesenka will be Kornily Poluskin at 112, Joe Basargin at 119 and Sava White at 125. Representing Ninilchik will be Austin Vanderford at 119. Representing Seldovia will be Jimmie Payton at 160.
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