Nikiski wrestling coach Abe Porter always tells his team that it has character in spades.
That character was on display through the highs and lows Friday and Saturday at the small-schools state wrestling tournament at the Alaska Railroad Dock Terminal in Seward.
"These guys wrestled their hearts out," Porter said. "I can't be concerned with anything other than that."
There was the high of senior Lance Penhale becoming the first three-time state champion in school history and junior Jordan McCaughey fulfilling his potential with his first state title.
The tough times came with junior Justin Tumbaga losing by one point in the state finals and seniors Travis McCaughey and Jared Mazurek coming up empty in fifth-place matches.
Anchorage Christian Schools won its second-straight small-schools title, besting Dillingham by 8.5 points. Nikiski was fourth, while Seward was 17th, Ninilchik was 29th, Voznesenka was 31st and Seldovia was 33rd.
Penhale said he had heard some questioning of whether he could defeat Dillingham's Wes Richards in the finals at 112 pounds, even though Penhale had defeated Richards 11-2 earlier in the season.
The senior, who finished the year at 31-0 and with 65 straight victories overall, set out to affirm his dominance once again at the state tournament.
His goal was to win every match by either a pin or technical fall, and to not get scored on. Penhale stormed into the final by pinning all three wrestlers he faced, then beat Richards by technical fall 18-3 in the final. His only blemish was those three points.
"I didn't want anybody questioning me," Penhale said. "I did get scored on, but I won the title and that's all that counts."
Said Porter: "I think he made a statement that he's the dominant 112-pound wrestler in the state. He's got the whole package."
Penhale said he gets confidence from wrestling with Jordan McCaughey, who is at 125 pounds, in practice. McCaughey said wrestling with Penhale helps him, too.
"He's beaten all the good guys in my weight class," McCaughey said. "When I see him out there beating all those guys and looking like he's not even trying, it gives me confidence."
McCaughey finished sixth in state as a freshman and fourth in state as a sophomore. Porter said McCaughey always had the physical tools, but needed to be mentally tougher.
The coach said McCaughey's mental game was on during the state tournament.
"He didn't make a mistake," Porter said. "It's hard to score on somebody who's not making mistakes. He was dominant."
McCaughey's mental game was tested in the finals. He had a 6-1 lead when his opponent, Eielson's Chase Fagan, was injured with 1:07 left in the second period.
The Nikiski junior did not let his guard down when the match resumed, however, and ran away with an 11-3 victory.
"I didn't want the match to end with him injured because that would have ruined it," McCaughey said. "I was surprised he came back so strong, though."
Coming back strong is something Tumbaga knows all about.
Just before Halloween, Tumbaga's father, Fred, was in a car accident and fractured two vertebrae in his neck.
Tumbaga took time off during the season to be with his father in Seattle while he was rehabbing. That didn't stop Tumbaga from wrestling into the final at 140 pounds against nemesis William Savo of Dillingham, who was named the tournament's most outstanding wrestler.
Tumbaga had lost to Savo by one point in last year's state final. Tumbaga defeated Savo by one point at the ACS Tournament this year. Saturday, Savo scored a 2-1 victory to win another state title.
Both wrestlers stayed on their feet the entire first period. Tumbaga started the second period down and scored an immediate escape, but there was no scoring the rest of the period. Savo started the third period down and got a reverse and a 2-1 lead. Tumbaga had 1:54 to get an escape and tie the match, but the savvy Savo kept him under control.
Tumbaga thanked his mother, brother and the entire wrestling community for giving him emotional support during his family's difficult ordeal.
"My dad's doing better," Tumbaga said. "I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with him. I just wish I could have brought him a first."
Porter said it was amazing watching how Tumbaga remained composed during the tournament.
"I think that just shows his incredible maturity," Porter said. "What can you say? It just didn't fall his way.
"Being gone for a couple of weeks probably hurt his gas, but Savo did a great job wrestling."
The other peninsula wrestler to make it to the finals was Seward's Gus Linville at 275 pounds.
Linville is in welding school, so he only wrestled in one tournament before the conference tournament last week. Despite the limited time on the mat, Linville still wrestled Kake's Mathew Ashenfelter for a state title. Ashenfelter took control of the match immediately by throwing Linville hard to the mat, then pinning him 44 seconds into the match.
Despite the loss, Linville said it was still a great experience to get his best finish in state in his hometown.
Two senior Nikiski wrestlers were in fifth-place matches.
At 130 pounds, the hard luck of Nikiski's Jared Mazurek continued. Mazurek's effort at a state title had been short-circuited the past two years by broken collarbones.
This year, Mazurek entered the tournament seeded third and then lost to second-seeded Gilbert McIntyre 8-6 in double overtime in the semifinals.
On Saturday, Mazurek did not make weight and had to forfeit his third-place semifinal and fifth-place match.
"He's one of those kids who busted his butt in practice every day," Porter said of Mazurek. "He wanted so bad to have success and be a state champion. To lose in the state semifinals in double overtime is a real heartbreaker."
The second Bulldog in a fifth-place match was senior Travis McCaughey at 145 pounds. McCaughey lost to Craig's Brent Cole 8-2.
Cole started out with two takedowns in the first period and took a 4-1 lead. When the two wrestlers were standing up, Cole was able to continuously gain the advantage by snapping McCaughey's head and bringing him to his knees. In the second period, McCaughey got an escape to make it 4-2.
In the third period, McCaughey started on top and had several arm bars in place but was never able to put Cole on his back.
"The only time I felt I had a chance was in the third period when I was on
top," said McCaughey, who had his best finish at state. "I almost had him on his back a couple of times. I made a mistake by cutting him loose."
McCaughey let Cole get an escape with 50 seconds left in the third period in hopes of getting a takedown and getting back in the match. However, Cole quickly scored another takedown to clinch fifth place.
At 119 pounds, Ninilchik freshman Austin Vanderford lost to Mount Edgecumbe's Ernest Kieth in a fifth-place match.
Vanderford scored two takedowns in the first period to take a 4-1 advantage, but Kieth came back with an escape in the second period to cut the gap to 4-2. Kieth came back in the third period to tie the match, then scored a takedown just seven seconds into overtime to win 8-6.
"My head wasn't in the match," Vanderford said. "I was pretty sloppy."
Vanderford still said it was great wrestling against more experienced and physically mature wrestlers. He lost to both second-seeded Kyle Sattler of Bethel and third-seeded Jermey Luce of Nome during the tournament. He is already looking forward to next season.
"I've just got to work harder against these upperclassmen," he said.
ASAA Class 1-2-3A State Wrestling Championships
Team scores: 1. Anchorage Christian Schools, 153.5; 2. Dillingham, 145; 3. Bethel, 126.5; 4. Nikiski, 83; 5 (tie). Houston, Mt. Edgecumbe, 81; 7. Kotzebue, 62.5; 8. Eielson, 62; 9 (tie). Bristol Bay, Grace Christian, 54; 11. Wrangell, 51; 12. Glennallen, 47.5; 13. Nome, 46; 14. Petersburg, 45; 15. New Stuyahok, 41.5; 16. Barrow, 41; 17 (tie). Cordova, Seward, 33; 19. Nenana, 32; 20. Kake, 28; 21. Valdez, 27; 22 (tie). Craig, Unalakleet, 18; 24 (tie). Newhalen, Tok, 17; 26. Klawock, 13; 27. Unalaska, 12.5; 28. Hoonah, 12; 29. Ninilchik, 8; 30. Metlakatla, 7; 31 (tie). Voznesenka, Hutchison, 6; 33 (tie). Delta, Sand Point, Seldovia, Tuluksak, Gambell, Skagway, Hydaburg, 3; 40. Savoonga, 2.5; 41 (tie). Shishmaref, Selawik, Angoon, 0.
103 Jon Garrison, Wra, m.d. John Baker, ACS, 18-5.
112 Lance Penhale, Nik, t.f. Wes Richards, Dil, 18-3.
119 Justin Gumlickpuk, NST, m.d. Daniel Savo, Dil, 18-6.
125 Jordan McCaughey, Nik, dec. Chase Fagan, Eie, 11-3.
130 Jacob Masog, ACS, dec. Gilbert McIntyre, Bet, 10-6.
135 Zack Shelley, ACS, dec. Matt Gardner, Hou, 13-9.
140 William Savo, Dil, dec. Justin Tumbaga, Nik, 2-1.
145 Erik Edenshaw, Kot, p. Nick Rogers, Eie, 5:29.
152 Cody Dunbar, ACS, dec. Neil Jenny, Pet, 11-3.
160 Alex McGahan, Gle, dec. Jake Mork, Wra, 3-1.
171 Daniel Harvey, Hou, p. Zack Klein, BrB, 3:32.
189 Max Shellabarger, Edg, p. Clinton Banzhaf, Hou, 0:17.
215 Jeremiah Davidson, Nen, dec. William Prescott, 7-3.
275 Mathew Ashenfelter, Kak, p. Gus Linville, Sew, 0:44.
103 Andrew Miller, Dil, dec. Kevin Hansen, Kot, 5-1.
112 Devin Johnson, Dil, dec. Spencer Beckman, 8-2.
119 Kyle Sattler, Bet, dec. Jermey Luce, Nom, 4-3.
125 Kenney Balfe, Gra, dec. Gerardo Arias, ACS, 5-4.
130 Joshua Kreilich, Bar, dec. Pete Kaiser, Bet, 12-5.
135 Lucas Salzbrun, Bet, dec. Skylar Graika, Val, 5-3.
140 Joe Christensen, Gra, dec. Jesse Kueber, Uak, 12-11.
145 William Scott, ACS, dec. Andrew Cooper, Ukt, 12-4.
152 Sam Carney, Edg, dec. Michael Carty, Dil, 4-3.
160 Kris Gee, Tok, dec. Justin Gardiner, Edg, 5-4.
171 Sterling Rearden, Bet, p. Nick Shellabarger, Edg, 0:23.
189 Kyle Anderson, BrB, p. Stephen Bishop, Val, 0:44.
215 Jon Nichols, Cor, p. Aaron Scheall, Bet, 3:15.
275 Kohren Green, Nom, p. Robert Nielson, Dil, 4:38.
103 Clinton West, Nom, p. John Hanson, NST, 2:51.
112 Craig Savo, Dil, dec. Austin Bowden, ACS, 8-7.
119 Ernest Kieth, Edg, dec. Austin Vanderford, Nin, 8-6.
125 Herman Reich, Kot, dec. Marvin McDonald, Bet, 12-4.
130 Peter Angasan, BrB, won by forfeit over Jared Mazurek, Nik.
135 Drew Eyon, Wra, dec. Bryan Stewart, Eie, 8-6.
140 Ed Garoutte, Kot, won by default over Rafael Rameriz, Kla.
145 Brent Cole, Crg, dec. Travis McCaughey, Nik, 8-2.
152 JJ Tipton, Crg, dec. Ralph Angasan, BrB, 8-4.
160 Ray DelaRosas, Bar, m.d. Trygve Angasan, BrB, 14-3.
171 James Judkins, Bar, dec. Chris Hansen, Hou, 10-4.
189 Torin Smith, Hoo, dec. Bradd Erickson, Hou, 10-8.
215 Sam Beecher, ACS, m.d. Scott O'Neil, Pet, 18-4.
275 Elia Anelon, New, p. Pat O'Neil, Gra, 1:53.
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