Seward's performance at last week's Kachemak Conference tournament is going to be a tough act to follow.
In winning their first-ever conference championship, the Seahawks qualified 12 wrestlers for today and Saturday's Class 1-2-3A state wrestling championships at Bartlett High School, where they hope to place in the top five.
"It is possible if things bump our way we could get as high as third," said Seward coach Ronn Hemstock. "I'm hoping to get in the top five, that would be good for the team."
While Seward has a dozen grapplers competing, including four conference champions, Bethel has 14 wrestlers and 2007 runner-up Dillingham is bringing 17.
"That's five more kids than we do and everybody scores you points," Hemstock said. "It's going to be difficult for anybody to catch Dillingham."
However, that's not going to stop the Seahawks from competing for individual titles, with 160-pounder Dylan Beck leading the way.
A senior who has previously placed fourth and fifth and is currently ranked second in Alaska by akmat.org, Beck's toughest competition will likely come from Sitka's Ryder Torgeson, the top-ranked and lone 3A wrestler to defeat Beck this season.
"I fully expect to see him wrestling in the finals against (Torgeson)," Hemstock said of one of his conference champs. "We've been training for that match. Hopefully it will pay off in his favor."
Other conference champions looking to make some noise include freshman Jed Wilde (103), returning qualifier and senior Mike Zweifel (145) and junior Joe Nyholm (171).
Hemstock said Wilde has an outside chance of advancing to the finals, although he'd likely be required to defeat wrestlers he lost to earlier this year.
"He lost to them early in the season and he's made some improvements," he said. "You never know. They were close losses."
Another of the seven or eight he hopes to place is 215-pounder Ian Filbert, who finished second in the conference tourney.
"If the cards fall right, hopefully we'll get Ian Filbert into the finals, but he'll go in as the dark horse."
Making return trips to state are Shane Douglas (130), who finished sixth in 2006, Brenton Meier (112), Scott Reierson (135) and Kyle Kain (189), while Nick Markowitz (125), Aaron Sorenson (145) and senior Josh Zimmerman also are going.
"Nyholm, Zweifel, Reierson and Kain," Hemstock said, "those are the kids that I think have chances of getting on the podium."
Nikiski, too, has a handful of grapplers seeking spots atop the same podium.
The leader of that pack being junior Matt Parker, the fourth-ranked 119-pounder in the state who placed fifth last year and is fresh off a conference championship.
"I think it was a good confidence boost for him. He had a real solid performance at regionals and I think that should give him a boost as he heads into state," said Bulldogs coach Adam Anders. "He's got a shot at (winning). He's got to wrestle at his potential to do that. But he does got a shot at it.
"I think Matt's goal is a state championship. He's put in a lot of work and I know it means a lot to him," he added. "All I'm concerned about is him doing his best. The rest will take care of itself."
Second-place finishers at the conference tournament who also have high hopes include fifth-ranked Nathan Stangel (119), sophomore Tyler Peek (145), fourth-ranked Karl Buccholz (160), who took sixth at state last year as a freshman, and freshmen Corey Green (135) and Kaden Spurgeon (140), ranked fifth.
"If Nate wrestles like himself, he's going to be a state placer for sure," Anders said matter-of-factly. "Tyler Peek should certainly be a placer. He's definitely proved that he can compete with the best of them and there's no telling what he can accomplish."
Nikiski also has freshman Tanner Payment (125), sophomore Sawyer Skiba (125) and senior Mike Sauve (171) competing.
"I expect to have several state placers," Anders said.
Seldovia has three wrestlers competing in junior Matthew Gain (152) and senior Oren Kroll (189), who both finished second at the conference meet last weekend, and conference champ Jordan Geagel (215).
Geagel, a senior who took third at state last year and fifth as a sophomore, is currently ranked second in the state behind Wrangell's Ethan Pempek.
Voznesenka is bringing region champions Joe Martushev (140), ranked fourth, Zenon Martushev (152) and sixth-ranked Leo Polushkin (HVY), in addition to third-place finishers David Martushev (119) and Julian Polushkin (HVY).
Ninilchik's Jefferson Klapak (140) is the lone Wolverine competing in the state tournament.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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