If there's one thing a state wrestling championship never lacks, it's drama, and there were plenty of stories played out on the mats at the Class 1-2-3A state high school wrestling championships Saturday in Anchorage.
There were the Nikiski Bulldogs, gunning for an upset over the host Anchorage Christian Schools Lions in the team standings. There were teammates sacrificing for each other, and opponents pushing each other to the limits in the pursuit of excellence. Then there were the individual battles, from returning champions trying to defend their titles, to up-and-comers looking to grab a piece of the glory.
Nikiski entered the final two rounds of matches trailing ACS by just five points, 126-121, in the team standings with four wrestlers competing in the championship round and two more challenging for third place.
That margin remained the same entering the championship round, with the Lions leading 129-124.
Nikiski's Lance Penhale narrowed the gap, opening the championship round with a victory at 103 pounds, his second consecutive state title.
"I'm a real 103-pounder this year," said Penhale, who weighed in somewhere in the low- to mid-90s last year.
Penhale said he felt good as he prepared for Saturday's championships.
"I felt really confident, but I felt way tired after the first 30 seconds," Penhale said.
Entering the final round, Penhale said, Nikiski coach Abe Porter told his wrestlers not to worry about the team standings focus on the individual matches, and the team points would work themselves out.
After Penhale narrowed the gap, though, Tab Key was able to push the Bulldogs into a tie atop the standings with his 10-8 overtime win at 125.
"I'm super fantastic," Key said after winning his first state title as a senior. "I love watching Lance wrestle while I'm warming up. He's undefeated, and it's good to have someone on your team wrestling ahead of you."
Key attributed his win to hard work.
"I've worked harder than anyone in the state for this. Ask my coach. Ask my teammates," Key said. "I can't even believe it right now. ... I just wanted to contribute as much as I can to my team for all they've done for me."
The team standings remained deadlocked, though, as Nikiski's next two competitors each wrestled to second-place finishes. At 135, Justin Tumbaga lost 2-1 to Will Savo of Dillingham. Tumbaga's match was tied at zero after the first period, and Savo took a 2-0 lead, scoring a reversal after starting in the down position to open the second period.
Tumbaga notched a one-point escape, but after starting in the down position to open the third, Tumbaga couldn't get another escape, despite a valiant effort.
At 152, Anthony Lorenzo and Barrow's Spencer Hirt were in a scoreless deadlock through two periods. Lorenzo started in the top position to open the third period, and Hirt managed a reversal to take the lead. Lorenzo was able to escape, but Hirt took advantage as Lorenzo did all he could trying for a takedown as the seconds ticked away. Hirt caught Lorenzo lunging, scored a takedown, then secured the 7-1 win with a near-fall.
That left the final say in the team standings to Bobby Dunbar of ACS. He won by pin in 1:06 at 215.
Nikiski was plenty proud of its runner-up finish, especially with the 10-dog team it sent to the meet.
"After wrestling in a weight class like that, and wrestling a kid like that in the finals, I can handle (second place)," Lorenzo said. "The team did great. We came out with 10 kids, and we're in the top couple of schools."
Tumbaga said he was more disappointed not to have been able to help the Bulldogs get a few more team points than he was to finish second, but he admitted that in the morning, his second-place finish would feel pretty good. "I still have a lot to work on," Tumbaga said. "I feel like I can carry this through to next year. Hopefully, I'll beat that guy next year."
Perhaps the gutsiest effort of the evening came from Ninilchik's Vincent Kruzick, wrestling for third place at 135. Kruzick was down 3-1 going into the third period. He started in the down position and managed an escape, but appeared to be headed for a loss when his opponent, ACS' Cody Dunbar, wrapped Kruzick up and went for the takedown.
Dunbar executed an illegal slam, though, and Kruzick was awarded a point tying the match at three.
However, it took Kruzick all of his allotted injury time, and then some, just to get to his feet to continue the match.
"In practice three weeks ago, my partner crunched me, and it's been hurting ever since," Kruzick said, adding that the slam certainly made things worse.
"My coach Kevin Zimmerman was telling me, 'You can take it easy, or you can finish. This is my last year."
With that, Kruzick got up and returned to the center of the mat.
"My eyes were blurry with sweat and tears," Kruzick said. "I was just trying to finish up.
"All of the sudden, he shot on me, but I was able to get across him. I looked up, and there was one second left. I couldn't believe it was over, and I was ahead."
Kruzick's two takedown points for foiling the shot gave him the match, and some pretty good memories from his senior year. As much as it hurt, he said, it felt pretty good.
"Sophomore year I broke my collarbone, and I took my sophomore and junior years off," Kruzick said. "I came back to see how it felt. I'm glad to be here."
By beating an ACS wrestler, Kruzick gave a boost to the Bulldogs' title hopes, a fact not lost on Nikiski's Josh Huhndorf, a third-place winner at 130.
"I'm very pleased. Coming up from the lower weights and wrestling at 130 is very different," Huhndorf said after defeating Josh Kreilich of Barrow 10-8.
Huhndorf gave much of the credit for his win to teammate Jared Mazurek. Mazurek, also wrestling at 130, qualified for the meet despite breaking his collarbone a month ago, but forfeited to Huhndorf in the consolation bracket.
"Getting to where I did today wouldn't have been possible without Jared allowing me to continue," Huhndorf said. "We've been friends for a long time, and that's one of the best things a friend could do."
Also clinching a third-place finish from the peninsula was Seward's Erick Amberg, who pinned Grace's Joe Christianson in 2:51.
In the third-place round, Nikiski's Jordan McCaughey lost to Petersburg's Drake Lions by pin in 4 minutes, 15 seconds.
Also faring well at the meet was Seldovia, which boasted a pair of fifth-place finishers. Jevon Chartier defeated Adam Ellsworth of Bethel 7-2 at 171. Fellow Sea Otter Chance Collier won at 189, wrestling to a 5-2 decision over William Prescott of Glennallen.
2003 ASAA/First National Bank State 1-2-3A Wresting Championships
Friday and Saturday at Anchorage Christian Schools
Team Standings: 1. Anchorage Christian Schools, 139; 2. Nikiski, 133; 3. Petersburg, 120.5; 4. Dillingham, 112.5; 5. Kotzebue, 104; 6. Bethel, 92; 7. Valdez, 86; 8. Eielson, 83; 9. Barrow, 72.5; 10. Wrangell, 67; 11. Mt. Edgecumbe, 66; 12. Glennallen, 46; 13. Seward, 42; 14. Grace Christian, 31.5; 15. (tie) Craig, New Stuyahok, 28.5; 17. (tie) Cordova, Hydaburg, 26; 19. Seldovia, 20.5; 20. Nome, 20; 21. (tie) Bristol Bay, Klawock, 17; 23. Ninilchik, 15.5; 24. Houston, 13; 25. Nenana, 12.5; 26. Delta, 9; 27. (tie) Akiachak, Kake, 8; 29. (tie) Newhalen, Tok, 7; 31. Voznesenka, 5; 32. (tie) Aniak, King Cove, Unalakleet, Unalaska, 4; 36. Skagway, 3; 37. Koyuk, 1.5; 38. (tie) Buckland, Hoonah, Savoonga, Shaktoolik, Slana, St. Michael, Stebbins, 0.
103 Lance Penhale, Nik, maj. dec., Jeremy Luce, Nom, 11-1
112 Gerardo Arias, ACS, dec. Dan Savo, Dil, 7-6
119 Skylar Graika, Val, dec. Zach Shelly, ACS, 3-0
125 Tab Key, Nik, dec. Jeremy Banner, Val, 10-8 OT
130 Gilbert McIntyre, Bet, dec. Kevin McCambly, Dil, 7-6
135 Will Savo, Dil, dec. Justin Tumbaga, Nik, 2-1
140 Alex McMahan, Gle, dec. Harry Churchill, Wra, 3-2
152 Spencer Hirt, Bar, dec. Anthony Lorenzo, Nik, 7-1
160 David Mork, Wra, dec. Sterling Reardon, Bet, 7-5
171 Victor Jenny, Pet, dec. Logan Dodd, Val, 14-8
189 Curtis Demmert, Hyd, dec. Cliff Shellabarger, Mt. E, 4-1
215 Bobby Dunbar, ACS, p. Almond Shield, Kot, 1:06
275 Jeremy Raby, Eie, dec. Brionne Elkins, Bar, 5-4
103 Kaila Peacock, Kot, p. Devin Johnson, Dil, 5:55
112 Tony Andrews, New St., dec. P.J. Reich, Kot, 9-8
119 Drake Lions, Pet, p. Jordan McCaughey, Nik, 4:15
125 Jacob Masog, ACS, dec. Matt Higgins, Eie, 4-3
130 Josh Huhndorf, Nik, dec. Josh Kreilich, Bar, 10-8
135 Vincent Kruzick, Nin, dec. Cody Dunbar, ACS, 5-3
140 Erick Amberg, Sew, p. Joe Christianson, Gra, 2:51
145 Drew O'Brien, Bet, dec. William Scott, ACS, 7-6
152 James Geffe, ACS, dec. Gage Graika, Val, 9-4
160 Jim Smith, Pet, p. Nick Shellabarger, Mt. E, 1:50
171 Max Shellabarger, Mt. E, dec. David Nolton, Kot, 4-2
189 Larry Nunn, Dil, dec. Jeremiah Davidson, Nen, 9-6
215 Jamie Hurlburt, Eie, maj. dec. Jon Nichols, Cor, 11-3
275 Collin Martens, Pet, dec. James Roberts, Kla, 6-5
103 Spencer Beckman, Cra, maj. dec. Jon Garrison, Wra, 14-5
112 Bryan Westfall, Cra, dec. Sonny Hoffman, Bet, 7-2
119 Jerry Hunt, Dil, dec. Justin Gumlickpuk, New St., 7-6
125 Ryan Edmunds, Gra, dec. Pete Kaiser, Bet, 7-6
130 Judah Allen, ACS, by forfeit, Glen Graham, Eie
135 Ed Garoutte, Kot, dec. Lucas Salzbrun, Bet
140 C.J. Foster, Kot, by forfeit, Cyle Webb, ACS
145 Glen Hansen, Kot, by forfeit, Robert Terzioski, Bar
152 Eric Edenshaw, Kot, dec. Ralph Angasan, Bris, 10-6
160 Kris Gee, Tok, dec. Coty Beck, Sew, 6-3
171 Jevon Chartier, Sel, dec. Adam Ellsworth, Bet, 7-2
189 Chance Collier, Sel, dec. William Prescott, Gle, 5-2
215 Reuban Hastings, New St., p. Joe Harding, Kot
275 Alex Hawkins, ACS, dec. Matthew Ashenfeller, Kak, 6-4
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