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Colony wrestlers eye title

Area coaches say Knights should repeat

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2007

They might as well already engrave the trophy, fork it over and place it in the school's trophy case.

Following a dominant and equally impressive 501-point performance at the Northern Lights Conference wrestling tournament last weekend, Colony has virtually claimed back-to-back 4A state team titles before the tournament even begins today at Chugiak High School.

"Colony to me is definitely in the driver's seat. They would basically have to crash and burn to not repeat as a state tournament (title) team," said Skyview coach Neldon Gardner. "They have 25 kids going to state. It's not just that they have got the numbers ... Colony's kids are tough kids all the way around ... from top to bottom they've got good kids.

"It's one of the premier programs I've seen in the last 15 to 20 years."

Boasting five region champions and eight second-place finishers, the Knights traditionally divided their team throughout the season, sending a group to one tournament while the other traveled somewhere else.

Kenai coach David Boyle said when he finally saw Colony's full squad for the first time at regions, he was more than impressed.

"It was the first time we've seen the entire team together and it was something to see," he said. "Colony is going to run away with it. That is an impressive juggernaut of a team."

If any local team has a remote prayer of competing for a top five finish, it's the Panthers, who are sending 11 grapplers to the big dance one year after taking only five.

And out of those five, former state champion Michaela Hutchison was the lone point scorer, finishing fourth.

"On the really good sign of the coin, if you went from top to bottom and those 11 kids went and nine out of 11 of them had their best tournament and did their best they have all year ... if they have the best two days of the year, we could place as high as top five or even higher possibly," Gardner explained. "But it's going to take that kind of an effort for us to do that. Of course on the other hand, if we don't, we'll be in the bottom five, like we did last year."

Chances are, though, that's not going to happen.

Out of his 11 contenders, Gardner is hoping to have five or six standing on the podium Saturday, led by senior Eddie Buffington (189), the second-ranked wrestler on akmat.org who Gardner believes has a solid chance of reaching the top.

"Eddie should be in the finals. If he wrestles to his potential, I don't think there's a person in his weight class at the state tournament that can beat him," he said of his lone region champ. "He's our No. 1 kid, obviously."

Also possessing the talent to win a crown is Hutchison (119), ranked fifth after finishing third at the NLC tourney.

Having already captured a state title as a sophomore, the first female in the country to ever do so against male opponents, and a second-place finish as a freshman, Hutchison certainly has the experience necessary to win.

"She's not that far away from the top three or four other kids," he said. "She's going to come out as hard and as well as she can. She knows it's her last chance to make that final statement."

After her, Gardner believes the rest of his wrestlers can all compete for a medal.

Bryce Wilson (103), Monica Hutchison (103), Daniel Maciariello (119), Alex Janorschke (130), Jared Thomas (140), Freddie Pollard (152), Patrick Sheridan (171), Kenny Mahan (189) and Adam Byrne (215) will all be trying to earn points in hopes of leading the Panthers to a solid finish.

"If we're in the top 10, I'm going to walk away saying that's a major improvement from last year," Gardner said. "If I get five or six kids to medal, that will be a really good thing and if we get anything higher than that, that's awesome."

Soldotna, while probably not contending for the team title, has at least three wrestlers who will be competing for state crowns.

Second-ranked senior Wes Mills (135), who's been to state the previous three years, his highest finish being fourth, is a solid bet despite owning a 1-2 mark against the top-ranked grappler, Chugiak's Grant Sullivan, who lost to Mills in their most recent meeting at the West Invitational.

"They've been close matches that I think he's got it figured out especially since the most recent one he won," said SoHi coach Bill Carlson.

The heavyweight finals could be a matchup of two Stars, second-ranked sophomore Nathan Strieby and top-ranked senior Les Baker, whose only loss this season came against his teammate.

"Baker doesn't have too much competition as far as opponents of his caliber," Carlson said, adding Baker placed third at state last season. "I don't know anyone who can compete with him."

Except for maybe Strieby.

"He's a better wrestler than the way he performed. He's far better than how he performed," he said of Strieby's fifth-place showing at regions. "We've worked hard this week on resolving a couple things that happened in that match."

Also eyeing a championship is Strieby's older brother, Matthew (215), a senior who placed second at regions and is currently ranked fourth in the state.

"Matthew is probably the one that would have the closest matches in order to make state (finals)," Carlson said. "He's going to not have to make mistakes like he did at regions which allowed him to take second ... mistakes that cost him the match. If he can be mistake-free, I think he could take state."

Other Stars hoping to contend for the top prize include four-time state qualifier Steven Burlison (145), who Carlson said has a better chance this year than ever before, junior Ryan Hanley (145), whose first competition of the season came at regions, and junior Jesse Carlson (160).

"His goal is to become a state participant and he's reached that goal. Now I think he just wants to open up and feel comfortable wrestling the way he can wrestle in the room. He tends to do far better when not under pressure," Carlson said of his son. "If he can allow himself to wrestle the way he can wrestle instead of getting defensive, he's a superoffensive wrestler,"

Homer's also looking at a pair, or possibly even three, state champions.

Four-year qualifier and region champion Tris Brymer (152) can beat anybody in his class, according to Mariners coach Mike Illg.

"I told him all he has to do is win four matches and he's done. That's all it takes," he said. "It starts with a conversation."

Third-ranked junior Ben Daigle (125), who placed fifth last season, fourth-ranked Robby Brymer (140) and Tom Appelhanz (135) also have solid opportunities at attaining gold.

Also competing for Homer is Eric Weinfurter, who finished sixth at the NLC Tourney.

"Robby, he has a good chance, too," Illg said. "I'm not trying to take anything away from him or Eric, but if I were to gamble, I'd go with Ben, Tris or Tom. But Robby, he can really beat anybody he wrestles, too.

"Once they seed you and wherever you are, one match at a time. It doesn't matter who you're going to see in the semis or who you're going to see in the finals, it's just one match at a time," he added. "You've got to wrestle each match like it's the state finals, not to take anybody lightly."

Kenai is bringing seven grapplers to the tournament, more than they have the past two seasons.

"We'd have to have some upsets to get there but it is plausible," Boyle said of making the finals. "I'm certainly hoping a few will place if they wrestle well."

He said their best chance at placing could be junior Chris Osbekoff (119), who at regions broke the Kenai Central record for most pins in a season with 24.

"Every weekend he seems to get stronger and stronger," Boyle said, adding Halyn Lipps (HVY) and Cody Booth (145) could also place high. "(Booth's) right in there with the state's best. He hung with the best there. It's a possibility if he wrestles well, sure."

Also competing for the Kardinals is Quintun Pribbenow (112), John Hughes (125), Jaron Dambacher (171) and Kyle Rogers (171).

"Alaska wrestling is phenomenal," Illg said. "You never know. Anything can happen."

Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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