The number four in high school sports can often hold a higher meaning to student athletes.
For those gifted enough to be able to succeed right away as young freshman — the kind of athletes that waste no time in establishing their ownership of even the most experienced upperclassmen — the number four means four years of grasping a first-place trophy and not letting go.
High school wrestling in Alaska has seen its share of four-year dynasties come and go throughout the years, but perhaps none stand out as much as the Hutchison family of Soldotna. With a combined 10 state titles scattered between Zeb (two), Eli (four), Michaela (one) and Seth (three), the Hutchisons have piled up the accolades at a remarkable pace.
This weekend, Soldotna senior Seth Hutchison can become the ninth wrestler in state history — and the second in his family — to claim four straight state crowns Saturday at the Class 4A state tournament at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. It’s a list that includes older brother Eli, who accomplished the feat from 2003 to 2006.
SoHi coach Neldon Gardner has been there for every Hutchison triumph. As a coach (the only coach) at the now-closed Skyview High School, Gardner built a dynasty with help from the Hutchisons, helping guide 21 different kids to state championship glory. Gardner said Seth’s opportunity to join a very exclusive group Saturday carries a lot of weight, but it’s not immediately clear watching the confidence of the 126-pound senior.
“I’m excited for it, he’s excited for it, but I know it’s not a gimme,” Gardner said. “We’re going to work hard to go for it.”
Gary Steeby of Chugiak was the first one to reach the mark, completing the feat in 1974. Since then, seven others have equaled Steeby, continuing with West Valley’s Matt Matson in 1994, Wasilla’s Jed Wade in 2004, Skyview’s Eli Hutchison and West Valley’s David Wiese in 2006, Colony’s Hollan Gravely in 2007, East’s Nathan Hoffer in 2010 and East’s Matthew Malnoski in 2011.
Hutchison, last weekend’s 126-pound Northern Lights Conference champion — which was also his fourth straight — has proven to be mortal this year by accumulating a 39-2 record. His only two losses both came against the same grappler, South senior Greg Shack, who defeated Hutchison in a pair of 6-2 and 7-0 decisions at the Rumble Duals in late October. Luckily for Hutchison, Shack is competing at 132 pounds this weekend, so that is one hurdle he will not have to face.
Even without Shack in the picture, Hutchison will not face an easy battle. Last weekend at the Northern Lights Conference tournament, Hutchison scraped out a 5-4 decision over Wasilla’s Isaiah Elvsaas in the 126-pound final, a match in which he was forced to dig out from a 4-1 hole following the second round.
“He’s staying focused, but by no means is it a cakewalk,” Gardner said. “He had a real close battle in the region finals, so anything can happen in the state tournament.”
The action begins today at 10 a.m. at two separate locations. Class 1-2-3A preliminaries will be held at Bartlett, while Class 4A prelims will be at Chugiak. Friday night’s round of championship semifinals for all teams will be at Bartlett, as well as Saturday’s finals.
The Stars qualified 11 wrestlers to the state meet, which Gardner was happy with. Gardner said he was pleased to finish fourth in the team standings at the region meet, even after he received a small surprise from the Palmer Moose, which finished a distant third.
“Palmer surprised us with about 14 or 15 kids they got through (to the finals), and they wrestled a superb tournament,” Gardner said. “We had one young man at a middle weight that made state last year and missed out this year, so that was the only surprise for us.”
In addition to Hutchison, SoHi qualified freshmen Logan Craig (third place at the region meet) and Liam Sullivan (fifth place) at 98 pounds, freshman Gideon Hutchison (Seth’s region-champion brother) at 106 pounds, sophomore Bechler Metcalf (third place) at 145 pounds, junior Abraham VanHout (fourth place) at 152 pounds, senior Emmanuel VanHout (third place) at 160 pounds, junior Austin Schrader (third place) at 170 pounds, junior Paul Wilcox (third place) at 195 pounds, and senior Dalton Best (second place) at heavyweight.
The youngest Hutchison sibling, Gideon, will make his first attempt at a state crown, although he will have a steep hill to climb. Ranked third in the seasonlong polls on AKMat.org, Gideon will have to overcome Jacob Spencer of Lathrop and Spencer Martin of South, two opponents that Hutchison has combined to go 0-4 against this season, each of them tallying a pin and a major decision over the SoHi freshman.
Among the five wrestlers that qualified to state from Kenai Central, senior Zach Koziczkowski is the only one fresh off a championship at the NLC tournament. Koziczkowski pinned SoHi’s Dalton Best in the 285-pound final. Koziczkowski is riding an 18-1 record into state, a season in which his only loss came against Best. Koziczkowski is ranked third in the state, with Dimond’s Brandon Pili his only higher-up opposition that he hasn’t faced yet.
Joining Koziczkowski at the state tournament from Kenai is Jacob Anderson (fifth place at the region meet) at 126 pounds, Keyshawn McEnerney (third place) at 152 pounds, Byron Dunham (fifth place) at 160 pounds, and in the separate girls tournament, senior Natalie Chavez at 106 pounds. McEnerney — ranked sixth in the state — currently holds a 23-7 record in 2015, and is fresh off a third-place match victory over Abraham VanHout of SoHi at the NLC tourney last week.