As former Kenai wrestler Jacob Anderson was stepping onto the mat for the 182-pound final in July with a national championship on the line, he sure didn’t expect it to be for a Roman-Greco crown.
But that’s where he found himself at the USA Wrestling Marines Junior National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, held July 13 to 19.
Anderson, 18, finished second at 182 pounds to record the best finish for an Alaska male wrestler in 13 years. The most recent Alaska finalist at the annual Fargo tournament was Skyview’s Eli Hutchison in 2006, and Hutchison finished his career as the winningest Alaska high school wrestler in state history.
After eight total matches over two days, Anderson lost the 182-pound Greco title 10-0 on a technical fall to New Jersey’s Christopher Foca, but it was the freestyle final that he thought he’d find himself in.
“Freestyle is my favorite,” Anderson said. “I actually don’t like Greco at all. It’s all about big throws. I made it to the national finals without throwing a single person.
“It was a joke with the whole team.”
The Junior National tournament features the best grapplers from around the nation, and “Fargo,” as it is simply known by many, challenges prep wrestlers to bring out their A-game.
“Fargo is like ‘the’ tournament for any high school kid,” Anderson explained. “It’s like the biggest, baddest tournament for any high school kid. It’s just all elite, blue-chip dudes on full rides to Division I programs.”
“It was an awesome thing.”
Anderson’s journey to Fargo began on the Kenai Peninsula. The son of Amy West and Shawn Anderson grew up in Nikiski and wrestled for Kenai Central for two years under coach Stan Steffensen. Anderson started wrestling on the local club scene at age 6 for Nikiski Freestyle before moving on to the Kenai Kaveman and Soldotna Whalers.
Anderson moved to Anchorage with his dad in August 2017, where he graduated from South Anchorage High School this spring.
Anderson’s resume already speaks for itself — a triple-crown winner in Alaska club wrestling for the Alaska Avalanche and a three time All-American (a top eight college placement) competing at Division II McKendree University (Lebanon, Illinois).
McKendree is currently ranked No. 3 in the country, further making Anderson’s case for his level of talent.
Soldotna head coach Neldon Gardner, who coached Hutchison at Skyview, never directly coached Anderson but watched his prep career on the peninsula blossom.
“From what I know, his work ethic was very focused,” Gardner said. “He just had this extreme work ethic.”
As a high school coach for Anderson before he moved to Anchorage, Steffensen said the Kenai grappler was young and raw, but foreshadowed loads of talent.
“Watching him in middle school, he was just a kid that worked hard and was fun to watch wrestle,” Steffensen said. “He was always right there competing with everybody.”
As as a sophomore, Anderson recorded his highest finish at state as a Kardinal in sixth place at 135 pounds. Steffensen said he knew then Anderson could contend for a state title.
“When you’re a sophomore placing at state tournament, that is exciting,” he said. “That’s fun. Definitely, as a coach, I sure enjoyed working with Jacob. If you can get that kid to come to your school, that’d make you smile.”
At South Anchorage, Anderson was a two-time region champion, winning crowns at 160 and 171 pounds, and his best state finish was a Division I runner-up his senior year at 171 pounds.
Last year, Anderson won a Western States freestyle championship in 170 pounds at Pocatello, Idaho.
A biology major at McKendree, Anderson also excels on the academic side, having earned scholarships and a Pell Grant. Anderson’s journey to wrestle Division II started with an Alaska wrestling legend that has deep ties to the peninsula.
“The (McKendree) assistant coach was married to Michaela Hutchison,” Anderson said, referring to the 2008 Skyview High graduate who became the first girl to win a state wrestling championship competing against boys in 2006.
In talking to Sam Schmitz, Hutchison’s husband, Anderson said he made a positive impact on the program. It paved the path to him earning a spot on the team.
“I love wrestling, and I was definitely using that as a tool to get myself a good education,” he said.
McKendree’s wrestling season begins Nov. 9 with a meet at Maryville University in Missouri, but the season never ends for Anderson, who dedicates his life to the sport.
“I definitely feel like I’m going to do great things here,” he said. “I’ve got good upperclassmen that I get to roll around with, and they’re high caliber wrestlers that I can feed off of. Wrestling is a real ‘iron sharpens iron’ sport.”
Anderson also gave thanks to Alaska coaches Randy Hanson of South High School and Wesley Bockert of Team Alaska’s wrestling program, crediting those influences along with Steffensen for helping him reach the final in Fargo.
“It was a huge deal for me, and I’m really proud to represent the team,” Anderson said. “I think it gives the next generation of kids something to look forward to, that if you work hard enough and train, and stick to your dreams, you can make it that far.”