As a site of many of Alaska’s greatest moments, both sporting and political, Seward is a natural site for the 2017 Kachemak Conference wrestling tournament.
From its heady Alaska Railroad days that connected the port town to the rest of Alaska’s major towns, to the annual extravaganza that is the historic Mt. Marathon mountain race, the relaxing maritime town of 2,700 is ready for a wrestling bash today and Saturday that will determine a total of 61 competitors — each of the 15 boys weight classes hold three automatic bids to state while the eight girls classes get two berths apiece — that will represent their schools at the season-ending state meet.
Seward co-coach Andrew Scrivo said the opportunity to host is a positive experience for the town.
“It’s definitely a neat opportunity for us to get a second home event,” Scrivo said, referring to the annual King of the Mountain tournament the Seahawks host. “We don’t have two home events ever.”
As host of the tournament, Scrivo said the Seahawks are putting in the work to make it a success, including the hiring of a professional photographer for athletes and their families to enjoy.
Scrivo said the event should be a success, considering the King of the Mountain tournament that Seward hosts on an annual basis typically draws more teams than the region tourney.
“It’s not even half the size of (King of the Mountain),” Scrivo said.
Ten teams will converge in Seward for this weekend’s meet, paling in comparison to the 19 that showed up for King of the Mountain in late October.
“It’s definitely less of an ordeal than hosting King of the Mountain,” Scrivo said.
As teams prepare for the weekend, there isn’t much doubt as to who the top dog is.
Last year, the Homer Mariners took home the team title by a whopping margin, scoring 311 points to runner-up Houston’s 144.5, thanks to nine individual champions, and Homer appears to be standing on the cusp of a third straight region crown, which would be a first in school history.
Mariners assistant coach Chris Perk has guided the team with help from Bubba Wells, who has taken over the official role of head coach this year. Perk wrote in an email that “the Mariners are firing on all cylinders” heading into the region tournament, which is bad news for other teams.
“Honestly the only team with numbers that could beat them is maybe Houston,” said Scrivo. “It comes down to being the bigger team, and I don’t think anybody can beat them.”
As team champions the past two years, Perk said the Mariners are looking for a three-peat.
“The team is looking to place as many as they can in the top (three) for boys and top (two) for girls,” Perk wrote.
Last year, the Mariners took 17 athletes to state, a robust number that ultimately helped them land a second-place finish at the season-ending tournament.
Perk and Scrivo both stressed the importance of stuffing as many competitors into the championship and third-place matches this weekend, as the top three wrestlers in each weight class gain access to state. Two additional at-large statewide berths will also be handed out in each weight class, with the announcements coming Monday, but Scrivo said it is much easier to do it the old-fashioned way.
“As far as the third- and fourth-place matches go, those will be the ones that are most important,” he said. “Our region is good enough, I think we’re going to get a couple of those berths.”
Six region champs from Homer return from last year, including junior Luciano Fasulo, who holds a phenomenal streak of 90 straight wins in Alaska without a loss, according to Perk. Fasulo is 40-0 this year at 132 pounds after completing a pristine 45-0 campaign at 126 pounds in 2016. Fasulo is the top-ranked wrestler in the Division II rankings at 132 pounds.
Should he complete another undefeated season, Fasulo has a chance to go unbeaten three years in a row as a senior in 2018.
Among other region champions looking to defend their crown this weekend, junior Wayne Newman comes in at 29-7 this year at 126 pounds, junior Seth Inama is 27-10 at 120 pounds, senior Tristen Cook is 25-6 at 182 pounds, senior Levi King is 26-2 at 195 pounds and senior Kyle Wells is 32-1 at 220 pounds.
Inama, Newman, Fasulo, King and Wells are all ranked first in the Kachemak Conference in their respective weight class, along with Chris Cudaback at 170 pounds. Cudaback, a senior, is 22-9 this year.
Homer sophomore Mose Hayes is 34-8 this year at the 138-pound class and enters the weekend ranked second in the region behind Dia Martishev of Voznesenka.
Perk said the girls on the team are looking for region glory. Alex Moseley at 120 pounds and McKenzie Cook at 145 pounds are both ranked first. Moseley enters the weekend 23-3 this year, while Cook is 17-15, and freshman Sadie Blake is the top seed at 113 pounds this weekend.
While Nikiski’s wrestling team took third last year, prevailing by the slimmest of margins with a half point over fourth-place Grace Christian, the Bulldogs were only able to take home one individual title.
Tyler Litke claimed Nikiski’s only region title last year at 220 pounds. Now a senior, Litke is currently ranked second among region wrestlers at 195 pounds with a season mark of 15-10.
Joining Litke in pursuit of a region championship is freshman Koleman McCaughey, who is currently the top-ranked wrestler among region competitors at 152 pounds with a 21-10 record this year.
Bulldogs senior Donovan Smith is currently unranked at 152 pounds, but enters the tourney with an 11-7 record.
On the girls team, senior Chloe Grogan brings a 13-6 record into the weekend at 160 pounds, and is currently ranked first among region competitors.
Back in Seward, Scrivo has once again teamed up with longtime Seward wrestling coach Ronn Hemstock this year, one season after the Seahawks finished sixth in the team standings. Last year at the region meet, Seward beat out Anchorage Christian by just 2 1/2 points in the team standings.
Scrivo praised the development of Seward’s freestyle wrestling program, Marathon, which has produced a stout freshman class this season.
Seward returns three of four state qualifiers last year, headlined by senior Cole Norcross at 120, who is 19-10 at the same weight, senior Simon Estes at 132, who is 5-2 at 152 pounds, and sophomore Jaden Van Dyke at 145.
Scrivo said Estes recently returned from an avulsion fracture to his pelvis, where the muscle ligament pulled off a piece of bone. Scrivo said while it was unfortunate to not have Estes competing for much of the season, it highlighted the immense strength of his core, which was undoubtedly strengthened this summer on a coast-to-coast bicycle ride from South Carolina to California.
“He literally rode 120 miles every day for six weeks,” Scrivo said. “I think we can be region champion this weekend, but it just takes time to get back into shape.
“As long as he can wrestle smartly, if he gets any opportunity to end a match early, he’ll take it.”
Unfortunately, Seward will be without one of its rising stars this weekend as freshman Collin Mullaly, who has burst onto the scene this year with an 18-2 record at 126 pounds, broke his humerus last week in practice.
Another Seward freshman, Clay Petersen at 98 pounds, took third at the ACS/Lime Solar tournament in November, and enters this weekend 12-7 on the year.
On the girls side, sophomore Rebekah Christianson has a strong chance of winning the 145-pound class, Scrivo said, and freshman Hana Cooney and sophomore Naomi Ifflander will be looking to do well.