A trio of Peninsula athletes claimed a Class 1-2-3A state wrestling crown under the glare of the spotlight in the Bartlett High School gym Saturday night, but all three came to earn the championship under vastly different circumstances.
The Nikiski Bulldogs earned two state titles on the boys side, while the Homer Mariners nabbed one on the girls side — for the first time ever.
Kotzebue ended a two-year span of finishing second to rival Bethel by winning the Class 1-2-3A team championship in dominant fashion, scoring 224.5 points that topped the 190 that runner-up Bethel notched. Houston finished third with 132.5 points, while Nikiski took fourth with 121.5. Homer grabbed eighth with 69 points.
For the first time ever, a separate girls state wrestling tournament was held in conjunction with the boys.
Homer had both of its female entrants face off for a state title Saturday — first-year grappler Alex Moseley in the 98-pound final and four-year veteran Heather Harrington in the 220-pound final. Ultimately, Harrington walked away victorious to become one of eight trailblazing girls champions.
“It kind of felt, phenomenal, I guess,” Harrington said matter-of-factly. “Most girls don’t have the courage to go out there and do what we do, and seeing all the girls in the locker room getting weighed in, it feels amazing.”
Harrington secured the state title with a pin of Buckland’s Gillian Foxglove with just two seconds remaining in the first round.
“One of my coaches told me, it’s not nerves, it’s adrenaline,” Harrington said about the prematch jitters. “It’s not so scary when you put it like that.”
Homer coach Chris Perk said that for so many years, girls like Harrington and Moseley were somewhat on the “outskirts of the sport.”
“Looking at (Harrington), she’s been smiling all weekend,” Perk said. “She just feels like the sport has accepted her now.”
On the boys side, Nikiski junior Nathan Carstens, following in the footsteps of his father, Dan, claimed the 160-pound title with a dramatic late rally over Ketchikan’s T. McBurnette, clinching the match with a takedown with seven seconds left to score a 9-8 win.
Dan Carstens never won a state championship in high school, but found success later in college, winning a 177-pound national title while wrestling at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Washington, in 1995. Carstens said watching his son win Saturday night was special, and added that when he won his college belt, he came back from a 6-2 deficit to do so, while Nathan came back from 6-1 heading into the third period.
“Winning one myself was special, but it’s even better watching your own son do it,” the elder Carstens said.
Nathan — who ended the season with a 32-3 record — said trying to match his father with a wrestling title gave him plenty of motivation, as well as knowing that his grandparents were also watching the match from the stands, but seeing teammates Tyler Handley and TJ Cox each come up just short of a championship earlier in the evening fueled him as well.
“This is the proudest moment I’ve ever felt,” Carstens said. “Watching my other teammates wrestle motivated me to get the win, and I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach, but as soon as you step on the mat, they go away.”
After scoring the crucial two points on a takedown, Nathan said the last seven seconds “felt like an hour.”
“It felt so awesome when I got that,” Carstens said. “I just had to hold him there for those last seconds.”
Nikiski coach Adam Anders said even while Carstens was trailing, he never lost hope.
“I know Nathan, I know what he’s capable of doing,” Anders said. “We saw him begin to chip away at the lead and claw his way back. You can’t help but get excited.”
After Carstens, it wasn’t long before junior Luke Johnson got the chance to claim his second state high school title, this time doing so in the 220-pound class.
Unlike last year’s 195-pound final, however, which was over in under a minute, Saturday’s final went the distance, but Johnson still dominated en route to a 9-1 victory over Kotzebue’s Stephen Hyatt.
“It feels great,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a testament to the coaches, we have great coaches. The athletes produce from all their teaching.”
The win also clinched a second consecutive undefeated season for Johnson, who finished 2014 up with a pristine 27-0 mark.
After grabbing a 2-0 lead after the first round, Johnson extended it to 5-0 after two rounds, getting a pair of takedowns. The only moment of hesitation that Johnson showed nearly cost him points, as an early hiccup in the second round allowed Hyatt to get an advantage over Johnson on the edge of the mat, but the referee called both competitors out of bounds before Hyatt could get a takedown.
“I was just trying to work stuff out, but he was pretty strong on the bottom,” Johnson said. “I was trying to get him to do something so I didn’t have to wait for him to make a mistake. Just trying to apply the pressure.”
Johnson also had motivation elsewhere. Two years ago as a freshman, Johnson lost the 195-pound state title to his older brother, Lincoln. Since then, Luke has flourished on the mat, using an aggressive and hard-hitting style to capture victories. Johnson said that he still talks with Lincoln — who currently plays college football — and receives worthy advice from him.
“I learned a lot (against Lincoln in 2012), he was my sparring partner that year,” Luke said. “It kind of woke me up, like if I could compete with him, a two-time state champion, I could compete with anyone.”
Anders said Johnson has shown an “unusual level of maturity for someone his age.”
“Every time Luke steps onto the mat, you know this kid is going to be mentally prepared,” Anders said. “I don’t know what to tell him because he’s always ready.”
The Bulldogs had two other grapplers compete for state titles Saturday, as TJ Cox and Tyler Handley worked their way into their respective weight class finals, but both fell short in valiant efforts.
Cox used an escape to tie his match up at one point apiece just 25 seconds into the third and final round in the 120-pound final, which ultimately sent the match into a one-minute overtime period. However, it only took Bethel’s Gage Hoffman 17 seconds to score a takedown and secure the victory.
“He wrestled a really solid match,” Anders said. “He’s super dedicated to this sport, so it was a hard loss because I know how bad he wanted it and worked for it.”
In the 152-pound final, Handley scored the opening point with an escape in the second round, but Spencer Woods of Kotzebue answered with a takedown early in the third round that propelled him to the title. Handley ended the season with a 28-8 mark.
“He doesn’t have anything to hang his head about,” Anders said. “He’s a great kid, can’t ask anymore out of him.”
For Cox, Handley and Carstens, it was their first time ever competing in a state championship final.
Anders also mentioned that Jon McCormick put on an impressive tournament Friday, only to be sorted into the 195-pound consolation bracket with a semifinal loss to eventual champion Nate Fousel of Ketchikan.
“They left it all out there, we did everything we’ve asked of them,” Anders said. “That’s all we can ask for.”
Voznesenka’s Gavril Kalugin also scored points over the weekend, finishing fourth after losing to eventual champ Emery Booshu of Nome in the semifinals. Kalugin lost the third-place match to Hunter Boyer of Thunder Mountain 5-1.
Seward’s only points came from Matthew Morris in the 170-pound class. Morris ended up going 2-2 over the weekend, including a first-round pin over Voznesenka’s Michael Kusnetsov.
Soldotna loses in 5th-place dual
The Soldotna wrestling team lost to North Pole 57-22 in the fifth-place dual of the Alaska 4A Dual Meet Championships on Saturday at South High in Anchorage.
The Stars started out the tournament by topping Chugiak 39-34 in a dual, but then fell to Service 63-16.
Soldotna got back on track by topping West Valley 51-12, then moved to the fifth-place dual with a 41-36 victory over Kodiak.
For the Stars, Austin Craig went 5-0 wrestling at 113 and Seth Hutchison went 5-0 wrestling at 120 and 126.
Ryan Winter also went 4-1 for Soldotna at 132.
ASAA First National Bank Alaska Class 1-2-3A State Wrestling Championships
Friday, Saturday at Bartlett
Team scores – 1) Kotzebue, 224.5; 2) Bethel, 190; 3) Houston, 132.5; 4) Nikiski, 121.5; 5) Dillingham, 119.5; 6) Nome, 84.5; 7) Wrangell, 71; 8) Homer, 69; 9) Craig, 48; 10) New Stuyahok, 42; 11) Valdez, 41; 12) ACS, 40.5; 13) Mt. Edgecumbe, 36; 14) Petersburg, 35.5; 15) Sitka, 35; 16) Hoonah, 34; 17) Thorne Bay, 33; 18) Holy Rosary, 26; 19) Su Valley, 24; 20) Glennallen, 23.5; 21) Barrow, 21; 22) Metlakatla, 17; 23) (tie) Grace Christian and Hydaburg, 16; 25) Voznesenka, 15; 26) (tie) Hutchison, Napaskiak, Unalaska, 12; 29) Cordova, 11.5; 30) (tie) Galena, Shaktoolik, 10; 32) (tie) Haines and Pilot Station, 9; 34) Seward, 7; 35) Quinahagak, 6; 36) Unalakleet, 5; 37) (tie) Chevak, Eielson; 39) Newhalen, 2; 40) (tie) Akiachak, Monroe, Sand Point, Scammon Bay, 1
98 pounds – Johanna Bell (Scammon Bay High School) won by fall over Alex Moseley (Homer) (Fall 1:05)
106 – Moira Sheldon (Kotzebue High School) won by decision over Alisa Heller (Wrangle Wolves) (Dec 8-2)
120 – Kelly O`Brien (Bethel High School) won by decision over Madison Hadley (Kotzebue High School) (Dec 8-3)
132 – Brittany Woods-Orrison (Mt. Edgecumbe High School) won by tech fall over Pamela Beans (Mt. Edgecumbe High School) (TF-1.5 4:48 (17-0))
145 – Sydnee Kimber (Mt. Edgecumbe High School) won by fall over Angela Peacock (Kotzebue High School) (Fall 3:24)
160 – Kanesha Lie (Mt. Edgecumbe) won by fall over Shaylynn Ticket (Selawik) (Fall 1:03)
182 – Lyric Wiggins (Mt. Edgecumbe High School) won by fall over Agatha Andrews (Mt. Edgecumbe High School) (Fall 3:54)
220 – Heather Harrington (Homer) won by fall over Gillian Foxglove (Buckland) (Fall 1:59)
98 – (semifinal) Alex Moseley (Homer) won by fall over Royale Lowe (Mt. Edgecumbe) (Fall 1:17)
106 –Temyka Ayuluk (Chefornak) won by decision over Shyan Horner (Houston High School) (Dec 4-0)
120 – Hayley Akerelrea (Scammon Bay) won by fall over Caitlin Konahok (Mt. Edgecumbe) (Fall 1:54)
126 – Cynthia Kruger (Galena Hawks) won by fall over Amber Wade (Bethel) (Fall 4:05)
145 – Britnee Mills (Noatak) won by fall over Elishah Naneng (Bethel High School) (Fall 2:38)
160 – Melaine Chapman (Mt. Edgecumbe) won by fall over Laura Ramoth (Selawik) (Fall 1:00)
182 – (semifinal) Agatha Andrews (Mt. Edgecumbe) won by forfeit over Rachel Phillip (Emmonak) (For.)
220 – Ariel Akerlund (Mt. Edgecumbe) won by decision over Evelyn Evans (Mt. Edgecumbe) (Dec 10-5)
98 – Thomas Dyment (Bethel) won by decision over Curt Bartlett (Sitka) (Dec 6-4)
106 – Tristen Evan (Bethel High School) won by decision over Sean Tavares (Ketchikan High School) (Dec 11-4)
113 – Gavin Maslen (Kotzebue High School) won by decision over Jacob McAnulty (Houston High School) (Dec 7-3)
120 – Gage Hoffman (Bethel High School) won in sudden victory over TJ Cox (Nikiski High School) (SV-1 3-1)
126 – Kenneth Savo (Dillingham High School) won by decision over Brandon Evans (Bethel High School) (Dec 7-4)
132 – Michael Lucas (Holy Rosary Academy) won by decision over Cody Greene (Valdez High School) (Dec 8-2)
138 – Marcus Martin (Ketchikan High School) won by decision over Leif Erikson (Nome High School) (Dec 6-3)
145 – Emery Booshu (Nome High School) won by decision over Gary Eakin (Kotzebue High School) (Dec 11-4)
152 – Spencer Woods (Kotzebue High School) won by decision over Tylor Handley (Nikiski High School) (Dec 4-1)
160 – Nathan Carstens (Nikiski High School) won by decision over T McBurnette (Ketchikan High School) (Dec 9-8)
170 – Zach Haviland (Kotzebue High School) won by fall over Luther Jenson (Thorne Bay High School) (Fall 5:21)
182 – Josh Roetman (Kotzebue High School) won by fall over Oliver Hoogendorn (Nome High School) (Fall 1:11)
195 – Nate Fousel (Ketchikan High School) won by decision over Drew Nanouk (Kotzebue High School) (Dec 9-3)
220 – Luke Johnson (Nikiski High School) won by major decision over Stephen Hyatt (Kotzebue High School) (MD 9-1)
285 – Paul Johanson (Mt. Edgecumbe High School) won by fall over Marshall Pinard (Susitna Valley High School) (Fall 3:07)
98 – Orion Heller (Wrangell) won by fall over Mathew Hunter (Bethel) (Fall 4:34)
106 – Jared Virgin (Glennallen) won by major decision over Kavan Weinberger (Houston) (MD 9-0)
113 – Buddy Stalmach (Petersburg) won by decision over Ian Jenson (Wrangell) (Dec 8-5)
120 – Shannon LeMay (Anchorage Christian School) won by decision over Jared Brant (Homer) (Dec 5-0)
126 – Manny Budke (Hoonah) won by fall over Aaron Drake (Houston) (Fall 2:41)
132 – Aaron Olsen (Bethel) won in sudden victory – 1 over Colton Sieh (Kotzebue) (SV-1 3-1)
138 – Timmy Woo (Homer) won by decision over Scott Williams (Napaskiak) (Dec 7-2)
145 – Hunter Boyer (Thunder Mountain) won in tie breaker – 1 over Gavril Kalugin (Voznesenka) (TB-1 5-1)
152 – Wyatt Patten (Craig) won in tie breaker – 1 over William Ware (Petersburg) (TB-1 8-5)
160 –Cole Schlagel (Dillingham) won by decision over Tristen Cook (Homer) (Dec 5-3)
170 – Patrick Francisco (Bethel) won by major decision over Arrin Paul (Houston) (MD 14-2)
182 – Jeffrey Rooney Jr. (Wrangell) won by major decision over Cody Weldon (Juneau-Douglas) (MD 9-0)
195 – Caleb Nay (Dillingham) won by medical forfeit over John McCormick (Nikiski) (M. For.)
220 – Kendel Beasley (Houston) won in sudden victory – 1 over Tua Mila (Barrow) (SV-1 5-3)