The Nikiski wrestling team broke out the mats and the lone spotlight Tuesday night for a dual meet at home with Kenai Central. The Kardinals slipped away with the meet victory, beating the Bulldogs 54-24 with nine victories, although four came via forfeit. Nikiski picked up four match wins but three came from forfeit.
Each weight class final was held under the bright spotlight in the Nikiski gym, which drowns out all other commotion in the gym as the focus is centered squarely on the action.
The spotlight is typically only brought out for wrestling meets, including the last time the Kachemak Conference championships were held there in 2012, and competitors have raved about it.
“It makes it special,” said Kenai head coach Stan Steffensen. “It’s unique, it has that novelty that most people don’t get to experience.”
Kenai broke out early in the dual by winning the first eight matches to ease their way to the title. Steffensen pointed to several Kardinal grapplers that helped shift points to Kenai’s side, including freshman Andrew Gaethle, who was able work Nikiski’s Jaryn Zoda into a pin late in the third round.
Zoda entered the night 16-4 in competition this season, and Gaethle had gone 0-3 against Zoda prior to Tuesday, so his victory was a welcome sight, Steffensen said.
“He’s getting right up in there,” Steffensen said. “He’s up there with the guys on the podium.”
Also picking up a big win was junior Tucker Vann, who had to contend with Nikiski junior Koleman McCaughey. The two rivals and friends entered the night with winning records — Vann was 4-0 this year while McCaughey came in 16-4. The two waged a tight battle until McCaughey was forced to bow out with an injury, handing the six points to Vann.
Kenai also got wins from freshman Zack Rodman at 103 pounds, freshman Owen Whicker at 119 and sophomore Isaiah Ticknor at 135. Nikiski got forfeit points from three matches, but one victory on the mat from junior Caileb Payne at 189 pounds. Payne was able to ambush Kenai freshman Isaac Denbrock in a pin in the first round.
Dual at Nikiski
103 — Zack Rodman, Ken, pin 2:31 Carlos Rodriguez, Nik; 112 — Talon Whicker, Ken, win by forf; 119 – Owen Whicker, Ken, pin 1:50 Joey Yourkowski, Nik; 125 — Rey Perez, Ken, win by forf; 130 — Andrew Gaethle, Ken, pin 5:47 Jaryn Zoda, Nik; 135 — Isaiah Ticknor, Ken, pin 3:13 Yorik Bastuck, Nik; 140 — Brady Bostic, Nik, win by forf; 145 — double forf; 152 — Mason Payne, Nik, win by forf; 160 — Pedro Souza, Nik, win by forf; 171 — Tucker Vann, Ken, inj. forf. Koleman McCaughey, Nik; 189 — Caileb Payne, Nik, pin 1:13 Isaac Denbrock, Ken; 215 — Julian Yakunin, Ken, win by forf; 285 — Branch Keller, Ken, win by forf.