Kenai Central junior Andrew Gaethle won the Luke Spruill Outstanding Wrestler award, while Soldotna won the team title, Saturday at the Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament at Kenai Central High School.
The tournament is held in honor of Luke Spruill, who graduated Kenai Central as a two-time state champion and was killed in a Bristol Bay fishing accident at the age of 27.
Head coaches vote for a wrestler that shows dedication, sportsmanship, coachability, kindness, leadership and tenacity in honor of Spruill.
Gaethle, who won the title Saturday at 152 pounds, said he was honored to get the award.
“I just didn’t expect it,” Gaethle said. “It came out of nowhere.”
Gaethle said he had learned about Spruill from Stan Steffensen, who coached Gaethle in middle school and freshman year of high school.
“I think about it a lot. I think about what Luke did, and just how he just kept pushing through and just kept working and his work paid off,” Gaethle said. “Hopefully, my work will pay off.”
Gaethle said his best finish at state so far is fifth, but he is aiming for the title this season.
Jason Chavarria, Kenai’s first-year head coach, said Gaethle is putting in the work it takes to be a champion.
“He’s our hardest worker by far,” Chavarria said of Gaethle. “Andrew’s greatest strength is his joy, his heart, his love for wrestling.
“He’s really not out to be a winner. He’s out to be a better wrestler, 100% of the time. Win or lose, he just wants to be better.”
Soldotna coach Neldon Gardner actually coached against Spruill when Gardner was head coach at Skyview High School, which has since closed. Gardner said one of his wrestlers, Mike Wheat, defeated Spruill in the region finals, but Spruill came back and won state.
“I’m glad they’re still doing this,” Gardner said of the tourney to honor Spruill. “He was a force to be reckoned with, No. 1. But he was a super good athlete, respectful and just loved the sport.”
The Stars scored 141.5 points to win the team title, while Kenai was second with 117, Homer was fourth with 60 and Seward was seventh with 22.
Soldotna received championships from Jacob Strausbaugh at 112, Ezekiel Miller at 125, Collin Peck at 160, Hunter Richardson at 189A, Liam Babitt at 215, Jessica Leclair at 103 girls and Trinity Donovan at 145 girls.
“Today was all about getting mat time and experience,” Gardner said. “The win is great. I tell the kids, you never step out to lose.”
After just finishing a rare spring season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gardner said the Stars have improved due to the freshmen brought into the program. As always, he said grades, illness and injury will spell how successful this team can be.
Gardner also is looking forward to the boost of getting wrestlers back from the football program.
“As a team, I’ll say I didn’t have anybody that I saw quit out there,” he said. “I told them sometimes you’ll meet a guy that’s better than you, but the worst thing you can do is quit.”
Gardner said the best example is Logan Duyck, who was down big to Homer’s Russell Nyvall before pinning Nyvall at 145. Duyck ended up second at 145, while Nyvall was third.
The Kardinals received titles from Talon Whicker at 135A, Cameron Cook at 145, Gaethle at 152 and Jenna Yeoman at 160 girls.
Chavarria has three kids wrestling for Soldotna, but when Kenai really needed a wrestling coach heading into this season and longtime friend Shane Lopez agreed to be an assistant, Chavarria stepped up and took the job.
“I’ve been coaching MMA and jiujitsu for 14 years,” Chavarria said. “I’ve trained and been with Olympic champions and UFC champions.
“I’ve been around the best, and I’m just bringing what I experienced here. I’m giving them a taste of what greatness can be. And they felt that today. A lot of them won matches and did really good against people they didn’t think they would do good against.”
Chavarria said the first-year wrestlers were particularly impressive.
Finally, Chavarria thanked Gardner for the advice on how to run a program, and the many people it took to make the tournament run smoothly.
Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament
Saturday at Kenai Central
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 141.5; 2. Kenai Central, 117; 3. Barrow, 63; 4. Homer, 60; 5. Anchorage Christian Schools, 49; 6. Bristol Bay, 38; 7. Seward, 22.
112 — 1. Jacob Strausbaugh, Sol; 2. Hunter Kurtz, Sew; 3. Tustin Keller, Sol; 4. Aiden Schilling, Sew; 5. Simon Willets, Sol.
125 — 1. Ezekiel Miller, Sol; 2. Ryan Buchanan, Sol; 3. Paul Minke, Hom; 4. Gunner Froese, Hom; 5. Alex Van Meter, Hom.
135A — 1. Talon Whicker, Ken; 2. Owen Whicker, Ken; 3. Antonio Perez, Ken; 4. Briar Reaktenwalt, Sol.
135B — 1. Tristan Burgraff, BB; 2. Elijah Dambacher, Ken; 3. Donald Adams, Bar; 4. Delen Byrd, Ken.
145 — 1. Cameron Cook, Ken; 2. Logan Duyck, Sol; 3. Russell Nyvall, Hom; 4. Cassius Miller, Sol; 5. Kyler Rexford, Bar.
152 — 1. Andrew Gaethle, Ken; 2. Edgar Land, Sol; 3. Reymond Perez, Ken; 4. Liam Boyd, Sol; 5. Pete Hill, BB; 6. Tate Stewart, Sol.
160 — 1. Collin Peck, Sol; 2. Brayden Woods, Hom; 3. Josh Delmolin, Bar; 4. Jake Thacker, ACS; 5. Noah Bottass, ACS.
189A — 1. Hunter Richardson, Sol; 2. Stephen Scott, ACS; 3. Nestor Kalugin, Hom; 4. Morgan Stark, Ken.
189B — 1. Blaine Smith, ACS; 2. Logan Counts, Hom; 3. Dakari Robinson, Ken; 4. Sasita Unutoa, Bar.
215 — 1. Liam Babitt, Sol; 2. Ryan Randall, ACS; 3. Benjamin Kaui, Bar; 4. Taliauli Uhila, Bar; 5. Adgel Chandler, Hom.
285 — 1. Uatahouse Tuifua, Bar; 2. Nicholas Liomaiava, Bar; 3. Norman Lilomaiava, Bar; 4. Tyler Lands, Sew; 5. John Vanbuskirk, Sew; 6. Jack Gardner, Sew.
103G — 1. Jessica Leclair, Sol.
119G — 1. Bella Young, BB.
145G — 1. Trinity Donovan, Sol; 2. Daisy Hannevold, Sol; 3. Jalyn Yeoman, Ken; 4. Sarai Bravo-Moe, Ken; 5. Righteous Gosehe, Bar; 6. Rainey Sundheim, Hom.
160G — 1. Jenna Yeoman, Ken; 2. Erin Bell, Sol; 3. Simone Watts, Ken.