SoHi boys wrestlers to chase state title

The Soldotna girls and boys wrestling teams have had long strings of success this season.

Stars head coach Neldon Gardner has been around long enough to know that will mean little at the state tournament Friday and Saturday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

The Soldotna boys have a solid shot at the first state title in school history. The only meet the Stars haven’t won this season is the Houston Altercation, which took place on the same day the Soldotna football team was losing the Division II state football final to Lathrop.

The Stars rolled to a dominant championship in the Northern Lights Conference tournament and have five wrestlers with the top seed going into the Division I tournament.

Gardner, who has said he will retire from head coaching after the state tournament after 40 years of coaching on the central peninsula, said there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I was an assistant in 1988 when Soldotna took second,” Gardner said. “That year we won every tournament except for the state tournament.”

Gardner went on to win four state titles at Skyview. He has a keen sense of just how hard they are to win.

The coach said South, Colony and Lathrop are contenders for the Division I crown. If everything goes the way it is supposed to, Gardner said the Stars would beat South by 20 points. But Gardner is quick to point out that a first-place finisher gets his team around 30 points at state, while a second gets about 25.

So losing one wrestler could mean everything.

“We hope things go our way,” Gardner said. “We’re still dealing with some sickness. We’ve got a few kids under the weather. The snow day didn’t help and we’ve still got the weigh-in and skin check. If everyone makes weight, we’re 90 percent healthy and we don’t have any injuries, it should be a really good weekend for us.”

Gardner said the same thing goes for the girls squad. Gardner said Lathrop is in the driver’s seat for the Division I title, but the Stars will be in a battle with North Pole for second. Gardner said it would be huge for the building girls program to finish second and earn the trophy that comes with it.

The SoHi coach chose not to focus on individuals, saying SoHi’s season has been a team effort. But a few stand out.

Trinity Donovan, the top seed at 145, is looking to become the third girl in Alaska to finish her career with four state titles. Donovan is undefeated this season after also finishing undefeated as a sophomore and junior.

Liam Babitt, the top seed at 215, also is undefeated this season. He is looking to add an undefeated state title as a senior to undefeated state titles as a sophomore and junior.

Senior Hunter Richardson also is undefeated at 189 and the top seed there. He won a state title last year.

Also earning top seeds for the Stars are Ezekiel Miller at 125, Scott Michael at 140 and Issac Chavarria at 152.

Other seeded wrestlers for the SoHi boys are Jacob Strausbaugh (112) and Hunter Bras (135) at No. 2, Michael Dickinson (130), Trevor Michael (145) and Logan Katzenberger (285) at No. 3, and Samuel Strouse (103) and Logan Duyck (160) at No. 5.

Also seeded for the Soldotna girls are Daisy Hannevold (138) at No. 2, Kaytlin McAnelly (132) at No. 4, and Jessica Leclair (107), Angelina Chavarria (114) and Alyssa McDonald (165) at No. 5.

The Stars also can expect support from central peninsula programs Nikiski and Kenai Central. Nikiski coach Kaden Spurgeon said Pete and Tanya Dickinson have done so much for the wrestling community by opening the All American Training Center just outside of Soldotna.

“We’re all rooting for Soldotna and Pete Dickinson,” Spurgeon said. “He’s just been awesome whenever I’ve needed to get kids into a wrestling room and haven’t been able to.”

Kenai Central coach Jason Chavarria, whose son Issac and daughter Angeline wrestle for Soldotna, said the Dickinsons deserve credit for that facility, but credit goes beyond that. He said people like Kurt Strausbaugh have given so much to the Soldotna Whalers, and young coaches Logan Parks, Sage Castillo and Aaron Gordon have given area wrestling a shot in the arm.

He said Issac and Kenai 152-pounder Andrew Gaethle, the top seed at Division II, are prime examples.

“Pete and Neldon have always been there, but if it wasn’t for those three young guys, my son and Andrew wouldn’t be wrestling like they are,” Chavarria said.

Also seeded for the Kenai boys are Jaxson Young (103) and Reymond Perez (140) at No. 3, Owen Whicker (135) at No. 4 and Daniel Steffensen (130) at No. 5. For the Kenai girls, Jenna Yeoman (165) earned a No. 3 seed, but is injured and will not be able to wrestle.

“I’m hoping to get five kids in the finals,” Chavarria said.

Gaethle was in the finals last year and lost. Chavarria, who is in his second year at Kenai and has not yet had an individual champ, said Gaethle is a big reason Chavarria took the job. Gaethle’s improvement this year has him favored for the title.

Chavarria also said Sarai Bravo-Moe has the potential to make the finals, even though she is unseeded at 126.

Nikiski has just three seeded wrestlers in Mayaac Schmit (285) at No. 3, and Frank St. Denis (145) and Tim Goodnight (189) at No. 6.

The Bulldogs showed they are wrestling far better than that, with the boys taking second in the tough Kachemak Conference last weekend.

“I was super pleased with that,” Spurgeon said. “We went in with no expectations and had 10 boys and three girls qualify for state. It’s pretty awesome we finished in second place.”

Nikiski had three champions at the conference tourney, Schmit, Sam Yerkes (160) and Robert Isabel (215). Yerkes and Isabel aren’t even seeded at state. Spurgeon said Yerkes has been fighting injury, while Isabel has been wrestling tough competition.

“Being unseeded is not necessarily a bad thing at the state tournament,” Spurgeon said. “It takes you off of people’s radar.”

Paisley Maxwell (107) also is unseeded, but Spurgeon said she is an incredible athlete with a lot of raw ability and could do big things this weekend.

For the Homer girls, Saoirse Cook (126) and Roane Cook (185) have top seeds. For the boys, Russell Nyvall (140) is No. 2 and Paul Minke (130) is No. 6.

For the Seward boys, Aiden Schilling (112) and Hunter Forshee (119) have the top seeds, while Tommy Jarnig (103) is No. 6.

Peninsula state wrestling qualifiers

Homer — Russell Nyvall (140), Heather Shae (107), Cecilia Fitzpatrick (114), Saoirse Cook (126), Roane Cook (185), Brayden Woods (160), Paul Minke (130).

Kenai Central — Keagan Stanley (130), Owen Whicker (135), Reymond Perez (140), Antonio Perez (145), Delen Byrd (145), Andrew Gaethle (152), Sarai Bravo-Moe (126), Jalyn Yeoman (132), Elisha Beans (145), Jenna Yeoman (165), Jaxson Young (103), Daniel Steffensen (130).

Nikiski — Johnny Ralston (171), Paisley Maxwell (107), Oceanna Broussard (138), Destiny Langston (235), Wyatt Maguire (125), Frank St. Denis (145), Niles Broussard (145), Sam Yerkes (160), Jackson Wittmer (171), Jakeup Martin (171), Tim Goodnight (189), Mayaac Schmit (285), Robert Isabel (215).

Seward — Aidan Schilling (112), Anthony Smith (130), Francisco Sanchez (215), Tommy Jarnig (103), Hunter Forshee (119).

Soldotna — Jace Guilliam (103), Keeley Moore (100), Megan Whittom (107), Taylor Whittom (114), Kellyn Hansen (120), Erin Bell (152), Alyssa McDonald (165), Liam Peck (152), Edgar Land (160), Hunter Richardson (189), Samuel Strouse (103), Samuel Henry (103), Jacob Strausbaugh (112), Mason Bock (119), Ryan Buchanan (119), Tustin Keller (119), Ezekiel Miller (125), Michael Dickinson (130), Hunter Bras (135), Jessica Leclair (107), Angelina Chavarria (114), Kaytlin McAnelly (132), Daisy Hannevold (138), Trinity Donovan (145), Scott Michael (140), Trevor Michael (145), Issac Chavarria (152), Logan Duyck (160), Collin Peck (171), Liam Babitt (215), Logan Katzenberger (285), Kenai Lepule (285), Kevin Steger (285).

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