The Soldotna wrestling team had a total of 12 individual champions as the Stars swept the girls and boys team titles Saturday at the Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament at Kenai Central High School.
Soldotna head coach Neldon Gardner said his program is experiencing an unprecedented surge in numbers.
Gardner is in his 40th year coaching wrestling on the central Kenai Peninsula. He said his previous high in a wrestling room in his career was 40 boys and two girls at now-closed Skyview High School. This year the Stars have 45 boys and 12 girls in the room.
“We have kind of started to build back up to where we always wanted to be,” Gardner said. “It’s been a group effort through a vast number of coaches and adults that have pushed wrestling in the community.
“So we’re reaping the reward of many years of pushing it at the junior high and elementary level.”
Gardner said another big part of the growth of wrestling not just at Soldotna, but in the sport in general, has been girls wrestling.
“We have 11 or 12 girls on the team,” Gardner said. “We’re graduating one senior, and we’re looking at six or seven more girls in the room next year, so 18 girls in the room next year.
“I used to be happy if I got 18 boys in the same year.”
The Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament is held in honor of Luke Spruill, a 1995 Kenai Central graduate who died in a fishing accident in Bristol Bay in 2004. Spruill won two state titles at Kenai Central, then recovered from a car accident before wrestling with the powerhouse Iowa wrestling program, and returning home to share the head coaching job at Kenai Central.
This was the first time there was a girls team award at the Spruill Memorial. The tournament has always given a Luke Spruill Award to wrestlers who best exemplify the traits that made Spruill special.
For the first time, the Spruill Award went to both a boy and a girl. Homer’s Saoirse Cook got the girls award for winning at 138 pounds, while Soldotna’s Isaac Chavarria got the boys award for winning at 152.
The Stars received first-place finishes from Samuel Strouse at 103, Jacob Strausbaugh at 112, Michael Dickinson at 135, Hunter Bras at 140, Nicholas Rackley at 145, Bowen Korth at 160, Collin Peck at 171, Hunter Richardson at 189, Liam Peck at 152A, Jessica Leclair at 114 girls and Trinity Donovan at 152 girls.
“Isaac was just phenomenal, but it was not just Isaac, it was a whole team effort,” Gardner said. “When I look at every match, as a coach you’re always looking for things to improve. I can think of three matches out of 50 or 60 matches that maybe we should have won that we didn’t.”
Kenai received titles from Keagan Stanley at 130 and Sarai Bravo-Moe at 126 girls.
Kardinals coach Jason Chavarria also said his numbers are up, with eight girls and 25 boys. Chavarria said Bravo-Moe stood out to him with her performance, and Stanley, just a freshman, surprised with his win at 130.
“Our first-time wrestlers, and I have quite a few, they all pushed through and showed up,” Chavarria said. “By the end of the tournament, some of them were just full-on wrestlers. They were doing everything I was saying and it was beautiful.”
Nikiski received titles from Robert Isabel at 215, Mayaac Schmit at 285 and Jakeup Martin at 171A. Homer got wins from Saoirse Cook as well as Roane Cook at 185 girls. Hunter Forshee-Kurtz picked up a title for Seward at 125.
Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament
Saturday at Kenai Central
Team scores: 1. Soldotna, 294.5; 2. Kenai, 141.5; 3. Nikiski, 122; 4. Homer, 65; 5. Seward, 57; 6. Anchorage Christian Schools, 30.
114 — 1. Jessica Leclair, Sol; 2. Taylor Whittom, Sol; 3. Paisley Maxwell, Nik; 4. Kellyn Hansen, Sol; 5. Megan Whittom, Sol; 126 — 1. Sarai Bravo-Moe, Ken; 2. Cecilia Fitzpatrick, Hom; 3. Chloe Lastimosa, Sew; 138 — 1. Saoirse Cook, Hom; 2. Daisy Hannevold, Sol; 3. Kaytlin McAnelly, Sol; 4. Jalyn Yeoman, Ken; 5. Isabella Asi, Ken; 152 — 1. Trinity Donovan, Sol; 2. Erin Bell, Sol; 3. Elisha Beans, Ken; 185 — 1. Roane Cook, Hom; 2. Jenna Yeoman, Ken.
103 — 1. Samuel Strouse, Sol; 2. Tommy Jarnig, Sew; 3. Jace Guilliam, Sol; 112 — 1. Jacob Strausbaugh, Sol; 2. Aidan Schilling, Sew; 125 — 1. Hunter Forshee-Kurtz, Sew; 2. Ryan Buchanan, Sol; 3. Thayne Quiner, Nik; 130 — 1. Keagan Stanley, Ken; 2. Anthony Smith, Sew; 3. Paul Minke, Hom; 4. Alejandro Sanchez, Sew; 5. Wyatt Maguire, Nik; 6. Iver Gates, Sew; 7. Ethan Piscoya, Sol; 135 — 1. Michael Dickinson, Sol; 2. Owen Whicker, Ken; 3. Daniel Steffensen, Ken; 4. Cayden McNeill-Huff, Sol; 140 — 1. Hunter Bras, Sol; 2. Reymond Perez, Ken; 3. Antonio Perez, Ken; 145 — 1. Nicholas Rackley, Sol; 2. Delen Byrd, Ken; 3. Ryatt Weed, Sol; 4. Drew Carter, ACS; 5. Macallen Marion, Ken; 6. Jude Lindberg, ACS; 7. Ryan Johnson, Ken; 8. Gage Bradford, Sew; 152 — 1. Isaac Chavarria, Sol; 2. Andrew Gaethle, Ken; 3. Cameron Cook, Ken; 4. Frank St. Denis, Nik; 5. Jake Thacker, ACS; 6. Bryce Jolicoeur, Ken; 160 — Bower Korth, Sol; 2. Edgar Land, Sol; 3. Dallas Walker, Sol; 4. Sam Yerkes, Nik; 5. Brayden Woods, Hom; 6. Liam Boyd, Sol; 7. Ryan Earhart, ACS; 8. Davis Deese, Ken; 171 — 1. Collin Peck, Sol; 2. Jaykob Kemp, Sol; 3. Jackson Wittmer, Nik; 4. Blaine Smith, ACS; 5. Daniel Shane Taylor, Ken; 189 — 1. Hunter Richardson, Sol; 2. Stephen Scott, ACS; 3. Zane Wight, Sol; 215 — 1. Robert Isabel, Nik; 2. Elias Brantley, Sol; 3. Ryan Yeager, Ken; 4. Adam Anglebrandt, Ken; 285 — 1. Mayaac Schmit, Nik; 2. Logan Katzenberger, Sol; 3. Kevin Steger, Sol; 4. Francisco Sanchez, Sew; 152A — 1. Liam Peck, Sol; 2. Niles Broussard, Nik; 3. Atlas Parnell Ruark, Ken; 4. Hunter Neal, Nik; 5. Chase Johnson, Ken; 6. Mesha Bidnyy, Sew; 171A — 1. Jakeup Martin, Nik; 2. Johnny Ralston, Nik; 3. Jayden Rodgers-Whipple, Ken; 4. William Larow, Sew;