Kenai Central’s Owen Whicker and Soldotna’s Ezekiel Miller wrestle at Kenai Central High School on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central’s Owen Whicker and Soldotna’s Ezekiel Miller wrestle at Kenai Central High School on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

SoHi hunts for state wrestling title

Every half point mattered for the Soldotna wrestling team Friday and Saturday at the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Kodiak High School.

That is expected to remain the case as the Stars chase the first Division I wrestling title in school history Friday and Saturday at the state wrestling tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

“If we keep our team and don’t lose anybody, we’d need one or two kids to place who are not ranked and we could win it or take second quite easily,” Soldotna head coach Neldon Gardner said of the state title. “It’ll be a real barnburner.”

As of late November, Colony had staked it claim as the clear favorite to take a third-straight Division I crown.

At the Lancer Smith Memorial tourney in Wasilla on Nov. 20, Colony won with 255.5 points, while Lathrop, South and Soldotna were bunched right behind with 198.5, 197.5 and 194.5 points, respectively.

At the NLC tourney, Gardner said the Knights were without one of their top five wrestlers. That wrestler also will miss state That was one factor in tightening things considerably, with Colony taking the title with 351.5 points and SoHi finishing second at 351.

Gardner, in his 39th year coaching wrestling at area schools and the owner of four state titles at since-closed Skyview High School, said the competition is so close between the top four teams that every last little thing will matter.

The girls wrestle in a separate state tournament, but including girls, SoHi will take 25 wrestlers to state.

“We could be taking 20 kids to state like when we were at Skyview winning titles,” Gardner said. “Colony is the team to beat, but we’re looking good and feeling good.”

Teams have to get to Anchorage healthy, including passing all COVID-19 testing this week. Then wrestlers must make weight. Then there is everything that can happen in a wrestling tournament — injuries, upsets, and fortunate or unlucky draws.

“Our kids that are seeded — I truly think they will wrestle well,” Gardner said. “We probably have four or five that aren’t seeded but are right on the edge.

“They’re going to be the difference between us placing first, second, third or fourth.”

The Stars are led by Trinity Donovan at 145 girls, Wayne Mellon at 171 and Liam Babitt at 215. Donovan, a junior, is undefeated and chasing her third state title. Babitt, a junior, also is undefeated and is looking for his second state title. Mellon, a senior, also is undefeated and is looking for his first state title.

Others seeded for the Stars are Jacob Strausbaugh in second at 103, Ezekiel Miller in third at 125, Trevor Michael in third at 135, Saiyan Baker in sixth at 140, Isaac Chavarria in second at 145, Scott Michael in third at 152, Hunter Richardson in second at 189 and Daisy Hannevold in fifth at 135 girls.

Gardner said unseeded wrestlers like Tustin Keller at 103, Hunter Bras at 135, Cassius Miller at 140, Logan Duyck at 145, Eddie Land at 152, Collin Peck at 160 and Joe Whittom at 189 will also play a huge role in where the Stars place.

The coach also gave a lot of credit to his large coaching staff and to the All American Training Center for providing a free space to practice.

At the Division II state tournament, Kenai Peninsula schools Kenai Central, Nikiski, Homer and Seward don’t have the depth to make a charge at the team title, but all have seeded wrestlers ready to make some noise in the brackets.

Kenai Central head coach Jason Chavarria said his team is feeling good after qualifying 10 of the 13 wrestlers at the Kachemak Conference tourney for state.

Seeded for the Kardinals are Talon Whicker in first at 125, Owen Whicker in third at 130, Andrew Gaethle in second at 152 and Simone Watts in fifth at 160 girls.

Chavarria said he would love for those wrestlers to make a run at state titles, but he said coming together as a team also is important.

“I want wrestlers to put points on the board,” Chavarria said. “That was one of the great things at the conference tournament, they realized their wins are counting toward team points. They’re realizing being on a wrestling team actually means being on a team.”

In the girls tournament, Chavarria said Watts has everything it takes to be a champion. The coach also said to watch out for unseeded Jalyn Yeoman at 135.

“I hope we have some wrestlers that come out state champs, but more than anything I want to be a testimony to our school and conference. I want people to see Kenai’s back on the map and putting up points.”

Nikiski head coach Dylan Hooper also is very happy with the way his squad wrestled at the Kachemak tourney. The Bulldogs put four in the finals, won two titles, and eight of the 10 boys wrestlers qualified for state.

Hooper said Nikiski’s three girls wrestlers all were in their first year and really turned it on at the tournament. While one girl graduates, Hooper said he is looking forward to seeing what the other two can do in the future.

Coming off a big Kachemak title at 171, senior Simon Grenier is seeded first. Four of the six seeds at 171 are from the Kachemak Conference.

Freshman Wyatt Maguire is seeded fifth at 119, while sophomore Mayaac Schmit is fifth at 285. Hooper said it is impressive for a young wrestler to get a seed at an upper weight class.

Junior Tim Goodnight, sophomores Sam Yerkes, Truit McCaughey and Robert Isabel, and freshman Jackson Wittmer also will wrestle at state.

“I’m super excited about the future of our program,” Hooper said. “The young kids all have great attitudes and they’re excited to be competing.”

Homer will bring six wrestlers to state, including three seeded wrestlers. Russell Nyvall is seeded third at 145, Nestor Kalugin is seeded third at 171 and Mischelle Wells is seeded fifth at 235 girls.

Seward will bring seven wrestlers to state, including two seeded wrestlers. Aiden Schilling is the top seed at 103, while Hunter Kurtz is fourth at 112.

Peninsula state wrestling qualifiers by school

Homer — Brayden Woods, 160 pounds; Mischelle Woods, girls 235; Nestor Kalugin, 171; Paul Minke, 125; Rainey Sundheim, girls 145; Russell Nyvall, 145.

Kenai Central — Andrew Gaethle, 152; Antonio Perez, 135; Elijah Dambacher, 140; Jalyn Yeoman, girls 135; Morgan Stark, 189; Owen Whicker, 130; Reymond Perez, 145; Sarai Bravo-Moe, girls 130; Simone Watts, girls 160; Talon Whicker, 125; Zoticus Active, 189.

Nikiski — Jackson Wittmer, 160; Mayaac Schmit, 285; Robert Isabel, 215; Sam Yerkes, 145; Simon Grenier, 171; Tim Goodnight, 189; Truit McCaughey, 171; Wyatt Maguire, 119.

Seward — Aiden Schilling, 103; Fayzon Lawrence, 171; Hunter Kurtz, 112; Jack Gardner, 215; John Vanbuskirk, 285; Porter Rockwell, 119; Tyler Lands, 285.

Soldotna — Blaze Michael, 119; Cassius Miller, 140; Collin Peck, 160; Daisy Hannevold, girls 135; Edgar Land, 152; Erin Bell, girls 145; Ezekiel Miller, 125; Hunter Bras, 135; Hunter Richardson, 189; Isaac Chavarria, 145; Jacob Strausbaugh, 103; Jessica Leclair, girls 103; Joe Whittom, 189; Kenai Lepule, 285; Liam Babitt, 215; Logan Duyck, 145; Nicholas Rackley, 130; Ryan Buchanan, 112; Saiyan Baker, 140; Scott Michael, 152; Trevor Michael, 135; Trinity Donovan, girls 145; Tustin Keller, 103; Wayne Mellon, 171.

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