Heading into this weekend’s Alaska Class 4A high school state wrestling championships, Kenai Central senior Ellery Steffensen has a chance to accomplish a rarity in sports today — complete a perfect season. For the second time.
Steffensen, the No. 1 seed in the 152-pound weight class heading into today’s first-round qualifying session, capped his sophomore season two years ago off with a perfect record. After falling just short in last year’s 145-pound state final, Steffensen returns as a senior with the intent of reclaiming his spot at the top of the mountain.
“He plans on winning it,” said Kenai coach Stan Steffensen. “I think he plans on pinning them all.”
Soldotna junior Seth Hutchison also has a chance at etching his name onto a rare list. Hutchison, winner of two previous state titles at the small-schools level as a former Skyview competitor, will be gunning for his first championship at the Class 4A level. The list of wrestlers that have won at least three state titles currently stands at 30. Hutchison could become the 31st this weekend.
He will also be attempting to stay on track with family history. Older brother Eli Hutchison remains only one of eight wrestlers in the state to have ever completed a clean four-year sweep of state titles.
“He’s got a tough (weight) class to get through,” said Soldotna coach Neldon Gardner. “But he’s seeded No. 1 so I know he can do it.”
Hutchison and Steffensen are two of a few headlining acts for the Stars and Kards this weekend. The tournament begins today at 9 a.m. at Chugiak High School with weigh-ins. The first session of preliminaries begins at 10 a.m, with championship semifinals at 6 p.m.
Saturday also features a full day of competition, with consolation matches in the morning, fifth-place and third-place matches at 2:30 p.m., and state championship finals at 5:15 p.m.
Ellery Steffensen captured Outstanding Wrestler honors at last week’s region meet, and currently holds a 33-0 record heading into the tournament. According to coach Steffensen, Ellery has lost only two matches ever on Alaska soil since his first days competing in club wrestling. With a calendar year that has sometimes totaled close to 100 matches, Ellery is pretty much a stranger to losing.
But Stan says in addition to wrestling success, his son is a humble competitor who also writes song lyrics, plays guitar, plays the organ at church, and all while maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average in school.
“He is so busy, but it’s only a piece of his life,” Stan said. “He’s just a teenager doing lots of things.”
Coach Steffensen said Dylan Carter also has a strong shot at a state title. Carter is seeded second in the 170-pound division. Steffensen said that weight class is extremely tough, but he thinks Carter is up to the task.
Amazingly, Ellery isn’t even the only one in his family to post a perfect season. Steffensen’s younger brother Paul, a sophomore, also completed an undefeated run last year, capping his freshman campaign off with a state title at the 126-pound level. Paul lost a close bout this year to South’s Rami Pellumbi at the North/South tournament in December, breaking his undefeated run in the state.
‘I’ve never really talked to (Paul) much about it,” Stan said. “Paul just looks at winning every match. If he’s feeling pretty good, watch out.”
Paul is ranked No. 3 in his weight class (145 pounds) entering the weekend.
Hutchison, who also hails from a family rich in wrestling domination, is the most recent of a long line of Hutchisons to have won state wrestling titles. Older brothers Eli and Zeb and sister Michaela have a combined seven state titles between the three of them, and with his fourth championship in 2006, Eli finished undefeated in his high school career.
Even with that type of success hanging over him, coach Gardner said Hutchison is a competitor that looks only at the next match ahead of him.
“I don’t think he’s doing it to match his brother’s record,” Gardner said. “I know that’s the ultimate goal of any freshman boy that wins state their first year, they want to win all four. But he’s a competitor, so he wants to win another state title, period. He hates to lose, but he’s a good sport about it.”
Hutchison and SoHi teammate Austin Craig, a senior in the 113-pound division, are both seeded No. 1 for the state tourney. It gives the Stars a solid chance to claim their first individual champion in four years. SoHi’s most recent wrestling state champion was Auston Tennis in 2011.
“We’ve got a few good guys that can win state, so we’ll see what happens (Friday) and go from there,” Gardner said.
A total of 20 Peninsula wrestlers will be representing either Kenai or Soldotna at the meet — 12 from SoHi and eight from Kenai.
Soldotna senior Ryan Winter (132 pounds), who is seeded fourth in the 132-pound division, also holds a solid shot at making the final day at state, while Bailey Blumentritt (160 pounds) is seeded fourth and Sage Hill (195) is seeded sixth.
Logan Schrader (138), Talon Musgrave (145), Eli Damon (152), Hunter Bourgeois (160), James Gallagher (195) and Taylor Macrae (220) and Dalton Best (285) fill out the remainder of the Soldotna statebound roster.
Also for the Kardinals, Zach Koziczkowski enters the weekend as the fifth seed at 285 pounds, and Matt Vandermartin (138 pounds) and Keyshawn McEnerny (145) are both seeded sixth in their respective weight classes.
Natalie Chavez and Tyler Vaughn, both competing at 106 pounds, fill out the remaining two spots for Kenai.