After winning a pair of Northern Lights Conference wrestling titles on Saturday, Ellery and Paul Steffensen will now attempt to become one of the only pairs of brothers to win a state championship on the same day.
The tournament begins today at Bartlett High School in Anchorage with the qualifying rounds, consisting of preliminaries and championship quarterfinals, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The meet continues with semifinal rounds at 6 p.m.
The championship rounds for each weight class begin at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Johnson brothers from Nikiski High School squared off for the 195-pound state title in the Class 1-2-3A tournament in 2012, with senior Lincoln getting the win over freshman Luke, but luckily for the Steffensens, both are in a different weight class, so they won’t have to go through each other for it.
Skyview’s Eli and Michaela Hutchison both won a state title on the same day in 2006, as Michaela became the first girl to win a state title in boys wrestling.
The way they have been wrestling this year, there’s a strong chance the Steffensens will both get a state title. The brothers are a combined 40-0 this year in matches, and both are ranked first in their respective weight classes.
“Brothers are good for each other,” Kenai coach Stan Steffensen said. “At the end of the season, they’re enjoying wrestling each other in drills, and we’re looking pretty good.”
As a freshman who just celebrated his 15th birthday Saturday while standing at the top of the podium at the conference tournament, Paul isn’t fazed by the pressure. Of course, when you’re a six-time national champion, winning a region title seems a lot easier.
Stan mentioned that Paul has competed at Idaho State’s Holt Arena football field, which was used as the venue for the national championships. Twenty wrestling mats were put on the field, and under the lights, the pressure can easily get to any athlete.
“Those challenges happen to all those kids,” Steffensen said. “If you wrestle your best in any kind of environment, being that he’s won six national titles, I think sometimes that experience can really help.”
Paul and Ellery are not the only pair of brothers from Kenai that are competing at state. Brett and Tyler Brown also made the cut. Both finished fourth in their weight classes at the conference meet — Brett, a sophomore, at 182 pounds and Tyler, a senior, at 195.
“We’re excited about the Browns and us, it’ll be a pretty neat thing,” Steffensen said.
Kenai is bringing 10 wrestlers, while Soldotna qualified all three of the athletes that competed at the region meet last weekend.
Along with Tyler, two other Kenai seniors will be ending their high school careers this weekend — Dustin Everitt at 138 pounds and Mike Olson at 152.
The Kardinals will also be represented by Matt Vandermartin at 132 pounds (finished third at the conference tourney), Dylan Carter at 160 pounds (finished fourth), Kyle Hunter at 182 (finished second) and Zach Koziczkowski at 220 (finished third).
Stan said that while Carter is off the rankings list of top six wrestlers, he beat Cesar Guzman of East at the West Classic tournament in December. Guzman won the Cook Inlet Conference championship last week at 170 pounds.
The Soldotna Stars wrestling team is batting a thousand — SoHi coach Scooter Hackett took a total of three wrestlers to the conference meet last weekend, and all three of them made the cut for the state tournament.
Freshman Atom Skiba finished fourth in the 113-pound weight division, junior Hunter Bourgeois took fourth at the 152-pound division, and sophomore Dalton Best won his fifth-place match to qualify for state in the heavyweight division.
It also represents the debut of all three SoHi wrestlers, but for coach Hackett, the tournament will be the last he’ll see as a head coach at Soldotna.
Hackett said he decided to step down as head coach, in large part due to a leg injury he suffered last May at a wrestling tournament that has limited his ability to teach.
“I really just want to thank everybody,” Hackett said. “It’s hard for me to do everything I want to do. I still want to be part of the team though.”
Hackett said he would like to return next season as an assistant coach, hopefully under the guidance of longtime Skyview coach Neldon Gardner. The Soldotna head coaching position hasn’t been determined yet for next year, but Gardner would fit that slot easily, as Skyview will be closing its doors this spring, and Gardner brings nearly 30 years of coaching experience.
In an email, Hackett states that, “Bill Carlson invited me into his room six years ago. Bill was a huge part of my opportunity to be a head coach at SoHi. We’ve made a lot of great memories together. He’s always been good to me, and Bill, I will be forever grateful.”
In his fifth year as the SoHi head coach, Hackett said his expectations heading into this weekend’s state meet are the same as usual.
“I just want them to go out and wrestle their best match,” Hackett said. “We’re proud of them, and we’re excited about it. All of their goals were to make it to state, and they did it.”