Saturday night inside the packed Bartlett High gym, the Homer wrestling team celebrated an occasion almost 30 years in the making.
The Mariners captured the Class 1-2-3A state team championship to win their fourth state title in school history and first since 1986, piling up 212 points to capture the team championship. Perennial contender Bethel finished second with 168 points, while defending champions Kotzebue were third with 138.5 points.
The Mariners got individual championships from junior Timmy Woo and Levi King. Woo dominated the 152-pound final to win with an 11-7 decision over Wyatt Patten of Craig, while King locked up his title by forfeit. Homer freshman Wayne Newman made the 98-pound final but narrowly lost to Thomas Dyment of Bethel by a scant 10-9 decision, and junior Jared Brant finished second in the 132-pound final, losing by a 4-2 sudden death finish to Aaron Olsen of Bethel.
Additionally, Homer placed three female wrestlers in finals in the girls tournament. Ultimately, freshman McKenzie Cook took home the championship in the 145-pound class, beating Bethel’s Haley O’Brien by a 7-2 decision.
Homer senior Jadzia Martin and junior Heather Harrington also made it into their respective finals, but both lost. Martin lost a 5-1 decision in the 106-pound final, and Harrington was pinned in the 220-pound final.
Homer coach Chris Perk, a former Homer wrestler himself from 1989 to 1993, said the time invested to develop Homer’s grapplers before high school has finally paid off.
“It’s unbelievable,” Perk said proudly. “This was one of those years where the kids took on every challenge we gave them, and they performed it.”
One of the remarkable characteristics of the current Homer squad has been the ability to flip the script against an opponent after being beaten in a previous match.
Woo had beaten Patten by a single point at the ACS Invite earlier in the season, so Saturday’s four-point win felt even better. After falling behind 2-0 early due to a mistake, Woo gathered himself up and scored a pair of takedowns to lead 4-3 after one round.
“I knew I just had to score,” Woo said. “I gave him two points on a takedown, so i just had to win.”
Woo led 8-5 after two rounds and never looked back. The win left his 2015 season with a whopping 47 wins and only three losses.
“I was stalling a bit at the end, and I knew I could give him an escape and still win,” Woo said.
In the 120-pound third-place match, Homer freshman Luciano Fasulo rebounded from a semifinal loss to beat Glennallen junior Jared Virgin, an opponent that had beat Fasulo twice this year.
Perk said it was those kind of performances that brought the Mariners the big trophy.
“Everybody probably thought it was going to be another Bethel-Kotzebue year, and I’ll be honest, when we started the season, I thought we’d be the third-best team,” Perk said. “Then we just got going, we collected energy and collected momentum.”
After winning the ACS Invite over 42 other teams in early November, the Mariners then turned their attention to the state meet, which suddenly looked quite winnable.
However, with Bethel bringing a meet-high 21 athletes to Anchorage, compared to Kotzebue’s 13 and Homer’s 12, the odds looked to be in their favor.
Ultimately, of the 12 Homer boys that made the trip to state over the weekend, Homer had 10 place winners. Each wrestler that advanced his way into the top six of his respective weight class only brought additional points for the Mariners.
“We emphasized the quality (of the team),” Perk said. “We didn’t bring the quantity, but what we did bring was quality wrestling.”
JOHNSON, COX LEAD NIKISKI
Nikiski took fourth in the team standings with 108.5 points, led by individual crowns by seniors TJ Cox and Luke Johnson. Bulldog senior Nathan Carstens, the defending 160-pound state champion, lost the 170-pound final in a hotly-contested 5-2 decision that went to Spencer Woods of Kotzebue.
For Johnson, it was his third state championship, but the crown was made extra special with his family in attendance, including older brother Lincoln, a two-time state champion who beat Luke in the 195-pound finale at the 2012 Class 1-2-3A state tournament. Luke was just a freshman then, but that loss remains the most recent loss of his career and the only time he failed to win a state crown.
Since that victory over his younger brother in his senior season, Lincoln had never been back in Alaska to see Luke win a state title. Saturday was the first he witnessed that accomplishment in person.
“It’s huge to have him here,” Luke said about his brother. “It kind of serves as extra motivation.”
Luke won Saturday with a dominating 12-5 decision over Barrow’s Tua Mila, a match that exhausted Johnson to the point of collapse after the match. After regaining his breath and mopping up the abundant sweat on his brow, Johnson said that was the first time he failed to pin an opponent this year, after doing so the previous 19 times.
“I’m pretty tired, plus I had a shoulder injury from football season,” Johnson said. “That was my first six-minute match this year, so it was pretty intense.”
Getting that final victory in an unbeaten campaign as a senior was just the tip of the iceberg for Johnson. Saturday’s win ended Johnson’s wrestling career in Alaska where it began.
The patriarch of the family, Tim Johnson, has seen his two sons notch win after win on the wrestling mat and the football field over the years, and Tim recounted watching four-year-old Luke compete in the state freestyle wrestling championships in the very same Bartlett gym in 2002.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said an emotional Tim Johnson. “This really ties it all together, and it’s neat to see him close it out here.”
As his career was coming full circle Saturday, Luke marked the final time stepping on the mat by kneeling before the match in a short prayer, then pointing to the ceiling in celebration after he won.
“It makes me proud to see him,” Lincoln said. “I beat him my senior year, when he was a freshman, and now to see him matured and gotten better is worth it.”
Nikiski coach Adam Anders said the hard work that Johnson put in over the years has paid off in spades, and as his coach, Anders recognized the fruits of his labor.
“He’s been doing it forever, so I’m happy for him,” Anders said. “I know it’s important to him to get that third state title.”
In the 120-pound final, Cox won his first state title of his high school career in a big way, handing Kotzebue senior Gavin Maslen his first loss of the year with a tight 6-5 victory in the 120-pound final, and leaving Maslen with a 28-1 season record and his first loss in over two years.
The victory proved to be popular for Cox, as he was mobbed by friends, family and coaches after the win. Even Anders, who typically displays a reserved attitude, was excitedly jumping up and down as the seconds were winding down.
“I could feel him wearing out, and he was getting tired,” Cox said. “This just feels amazing.”
Anders praised Cox for his work ethic, adding that Cox’s ability to not be rattled against bigger competition went a long way in determining the outcome.
“I knew TJ could do it, and I couldn’t be happier for him,” Anders said.
Team scores: 1. Homer, 212; 2. Bethel, 168; 3. Kotzebue, 138.5; 4. Nikiski, 108.5; 5. Glennallen, 95; 6. Houston, 87; 7. Sitka, 80.5; 8. Nome, 70.5; 9. Grace, 66.5; 10. Wrangell, 64.5; 11. Barrow, 61; 12. Craig, 60; 13. Mt. Edgecumbe, 57; 14. Dillingham, 56; 15. Eielson, 55; 16. Metlakatla, 50; 17. New Stuyahok, 44.5; 18. Unalaska, 34; 19. Seward, Galena 29; 21. Aniak, 28; 22. Petersburg, 27; 23. ACS, Valdez, 24; 25. Hutchison, 21; 26. Haines, Holy Rosary, Su-Valley, 20; 29. Thorne Bay, 16; 30. Bristol Bay, 15; 31. Voznesenka, 14; 32. Hydaburg, 13; 32. Quinhagak, 13; 34. Hoonah, 12; 35. Shaktoolik, 10; 36. Cordova, Kuskokwim, Monroe Catholic, 7; 39. Redington Sr., 4; 40. Scammon Bay, 3.
98 — Dymet, Bet, dec. Newman, Hom, 10-9; 106 — Bartlett, Sit, dec. Blunka Jr., NS, 6-4; 113 — Evan, Bet, p. Gagner, Sit, 2:32; 120 — Cox, Nik, dec. Maslen, Kot, 6-5; 126 — Hoffman, Bet, dec. LeMay, ACS, 6-4; 132 — Olsen, Bet, SV-1 Brant, Hom, 4-2; 138 — Bockman, Gra, dec. Greene, Val, 5-2; 145 — Erikson, Nom, dec. Lucas, HR, 9-3; 152 — Woo, Hom, dec. Patten, Cra, 11-7; 160 — Horner, Nom, dec. Eakin, Kot, 4-1; 170 — Woods, Kot, dec. Carstens, Nik, 5-2; 182 — White, Gle, dec. Armstrong, Wra, 11-6; 195 — King, Hom, won by forfeit over Leisholmn, Met; 220 — Lincecum, Hou, dec. Rhodes, Gle, 10-9; 285 — Johnson, Nik, dec. Mila, Bar, 12-5.
98 — Barratt, WR, p. Phelps, BB, 2:36; 106 — Gust, NS, p. Hoffman, Bet, 1:58; 113 — St. Andre, Eie, dec. Savo, Dill, 6-3; 120 — Fasulo, Hom, dec. Virgin, Gle, 6-2; 126 — Stone, Eie, dec. House, Hou, 6-1; 132 — Dunlap, Eie, dec. Sleh, Kot, 4-2; 138 — Miller-Hickerson, Kot, p. Roberts, ME, 1:31; 145 — Kinney, Hou, m.d. Sumauang, Sit, 12-1; 152 — Gerlach, Gle, dec. Durr, Hai, 7-0; 160 — Croft, Hom, p. Tripple, TB, 4:00; 170 — Cook, Hom, dec. Henning, Una, 7-0; 182 — Wells, Hom, dec. Pekar, Bet, 6-4; 195 — Goeden, Sit, p. Tui’fua, Bar, 4-2; 220 — Atos, Bar, p. Lliaban, ME, 4:51; 285 — Pinard, SuV, p. Blandov, Met, 2:47.
98 — Kusnetsov, Voz, p. Evatt, NB, 3:00; 106 — Allain, Bet, t.f. Turner, Hutc, 5:00; 113 — DeBilt, Quin, p. Smith, Bet, 0:27; 120 — Stelmach, PE, dec. Paniptchuk, SK, 7-6; 126 — Bucaneg, Unak, s.v. Pearche, Huth, 5-3; 132 — Budke, HN, dec. Marker, CR, 7-1; 138 — Gardiner, Dill, dec. Martin, Gra, 10-7; 145 — Rios, Hom, dec. Eakin, Kot, 6-5; 152 — Ward, Aniak, dec. Dunaway, Dill, 3-1; 160 — Young, Gra, dec. Martin, Gra, 5-1; 170 — Peele, Hyd, won by injury default over Freitas, ME; 182 — Ritter, Hou, dec. Edenshaw, Kot, 4-2; 195 — Barrett, Hou, dec. Clark, Mon, 8-3; 220 — Wilson, Aniak, p. Mann, Hom, 1:00; 285 — Sam, Gal, p. Schutter, Sew, 2:18.
Grand champ matches
106 — Fowlkes, NP, dec. Martin, Hom, 5-1; 113 — Christopher, NS, won by injury default over Fabricante, Kod; 120 — Sheldon, Kot, dec. Eakin, Kot, 15-8; 132 — O’Brien, Bet, dec. Nicholai, Hou, 8-2; 145 — Cook, Hom, dec. O’Brien, Bet, 7-2; 160 — Kimber, ME, m.d. Suemai, Nom, 12-1; 182 — Andrews, ME, m.d. Hingsbergen, Sel, 16-6; 220 — Magnuson, ME, p. Harrington, Hom, 3:45.
Grand qualifying matches
106 — Fowlkes, NP, p. Warner, Was, 1:46; 113 — Christopher, NS, p. Castillo, ME, 1:31; 120 — Eakin, Kot, p. Sampson, 1:49; 132 — Nicholai, Hou, won by injury default over Akerelrea, ME; 145 — Cook, Hom, p. Peacock, Kot, 5:39; 160 — Suemai, Nom, p. Rio, Hom, 0:41; 182 — Andrews, ME, dec. Wuya, Bet, 6-4; 220 — Harrington, Hom, p. Foxglove, Buck, 1:48.
Third-place matches (to determine who makes top-three Grand wrestle-off)
106 — Warner, Was, dec. Chavez, Ken, 5-0; 113 — Castillo, ME, m.d. Moseley, Hom, 12-4; 120 — Sampson, WLK, p. Newtun, Yak, 2:06; 132 — Akerelrea, ME, dec. Knott, NP, 13-7; 145 — Cook, Hom, p. Hanshaw, Ser, 4:54; 160 — Rios, Hom, p. Ramoth, WLK, 2:15; 182 — Andrews, ME, p. Moore, SK, 3:17; 220 — Harrington, Hom, dec. Pleasant, Bet, 1-0.