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 who 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.”
Joey Klecka is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. For wrestling stats, see HomerNews.com.