As soon as Homer High School sophomore Luciano Fasulo walked off the mat following his 126-pound state championship victory at the Class 1-2-3A wrestling championships, he beelined for one place. The stands.
It was at the front row of the bleachers of the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage that Fasulo embraced his family — his parents and sister — in an emotional hug. He had just won his first state wrestling title, which capped off a perfect 45-0 season, and the moment was too much for him to hold in the tears.
“I’ve come a long way,” Fasulo said after the hug. “When I was younger, I always lost every match. It was always two-and-out at every tournament, so this is big.”
Fasulo credited the Homer Mariners coaching staff, including head coach Chris Perk, but he particularly praised the years of guidance from Homer assistant coach Bubba Wells, who helped Fasulo to gain much-needed confidence.
“He brought me up to this from a young age, teaching me new things to do,” Fasulo said. “I didn’t believe in myself, but he made me believe.”
The adulation of the Homer coaching staff was a common scene Saturday night at the 5,000-seat arena, which played host to both the Class 1-2-3A and 4A state championships. The Homer wrestlers persistently attributed phenomenal coaching to the explosion of the Homer wrestling team, which won a state title in 2015, the program’s first in 29 years.
However, in their pursuit of a second straight, Homer came up just a bit short Saturday night, finishing second in the team standings with 246 points, just 18.5 shy of Bethel’s tally of 264.5.
Nevertheless, Perk said he was proud to have seen the Mariners break or tie several school records, including finishing with five state champs — tying the 1986 state championship Homer team’s mark — a team-high 246 points and 12 state placers.
“They had an amazing season. It was phenomenal,” Perk said. “I’m just really proud.”
At the Class 4A level, the Colony Knights followed up their Northern Lights Conference team championship with a 4A state title, prevailing over fellow region opponent Wasilla with 269.5 points. The Warriors finished second with 245.5 points.
SoHi finished eighth in the team standings with 82.5 points, while Kenai was 18th with 29.5 points.
At the 1-2-3A competition, Bethel and Homer dominated the championship proceedings, running away from the rest of the competition. Third-place Barrow compiled just 114 points.
Overall, Homer got state titles from 126-pound Fasulo, 138-pounder Jared Brant, 160-pounder Timmy Woo and 170-pounder Tristen Cook.
Voznesenka finished 10th in the team standings with 55 points, and also finished with a rare state championship from 98-pounder Max Kusnetsov.
Kusnetsov, a sophomore with the Cougars, won just the second ever state wrestling championship for the tiny town east of Homer, following up on Joe Martishev’s state title in 2011.
“I’m a little in shock right now,” Kusnetsov said. “But I never had a doubt.”
The diminutive Kusnetsov pinned Bethel’s Diesel Geerdts with 48 seconds left in the second round, in a match that Kusnetsov was trailing 3-2.
Like many Voz and Homer residents, Kusnetsov spends his summers commercial fishing, which significantly shrinks the offseason.
But with the Homer and Voznesenka crowd in full force, Kusnetsov said he felt invigorated to win.
“That got my heart pumping,” he said.
In Homer’s quest to win the state team title, Perk said the most glaring difference he noticed was the number of pins Bethel had throughout the bracket.
“Their state title run looked like ours from a year ago,” Perk said. “They had the pins and the team support.”
Fasulo dominated his 126-pound title match, staking out a 13-2 lead with a variety of takedowns and near falls, before ending it early with a pin with just 43 seconds left in the third round. After finishing off an undefeated record, Fasulo insisted that the state championship was bigger to him than the unblemished season, especially with the kind of coaching support that helped him accomplish his dream.
“Everyone competes, everyone strives for greatness,” Fasulo said of his teammates.
Homer even had a sibling double. Junior Tristen Cook won his first state championship in the 170-pound class, adding the second trophy of the night for his family and joining his sister McKenzie, who won a girls state title earlier in the evening at 145 pounds.
In the 145-pound girls final, Cook used a late pin on Kelly O’Brien of Bethel to secure her second consecutive state crown, defending the 145-pound title she won last year.
“It’s great,” she said. “I knew they’d be trying to beat me as the defending champion, and I succeeded.”
Cook was ultimately named Girls Most Outstanding Wrestler of the meet.
A nine-year veteran of the sport, Cook originally took to wrestling alongside her brother Tristen at age 6. That experience paid off Saturday in the title match.
Cook lost to O’Brien in Friday’s pool play matches, a close 3-2 decision that went into seeding the girls wrestlers. In the championship, Cook took a 2-0 lead after the first round on a takedown, but O’Brien rallied on a takedown to take a 3-2 lead over Cook.
Ultimately, the lead didn’t matter, as Cook flipped the switch and caught her opponent with a pin with just 40 seconds to go in the third round.
“I learned to move my feet more (after Friday),” Cook said.
In the 106-pound boys title match, sophomore Wayne Newman lost a 12-0 major decision to Thomas Dyment of Bethel. Dyment scored eight points in the first round to ease to the win.
At 138 pounds, Jared Brant captured his first state title in his senior campaign, finishing off a 44-1 season with a sturdy 3-0 decision over Jonas Heppe of Klawock.
“I’ve been chasing it all this time,” said Brant, who lost a state title last year at 132 pounds. “It’s exciting, but it’s mostly a lot of relief. All that hard work’s paid off.”
Another senior joining Brant with a state championship was Timmy Woo at 160 pounds. Woo used a crucial takedown with just seconds left on the clock to take a 5-3 victory, repeating as state champion.
“I wanted it more this year,” Woo said. “We’ve worked really hard this year, everyone comes to practice every day.”
Woo finished 43-1 in his senior campaign.
Cook used a pin on Thorne Bay’s Titus Tripple with 36 seconds left in the third round to win his state title at 170 pounds. Cook capped a 43-3 season with the victory.
In the 195-pound title bout, Homer junior Kyle Wells fell victim to a pin with just three seconds left in the second round, losing out to Joshua Goeden of Sitka. It stood as just the third loss in a successful 37-win season for Wells.
At 285 pounds, Homer sophomore Jadin Mann lost a 6-1 decision to Marshall Pinard of Susitna Valley.
Homer’s other state placers — important to the team standings because they too gain points — included Seth Inama (third place at 113 pounds), Mose Hayes (sixth at 132), Chris Cudaback (third at 152), Jaime Rios (fourth at 160) and Levi King (fourth at 182).
Other state placers from the peninsula included a pair of Voznesenka athletes — Dia Martishev (fifth at 126 pounds) and Nikit Anufriev (sixth at 170).
Joey Klecka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.