The spirit of the Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament at Kenai Central High School was on full display Saturday in the KCHS gym, where the Homer Mariners walked off with the team championship.
The tournament is dedicated to the memory of Luke Spruill, a former Kenai Central wrestler and two-time state champion who was killed in a Bristol Bay fishing accident in 2004 at the age of 27.
At the end of the day, the Most Outstanding Wrestler award was given to Soldotna junior Zach Burns, who won the 140-pound weight class Saturday. Burns is in the midst of a comeback two years in the making, after tearing his labrum in his left hip as a freshman and missing the rest of the 2017 season, then missing the entire 2018 season after getting surgery to repair it.
Now as a junior, Burns is back to enjoying the sport he loves and lives to compete in.
“I’ve been working hard in practice, getting healthy, drinking water and losing weight,” Burns said. “Working out, going in after school and getting in shape.”
Homer clinched the team title Saturday with 125 points, just enough to beat out Soldotna by three points. The host Kardinals finished third with 51.
The spirit of the Spruill award recognizes the wrestler who showcases a variety of qualities, most notably dedication, coachability, kindness, sportsmanship, leadership, tenacity, a can-do attitude and serves as a coach to others. Stan Steffensen, who coached Spruill, said Burns was a perfect candidate for the honor as an athlete that presents all of those qualities.
“Luke could be sick the day before, and you could switch practice times, and Luke would figure out a way to get there,” Steffensen said. “He was the cream of the crop, and he always rises to the top.”
SoHi coach Neldon Gardner also knew Spruill personally, and said Burns relishes the sport with the same attitude that Spruill exhibited.
“Zach’s the type of kid that the outstanding wrestler is after,” Gardner said. “No matter what happens, he continues to work hard and get better. Zach’s gotten his hip labrum repaired and he’s looking good.”
It was three meets into his freshman year that Burns hurt his hip, during the Homer duals, which forced him out for the rest of the year. As a former borough middle school champion, Burns said he was anxious to get back out there and compete, but when the nagging issue required a surgical procedure to repair it for good, it meant another lost season. Burns said he had to travel to Colorado for the surgery.
He said six months of physical therapy, upper body workouts and cardio days made for some tough sledding on the comeback trail.
Now, back with his teammates, the junior is feeling back to normal.
“It’s good to be back,” Burns said. “It’s nice to be able to actually work hard now and get better at wrestling.”
Homer picked up six individual championships to secure the Spruill team title, and coach Chris Perk said the team showed some impressive improvement in the early weeks of the season,
“We’re building our list,” Perk said. “What do we’ve got to work on to get better? (Head coach) Justin Zank’s been pushing that all year long, every day let’s be better than we were yesterday. As coaches, we come in with a list of things for the kids to be better.”
Homer was scheduled to send part of its team to Unalaska for a meet, but the closure of the airport after a plane skidded off the runway last week forced the whole team to head up to Kenai for the Spruill tournament. Perk said the rescheduled meet made it easier on the team, if not the individual matchups.
“You want your higher-level kids to get pushed every once in a while,” he said. “This was a good time to be pushed.”
Nikiski wrestlers win Bush Brawl
The Nikiski wrestling team won the Bush Brawl in Kotzebue on Friday and Saturday.
The Bulldogs scored 260.5 points for the victory, while Kotzebue was second with 182 points at the 21-team meet.
Nikiski was led by a meet championship from Jaryn Zoda at 130 pounds. Zoda pinned each of the three wrestlers he faced. Finishing second for Nikiski were Liam Quiner at 112, Jordan Fleming at 140, Mason Payne at 152, Simon Grenier at 160, Koleman McCaughey at 171 and Caileb Payne at 189.
Brady Bostic at 135, Christian Caddock at 140, Caleb Weeks at 145, Timothy Goodnight at 171 and Destiny Martin at girls 135 were third for Nikiski, while Joey Yourkoski at 119, Dwight Mullins at 160 and Jesse Colton at 171 were fourth.
Luke Spruill Memorial Tournament
Team scores — 1. Homer, 125 points; 2. Soldotna, 122; 3. Kenai Central, 51.
112 — Owen Whicker, Ken, maj. dec. 12-2 over Simon Secor, Sol; 119 — Hunter Secor, Sol, (2-0) over Talon Whicker, Ken; 125 — Austin Cline, Hom, (2-0) over Rollin Madden, Sol, (1-1); 130 — Scott Michael, Sol, dec. 7-6 Isaac Chavarria, Sol; 135 — Jakob Brown, Sol, (2-0) over Isaiah Ticknor, Ken, (0-2); 140 — Zach Burns, Sol, (2-0) over Thomas Anderson, Sol, (0-2); 145 — Hunter Richardson, Sol, (3-0) over Nestor Kalugin, Hom, (2-1); 152 — Antonin Murachev, Hom, pin 3:10 Cayleb Diaz, Hom; 160 — Mose Hayes, Hom, (2-1) over Dennis Taylor, Sol, (2-1); 171 — Edson Knapp, Hom, (2-0) over Jordan Henley, Sol, (1-1); 189 — Sean Babitt, Sol, (2-0) over Julian Yakunin, Ken, (1-1); 215 — Anthony Kalugin, Hom, (2-0) over Rocky Sherbahn, Ken, (1-1); 285 — Alex Hicks, Hom, (2-0) over Logan Katzenberger, Sol, (1-1).
112 — Kayden Crosby, Hom, pin :37 over Zander Moore, Hom; 125 — Rey Perez, Ken, (0-2); 130 — Russell Nyvall, Hom, SV 10-8 Andrew Gaethle, Ken; 145 — Logan Counts, Hom, (1-2) over Quinn Baze, Ken, (0-3); 152 — Zach Halstead, Ken, pin 1:11 Josh Hall, Sol; 160 — Dakota Moonin, Hom, (1-2) over Clifford McElrea, Sol, (1-2); 171 — Isaac Denbrock, Ken, (0-2); 189 — Casper Von, Hom, (0-2); 215 — Conor Boyd, Sol, (0-2); 285 — Nick Barber, Hom, (0-2).
119 — Autumn Daigle, Hom, (2-0) over Cecilia Fitzpatrick, Hom, (1-1); 135 — Mischelle Wells, Hom, (2-0) over Alicia Bianchi, Hom, (0-2); 189 — Amanda Wylie, Sol, (2-0) over Mariah Grimes, Sol, (0-2).