There’s a reason why Saturday’s Kachemak Conference wrestling finals looked more like a Homer Mariners practice room than a tournament championship round.
It’s because Homer’s practice room is more like a tournament finals anyway.
The Mariners wrestling dynasty continued to roll with a fourth straight boys team championship at Anchorage’s Grace Christian High School, prevailing over the host Grizzlies by a slim margin of 229.5 to 220 points.
Homer also won the girls team championship by a scant two points, a 73-71 margin over Redington.
For head coaches Chris Perk and Bubba Wells, it was all in a day’s work.
“I hope the crowd had fun watching,” Perk said after the final round wrapped up.
Nikiski improved five spots over last year with a third-place team finish, racking up 185 points thanks in part to two region champions in 103-pound winner Griffin Gray and 215-pound winner Dustin Mullins.
Voznesenka took fifth in the team race with two conference champs in Max Kusnetsov at 119 pounds and Dia Martishev at 145.
Kenai Central finished sixth with 84 points and also claimed a girls championship with Olivia Easley at 130 pounds.
Seward rounded out the peninsula teams in ninth place with 39 points, and picked up a girls crown with Naomi Ifflander at 112 pounds.
The tournament was relocated to Grace Christian after the original hosting site, Redington High, suffered damage in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Nov. 30.
While they cruised seemingly effortlessly to the Kachemak title last year by over 100 points, the Mariners had to sweat it out Saturday to clinch the boys title. The Grizzlies led the points tally before the round of finals began early Saturday afternoon, due to a large number of Grace wrestlers that racked up points in the tournament’s consolation matches.
However, Homer managed to jam pack the finals with Mariner wrestlers, putting nine into a possible 28 slots. Grace only put four kids into finals, and emerged with two victories.
Homer claimed six region champions out of nine finals that had a Mariners wrestler competing, including two title matches that featured an all-Homer cast — the 152-pound final that went to Josh Bradshaw over teammate Mose Hayes, and the heavyweight final that went to Jadin Mann over teammate Alex Hicks.
Perk said with the team race coming down to a tight finish, it all came down to who could finagle a win. Perk said that when junior Ryan Hicks picked up the 189-pound title on a technical fall over Grace’s Jackson Tanner, an opponent that had beaten Hicks earlier this season, it provided a massive boost to the team’s chances.
“That was big,” Perk said. “That’s a 10-point swing right there, and we lost by only nine?”
Homer senior McKenzie Cook was awarded the Kachemak Conference Girls Outstanding Wrestler, while Homer teammate Wayne Newman took home the boys honor. Both Cook and Newman collected their fourth Kachemak Conference championship Saturday.
Coach of the Year honors went to Grace Christian’s Ben DeVries.
On a night full of Homer highlights, Perk credited the dedication and passion of the Mariners weight room for clicking off a four-peat of conference titles.
After winning their respective region crowns, it became clear how Newman and 125-pound champion Seth Inama became so dominant. The two friends have spent the last five years sharpening their skills by practicing against each other on a near daily basis, champion against champion, flint against flint.
“Seth and I are about at the same level,” Newman said. “My goal is to spread what I know to the rest of the team. A few of us go to (offseason) camps and I want to share that with the rest of the room.”
Inama, Newman and Cook celebrated four region titles apiece Saturday.
“We get at it in practices,” Inama said. “We have a couple studs in the weight room.”
Homer senior Luciano Fasulo celebrated his third straight region title with a dominant performance in the 135-pound bracket, pinning his way to the title with three pins, and he extended his three-year winning streak to 107 straight matches.
But this year’s region triumph was no easy task after Fasulo hurt his knee in the preseason and sat out the majority of the year. The senior only returned to competition two weeks ago, and said it’s been a journey to return to his full potential.
“(My knee) still aches a bit when I’m not competing,” he said. “But during the time off, I spent a lot of time thinking what I can do to be 100 percent when I get back.”
Fasulo will be gunning for a third state title next weekend and said he’ll be focusing on nothing but the win.
“I really want it,” he said.
The 152-pound final between Homer teammates Mose Hayes and Josh Bradshaw went to an overtime period. Bradshaw went up 3-2 in the match with just 15 seconds left on a takedown, but Hayes responded just before the buzzer with an escape to tie it up.
In overtime, Bradshaw scored a takedown with four seconds left in the 60-second period to clinch his first conference title.
The heavyweight showdown between Mariners teammates Jadin Mann and Alex Hicks was decided quickly as Mann pinned his man just 37 seconds into the final.
Kenai’s lone finalist in the boys tournament came courtesy of freshman Talon Whicker at 103 pounds. Whicker lost a close battle to fellow Nikiski freshman Griffin Gray in a 5-3 final.
Whicker had pinned Gray all three times the two had met this season, but Gray had the last laugh Saturday.
“I was just more prepared this time,” Gray explained. “I didn’t know if I could beat him.”
Gray said he was able to learn some things in his three previous meetings with Whicker, and put that knowledge to use over the past week by working on several moves.
“I wasn’t nervous before,” Gray said. “But now I’m just out of breath.”
Nikiski’s other conference champ, Dustin Mullins, collected his title with a pin over Homer’s Hunter Harrington with just 20 seconds left in the second round of the 215-pound final.
Along with Whickers’ second-place finish, Kenai got points from three third-place finishes — Brandon Kroto at 152 pounds, Tucker Vann at 160 and Rocky Sherbahn at 215. All three are significant because only the top-three finishers in each weight class advance to state.
Kardinals head coach Stan Steffensen said he was happy to see five Kenai kids headed to the big dance next week, including his girls champion Olivia Easley.
“Kroto’s (third-place) match came before Olivia’s, and Kroto beat that kid that had beaten him three times this year,” Steffensen said. “I think that kind of motivated Olivia.”
Easley said she took up wrestling for one year in fourth grade, then picked up volleyball in middle school before returning to the sport this season in high school.
Easley’s girls title was her first on her debut as a freshman, and she said she was not expecting a conference championship in her first year.
“It’s really, really, really good,” Easley said. “I thought I was going to lose. I thought I was going to throw up.”
Other girls champions included 119-pound champion Sadie Blake from Homer, 125-pound champ Mina Cavasos of Homer, 160-pound champ Mariah Grimes of Homer and Cook, who said her Most Outstanding award meant the most.
“I’ve worked hard for it,” she said. “You’ve got to have your heart in it, and we all do. … It’s exciting but sad because it’s my senior year.”
Kachemak Conference tournament
Team scores — 1. Homer, 229.5 points; 2. Grace Christian, 220; 3. Nikiski, 185; 4. Redington, 173; 5. Voznesenka, 109.5; 6. Kenai, 84; 7. Anchorage Christian, 55; 8. Houston, 45; 9. Seward, 39; 10. Cordova, 20; 11. Holy Rosary, 2.
103 — Griffin Gray, Nik, 5-3 dec. Talon Whicker, Ken; 112 — Caleb O’Hara, 7-0 dec. Jaryn Zoda, Nik; 119 — Max Kusnetsov, Voz, inj. Boston Postishek, Red; 125 — Seth Inama, Hom, 21-5 TF James Paris, Red; 130 — Charles Severance, Red, 3-0 dec. Matt Bohlman, ACS; 135 — Luciano Fasulo, Hom, pin 1:20 August Jewell, Cor; 140 — Wayne Newman, Hom, pin 3:27 Gavin Metcalf, Red; 145 — Dia Martishev, Voz, 11-2 dec. Logan Crotts, Gra; 152 — Josh Bradshaw, Hom, 5-3 OT Mose Hayes, Hom; 160 — Gabe Martin, Gra, 10-1 dec. Koleman McCaughey, Nik; 171 — Eliot Merriner, Gra, 4-2 dec. Anthony Kalugin, Voz; 189 — Ryan Hicks, Hom, TF 19-4 Jackson Tanner, Gra; 215 — Dustin Mullins, Nik, pin 3:40 Hunter Harrington, Hom; 285 — Jadin Mann, Hom, pin :37 Alex Hicks, Hom.
103 — Justin Dick, Red, 10-5 dec. John Harris, Gra; 112 — Austin Cline, Hom, pin 1:12 Christian Ewing, Red; 119 — Jonathan Kirby, Red, 10-0 dec. Owen Ford, Gra; 125 — Jude Merriner, Gra, 10-2 dec. Jordan Fleming, Nik; 130 — Ian Stovall, Hom, 12-4 dec. Jackson Reger, Gra; 135 — Colton Dow, Gra, pin 3:58 Dakota Bolduc, Hou; 140 — Afony Reutov, Voz, 10-4 dec. Andrew Beveridge, Gra; 145 — Dia Martishev, Voz, 11-2 dec. Logan Crotts, Gra; 152 — Brandon Kroto, Ken, 2-1 OT Daniel Anufriev, Voz; 160 — Tucker Vann, Ken, pin :56 Jonathan Whitt, Gra; 171 — Jeremy DeVries, Gra, 7-0 dec. Caileb Payne, Nik; 189 — Jesus Garcia, Red, pin 3:09 Malcolm Yerkes, Nik; 215 — Rocky Sherbahn, Ken, pin 1:24 Joseph McLeod, Nik; 285 — Ethan Hack, Nik, pin :32 Kekoa Albino, Sew.
103 — Riesen Ghill Seyer, Hou, pin 1:04 Caleb Evans, Hom; 112 — Adam Snow, Gra, 9-0 dec. Logan Seymore, Red; 119 — Chase Olsen, Nik, 9-6 dec. Nestor Kalugin, Voz; 125 — Kennan Metzger, Gra, 10-6 dec. Luke Hofacker, ACS; 130 — Thomas Ooka, Sew, 14-3 dec. Aiden Zingone, Gra; 135 — Vinney Mahoney, Hou, 8-1 dec. Caleb Weeks, Nik; 140 — Jonathan Dailey, Red, pin 1:42 Kaleb Boyce, Gra; 145 — David Weisser, Hom, pin 3:00 Dylan Harris, Gra; 152 — Jaden Van Dyke, Sew, pin 1:27 Garren Magestro, Gra; 160 — Porter Jones, Red, forf. Brandon Plaster, Gra; 171 — Isaiah Hall, Red, pin 3:30 Steven Harshman, Sew; 189 — Dallas Smith, Red, pin 3:43 Kade Jager, Red; 215 — Kobe Little, Hou, pin 5:10 Grant Trotter, Gra; 285 — bye.
112 — Naomi Ifflander, Sew, pin 1:19 Haley Fairbanks, Red; 119 — Sadie Blake, Hom, pin 1:59 Danielle Lord, Hou; 125 — Mina Cavasos, Hom, pin 2:33 Destiny Martin, Nik; 130 — Olivia Easley, Ken, 6-4 dec. Jessie Merrick, Hou; 135 — Zya Taylor, Cor, pin 2:50 Bryanna Crawford, Red; 145 — McKenzie Cook, Hom, bye; 160 — Mariah Grimes, Hom, pin 4:37 Twyla Anderstrom, Red; 189 — Tahtianna Tupua, Red, bye.
112 — Haley Fairbanks, Red, rule Ann Graham, Hom; 125 — Destiny Martin, Nik, rule Hope Walker, Red; 135 — Bryanna Crawford, Red, pin 3:11 Priscilla Stoltz, Sew; 160 — Twyla Anderstrom, Red, rule Sierra Lancaster, Hou.
125 — Hope Walker, Red, pin 1:16 Anika Witsoe, Cor; 135 — Priscilla Stoltz, Sew, pin 2:57 Olivia Hess, Red.