Mariner mat squad cracks top 10 at state; five place in top 6

The look on Senior Captain Pedro Ochoa’s face said it all after he beat Kotzebue’s Ben Phillips 5-4 and earned a top six finish at the Small Schools State Wrestling Tournament at ACS last weekend. Ochoa built a five-point lead, held on as the last second ended and then leapt into Coach Perk’s arm as tears of happiness poured from his eyes.

Ochoa, who entered the tournament unseeded, lost his first round match to Ryan Radmer of Houston, the eventual runner-up at the weight class. Ochoa then went on to win three in a row and ended up placing fifth overall.

Ochoa is one of the hero’s of this team. His leadership and unselfishness made this team united. Many a match you could hear him yelling encouragement to his teammates, but this time his teammates were applauding his efforts.

In his third season of competitive wrestling, Ochoa used his passionate nature and ability to embrace hard work to become one of the best in his weight class. I know he wanted badly to place. It was not a given; 152 is a tough weight but he battled through a foot injury last month and kept his focus on top six. His efforts helped the team to an overall seventh-place finish with 85.5 points.

This is the first time since the early 1990s the Mariner wrestling team scored in the top 10 as a team.  Four other teammates also placed in the top six, earning the title as an “All-Alaskan.” Bethel was overall team champion for the fourth straight year.

Calvin Johnson, 113, and also senior captain, capped off a great career. His third-place finish was his second time on the podium as he improved upon his fifth-place finish last year. Johnson won 118 matches in four years and led the team with 34 this year. He might have had 35 if he could have kept state champion Seth Hutchison of Skyview on his back a few more seconds during the semi-final round.

Johnson put Hutchison to his back twice with a cradle, a move where you lock up an opponent’s knee and head. Hutchison kept a shoulder up, however, and moved on in the championship round 9-6. Johnson pinned or tech-falled the rest of the field.

Senior Jordan Reynolds, 220, earned fifth-place as he pinned Calvin Goodson of Eielson. Goodson knocked Reynolds to the backside of the bracket early in the tournament.

This time Reynolds adjusted his strategy. A second-year wrestler, Reynolds scored 21 takedowns this weekend, some so powerful the opponent once hit the mat and laid there trying to catch his breathe. Reynolds won 23 matches this season, giving up usually at least 20 pounds to his opponents.

The final senior, David Jack Woo, 138 pounds, won two matches and nearly a third as he trailed Petersburg’s John Brooks 10-7. Woo took him down for two points, but could not turn Brooks as time ran out. Woo won 56 matches and barely missed placing.

Sophomore Jadzia Martin, 98, fresh off her Kachemak Conference championship, fell onto a tough side of the bracket as she won one match before losing to the eventual fourth- and sixth-place finishers. Fellow 98-pounder, freshman Martin Welty beat Sully Hauze of Seward 7-6. Hauze beat Welty three times this season and Welty’s goal was to beat him. He met that goal this weekend.

Other freshman qualifiers Jaime Rios, 120, and Ravi Cavasos, 126, had tough draws, but wrestled hard. Rios never let up, giving his competition very good matches. Cavasos competed against some of the toughest wrestlers in the state all season and we look forward to next year as these two will look to earn a top-six finish.

Two other freshman earned top-six finishes. Jared Brant, 106, and Timmy Woo, 132.

Brant, who was seeded fifth, won four matches and nearly a fifth as he had runner-up Tecumseh Hensley, a senior from Bethel, tied 1-1 with about 30 seconds left. Brant was about to escape and take the lead with Hensley was able to get both hands around Brant’s torso and drop him to the mat for the fall. Jared ended the season with 29 wins tied with Timmy Woo for the most on the team. Timmy Woo was unseeded in the deep 132 weight class. He started out with a win over Elijah Norton of Kotzebue 8-1. Norton and Timmy Woo had been tough matches in the past, but this time Timmy Woo dominated him.  However, he then lost the No. 1 seed and eventual runner-up Josh Mendenhall of Bethel 10-2. Timmy Woo then beat Aucha Johnson of Unalakleet and Roger Miller of Wrangell to earn his top-six finish. Both of those matches would be considered upsets.

His fourth match of the day was against Jerome Williams of Napaskiak. The two wrestlers traded single led takedowns like boxers to punches. Tommy Woo had just earned a 10-8 lead with 30 seconds left when Williams was able to escape and score one last takedown as time expired to win 11-10. This is just the same way Woo won against Johnson from Unalakleet.  Placing in his weight class was due to Tommy Woo’s ability to grind out matches for six minutes.  He led the team in takedowns and reversals/escapes, two of the most important elements of being a good wrestler.
The team looks to tackle their semester finals, get into the weight room and begin to train for next season, and then roll into the spring freestyle season as Popeye wrestling will get started Feb. 17. Coach Perk would like to thank Assistant Coach Bubba Wells for his consistency and willingness to be a part of the Mariner wrestling family. The team also benefitted from other community volunteers who wrestled in the room many days: Channing Grillo, Doug Johnson, Andrew Peter and Simeon Daigle. The team has set goals to become conference champions next season and crack the top-five at state.

Chris Perk is head coach of the Homer High School wrestling team.