The Homer girls had two champions, while the Homer boys and Soldotna girls had a champion each at Chugiak High School last Saturday in the girls state tournament and the boys Division II state tournament.
At the Division I tournament at Bartlett High School, Soldotna got two titles from brothers Sean and Liam Babitt. The Stars finished fourth in the team race, with Colony High School taking the title.
Winning in their weight classes for the girls were Soldotna sophomore Trinity Donovan, Homer senior Sadie Blake and Homer sophomore Aileen Lester. The Division II boys lone champion was Homer senior Josh Bradshaw.
At Bartlett High School, SoHi senior Sean Babitt pinned Wasilla’s Colton Lindquist at 189 in the third period in the championship match. Babitt earned his first title after losing to Lindquist in the state final in 2019.
“This is just retribution for senior year,” Babitt said.
Babitt thanked all his coaches for getting him this far, giving a special mention to Pete Dickinson at All American Training Center for making mat space available that made the season happen.
“It was a big moment for me,” Babitt said of the title. “It’s been a long, long time coming.”
Babitt then thought of how he had never won a tournament his sophomore year as he watched his brother defeat Lathrop’s Sean Michel 4-2 for the 215 state title.
Liam Babitt said after the victory his brother helped him to a title at such a young age.
“It’s really nice to compete with him and win a state championship with him,” Liam said.
Soldotna also had Ezekiel Miller in the finals at 130. Miller was pinned by Colton Parduhn of Lathrop.
At Chugiak, Donovan walked off the mat with her championship in the girls 145 weight class for the second year in a row. She beat Bethel’s Rebecca Samuelson by fall with one second left in the third period.
Donovan said overcoming this season’s interruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic nearly made her stop wrestling.
“I was honestly going to walk out of the gym because we had to wear masks in practice,” she said after her win on Saturday.
Donovan also had to overcome adversity in her freshman season last year, as she processed the death of her stepfather. Now, as a sophomore defending state champion, she hopes to continue that pattern throughout her high school career.
“Now I’m on the road to four-time … it feels great,” Donovan said. “Thanks to all my supporters. Really, I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Soldotna head coach Neldon Gardner said Donovan made an “exceptional” showing Saturday.
“She was ahead 1-0 going into the third period and locked up a cradle with about 10 seconds to go, and pinned her with two seconds on the clock,” Gardner said. “To walk away with a pin in the finals of the state tournament is pretty nice.”
Blake, a defending champion in the 103 weight class who also won last year as a junior, said she had to overcome a lot to get to the mat on Saturday. She had to quarantine twice this year, and faced a lot of nerves before her final match.
“I had a lot of anxiety coming into it. I wrestled against a tough opponent,” she said. “I’m proud of myself and I really just got the job done.”
Blake beat East Anchorage High School’s Jamiezon Garcia by fall in the second period Saturday.
The senior said she wanted to thank her mom and her coaches for their support throughout her high school career.
Lester said she only wrestled in five matches before defeating North Pole’s Dakota Darby to take home her championship by fall in the second period in the 130 weight class on Saturday.
“I didn’t do exactly the moves I wanted to in the match … but I definitely got the outcome I wanted,” she said.
With the delays in the state wrestling season because of the pandemic this year, Lester said she capitalized on the opportunity to think about her game.
“In some ways it made me better because I was spending a lot more time thinking about the fundamentals,” she said. “I was really able to think about the different moves that it would take to complete a match, not just the next match.”
Bradshaw won his championship match on Saturday by fall in the middle of the second period for the 171 weight class over Eielson High’s Harrisen Wall.
“It feels amazing, I’ve been working for 10 years to get here,” Bradshaw said after his win on Saturday. “It just feels great, with all of the challenges I’ve had to face.”
He tore his ACL earlier this season while having to overcome the challenges of wrestling during a pandemic.
“Balancing graduating this year — between all the COVID regulations, doctors appointments, physical therapy, moving around the season — it’s just been a fight,” Bradshaw said. “But it was a well-fought fight, and I’m glad that I’m here at all.”
Homer Mariners head coach Justin Zank said he was proud of his team.
“We qualified eight wrestlers between boys and girls and seven of them placed,” he said. “So I’m really proud of how we wrestled.”
Zank said although this season has looked different than previous ones, he felt lucky to be in the gym on Saturday.
“At one point ,I wasn’t sure that we would have a season or a state tournament, so we’re really grateful that we got to be here and wrestle well this weekend,” Zank said.
Homer assistant coach Tela O’Donnell Bacher said this was one of her favorite seasons.
“I had a lot of confidence in what they were going to do and they really showed it out on the mat,” she said. “They’re such wonderful wrestlers, obviously, but they’re really amazing human beings and students.”
Both Blake and Lester won their matches by pinning, which O’Donnell Bacher said was pretty amazing.
Also for the Soldotna boys, Isaac Chavarria was third at 140, Wayne Mellon was third at 160, Hunter Richardson was third at 171, Hunter Secor was fifth at 119 and Dennis Taylor was fifth at 160.
Peninsula boys Division II state wrestling runner-ups included Homer’s Austin Cline at 130 and Russel Nyvall at 140, as well as Kenai Central High School’s Tucker Vann at 189.
Also in the top six for Homer was Zach Knott in fourth at 119 and Nestor Kalugin in fifth at 160. Kenai got a third from Owen Whicker at 125, fourth from Owen Whicker at 130 and fifth from Andrew Gaethle at 145.
Nikiski got a third from Jaryn Zoda at 140, third from Caileb Payne at 189, fourth from Koleman McCaughey at 171 and fifth from Simon Grenier at 171.
Nathan Hankins was third for Seward at 103.
For the girls division, Homer placed sixth overall with 56 team points. Soldotna ended its season with 30 and Kenai Central finished with five points.
In the boys Division II tournament, Homer ended its season with 99 points overall as a team, placing fifth in the state. Nikiski High School scored 90, Kenai Central scored 85 and Seward finished with nine points.
Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman Reporter Tim Rockey contributed to this story.