By JEFF HELMINIAK
Kenai Peninsula wrestling teams continued to sharpen their competitive edge with unscored dual meets last Friday.
Soldotna, Kenai and Nikiski gathered for a meet at Soldotna, while Homer, Seward and Anchorage Christian Schools got together for a meet in Homer.
Dylan Hooper, Nikiski assistant coach and athletic director, said the meets are being organized to get wrestlers the best matches possible. In scored dual meets, coaches strategize to earn the most points possible, but wrestlers don’t always get the best matchups.
“We’re really enjoying this,” Hooper said of the duals and three-team meets. “It’s a great atmosphere and a fan-friendly way to watch wrestling.”
Most of all, wrestlers are enjoying getting a chance to compete again.
The season normally starts in October and ends in December, but it was delayed this school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m so excited and pleased to see the performance of all the kids,” Soldotna head coach Neldon Gardner said. “The team camaraderie is as good as I’ve ever had it.”
Gardner said he has about 30 wrestlers in his mat room, about 10 more than he expected.
“I think kids being away from school, being away from these situations, I think they missed it,” Gardner said. “They missed their buddies and friends.”
Ryan Moss, in his first year as head coach at Kenai Central, said wrestlers are showing their dedication to the sport by more than tough, six-minute battles on the mat.
Wrestlers have to follow coronavirus mitigation procedures, including practicing with masks on and getting tested for COVID-19 twice a week. The athletes do not have to compete with masks on.
“It’s been a long time waiting and overcoming adversity,” Moss said. “We are happy to be back and competing.”
Soldotna got the best of the action Friday, winning five of seven matches against Kenai and 14 of 15 against Nikiski.
Gardner said the Stars have an advantage against other peninsula competition, because SoHi is the only school to wrestle at the Class 4A, or big school, level.
The coach also said the Stars are getting great support from assistants Eric Willets, Aaron Gordon, Joe Cudd and Logan Parks. Gardner also thanked Pete and Tanya Dickinson of the All American Training Center for letting the Stars practice there for free while the school is stuffed with all the other spring sports.
Gardner said the Stars won a lot of the matches that could have went either way Friday.
“The kids just gutted them out,” he said. “It was old guts and grit. They just didn’t want to let the team down.
“You can’t coach what I call guts or fight in a kid.”
Gardner said in about two weeks he’d like to get off the peninsula in order to prepare wrestlers for conference and state. He said peninsula wrestlers can only wrestle against schools also testing wrestlers for COVID.
Hooper said Nikiski has 16 wrestlers in the room, including about seven freshmen.
“We have some excitement and youth,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Freshman Mayaac Schmit was able to pick up a pin at heavyweight Friday, while Hooper also was impressed with freshman Truit McCaughey.
Hooper said Nikiski will venture off the peninsula April 24, and host a bunch of schools at a meet in early May.
Moss, who has about 20 wrestlers out, said it was nice to see Tucker Vann back on the mat. Moss said he’s coached Vann, who went 1-1 on Friday, since the sixth grade.
The coach also said Andrew Gaethle did a great job at 145, while Owen Whicker got a key victory over Soldotna’s Cassius Miller at 135.
Moss said Kenai will see a variety of competition at the Nikiski meet in early May, but other than that Moss said the Kards can get better facing quality peninsula competition.
“We’re a little leery of leaving the peninsula because we’re not sure of other schools’ protocols,” Moss said. “Our main goal is to be healthy and full strength at regions.
“If we leave the peninsula May 1 and somebody gets COVID, they could potentially be out for regions.”
Moss also said the community has been great in getting wrestlers back on the mat.
Friday at Homer
125 — Zach Knott, Hom, p. Ann Graham, Hom, 1:33; 130 — Kayden Crosby, Hom, m.d. Justin Dickerson, ACS, 17-6; 130 — Zach Knott, Hom, dec. Justin Dickerson, ACS, 9-3; 135 — Chloe Lastimosa, Sew, p. Dillon Jones, Hom, 0:15; 145 — Austin Cline, Hom, p. Jacob Wendt, Sew, 2:25; 171 — Nestor Kalugin, Hom, p. Collin Mullaly, Sew, 1:35; 189 — Joshua Graceson, ACS, dec. Edson Knapp, Hom, 9-6; 189 — Josh Bradshaw, Hom, p. Joshua Graceson, ACS, 2:33; 215 — Ryan Randall, ACS, t.f. Bruce Graham, 2:00.
Kenai vs. Nikiski
Friday at Soldotna
140 — Jaden Garner, Ken, p. Mylan Johnson, 0:44; 145 — Andrew Gaethle, Ken, p. Jaryn Zoda, 2:27; 189 — Tucker Vann, Ken, dec. Caileb Payne, Nik, 11-6; 215 — Morgan Starks, Ken, p. Robert Isabel, 0:48.
Kenai vs. Soldotna
Friday at Soldotna
125 — Hunter Secor, Sol, p. Talon Whicker, 5:18 125 — Rollin Madden, Sol, p. Talon Whicker, 1:06; 135 — Owen Whicker, Ken, dec. Cassius Miller, 7-5; 140 — Isaac Chavarria, Sol, m.d. Andrew Gaethle, 14-4; 189 — Sean Babitt, Sol, p. Tucker Vann, 2:57; 215 — Morgan Starks, Ken, p. Julian Yakunin, 0:34; 215 — Liam Babitt, Sol, p. Morgan Starks, 2:25.
Soldotna vs. Nikiski
Friday at Soldotna
130 — Shaun Firmin, Sol, p. Mylan Johnson, 0:53; 135 — Cassius Miller, Sol, p. Mylan Johnson, 0:51; 140 — Isaac Chavarria, Sol, p. Jaryn Zoda, 1:56; 152 — Edgar Land, Sol, p. Hunter Neal, 3:05; 152 — Saiyan Baker, Sol, p. Sam Yerkes, 1:46; 160 — Wayne Mellon, Sol, p. Sam Yerkes, 1:46; 160 — Wayne Mellon, Sol, t.f. Koleman McCaughey, 3:07; 171 — Hunter Richardson, Sol, m.d. Simon Grenier, 10-1; 189 — Cole Radeck, Sol, p. Johnny Ralston, 0:50; 189 — Sean Babitt, Sol, p. Caileb Payne, 2:55; 189 — Joe Whittom, Sol, p. Truit McCaughey, 3:18; 215 — Liam Babitt, Sol, p. Robert Isabel, 0:36; 215 — Noah Land, Sol, p. Robert Isabel, 1:01; 285 — Logan Katzenberger, Sol, p. Mayaac Schmit, 2:37; 285 — Mayaac Schmit, Nik, p. Taylor Shouweiler, 0:24.