The largest gathering of high school wrestlers in Southeast Alaska will converge on the mats of Thunder Mountain High School today through Saturday in the Brandon Pilot Invitational Tournament.
Beginning at 4 p.m. today, 17 schools will be represented with over 150 wrestlers competing among 15 weight classes.
“Just looking at last week’s tournament, there are some tough guys attending,” Juneau-Douglas High School coach Jason McDonald said. “Tucker Thain (Craig) is really good, Luther Jenson (Thorne Bay) is a stud, and Tell Tripple (Thorne Bay) and Ketchikan’s Nate Fousel are good. Mt. Edgeumbe’s Paul Johanson is really tough.”
McDonald, a former Floyd Dryden Middle School coach the past 16 years, has taken over the Crimson Bears’ head coaching duties from Kris Mercer, who suffered a recent heart attack and under doctor’s orders must take a year away from the mats.
“A lot of these kids have gotten a lot better since I saw them in middle school,” McDonald said. “I remember when Thain was a pudgy little kid.”
JDHS has nine wrestlers currently on the mats, including last season’s state representative’s JD Hudson and David Dumesnil. Hudson is fresh off a championship last weekend.
Craig, Haines, Hoonah, Hydaburg, JDHS, Kake, Ketchikan, Klawock, Metlakatla, Mt. Edgecumbe, Petersburg, Skagway, Sitka, Thorne Bay, Thunder Mountain, Wrangell and Yakutat are scheduled to compete. Mt. Edgecumbe was not at last weekend’s meet at KayHi but has brought its entire team to today’s action.
“We are just trying to get mat time right now,” Thunder Mountain coach Jake Jacoby said. “Getting these guys the experience they need to improve. We saw great improvement last weekend just from the first round to the end of the weekend. We are hoping to improve on that momentum and continue to improve.”
The Falcons have 19 grapplers including returning state qualifiers Rick Johnson, Edwin Meyer and Hunter Boyer.
“This is the biggest southeast tournament of the year,” Jacoby said. “The small school guys are really looking to bump up their seeding as regions approach, and they will be giving the large schools some great competition.”
Wrestlers to watch this weekend include Craig’s 160-pound Tucker Thain, who defeated JDHS’ Malik Brown in the championship of last weekend’s Bill Weis Invitational at Ketchikan, and 285-pound Tristan Alexander of Metlakatla, who defeated TMHS’ Rick Johnson in the same tournament championship.
Thorne Bay’s 126-pound Tell Tripple gave notice to the wrestling community with a 10-1 BWI championship win over Ketchikan’s Keenan Spencer, while Hoonah’s Manny Budke pinned Wrangell’s Alex Cano in the third place match.
Ketchikan’s 182-pound Nate Fousel also showed great form with a pin over JDHS’ Cody Weldon, while the Crimson Bears’ J.D. Hudson took a 7-2 title win over Ketchikan’s Robert Williams.
Other championship match wrestlers from the Bill Weis Invitational that are attending include: Craig’s 98-pound Seth Packer, an 8-7 decision over Petersburg’s Buddy Stelmach (Sitka’s Curt Barlett and Wrangell’s Sig Decker are in the mix); Petersburg’s 113-pound Daryl Toyomura pinned Ketchikan’s Trevor Wutzke (Haines’ Charlie Bower and Ketch Jacobsen in the mix); Ketchikan’s 120-pound Marcus Martin won 5-2 over Sitka’s Caleb Suarez (Ketchikan’s Josh Danao and Thorne Bay’s Quinn Slayton will be here); Craig’s 132-pound Hunter Fitch won 9-1 over Skagway’s Trevor Cox (Ketchikan’s Kadin Hallstrom and TMHS’ Sam Nolan noted); Craig’s 138-pound Wyatt Patten won 5-4 over Petersburg’s John Brooks (TMHS’ Hunter Boyer and Ketchikan’s Theo Benson noted); Sitka’s 145-pound Jaren Sumauang pinned PSG’s Logan Turcott (Haine’s Zane Durr and Craig’s Mitchell Reeves in the mix); Thorne Bay’s 152-pound Luther Jenson pinned Petersburg’s Billy Ware (Haine’s Walker Blair and Wrangell’s Chester Armstrong here); 160-pounders Theophilus McBurnett (KTN) and William Peele (Hydaburg); KTN’s 170-pound Davon Wake won 4-2 over Wrangell’s Jeffrey Rooney (Hoonah’s Torsten Skafelsted and Craig’s Patrick Marshall in the mix); 182-pound includes TMHS’ Q’on Bear Clark and Ketchikan’s Jake Stout; 220-pound includes Hydaburg’s Robert King and Metlakatla’s David Johnson; and 285-pound includes Metlakatla’s Tristan Schwehm and Petersburg’s Matthew Gudgel.
While the Brandon Pilot Invitational is another step in the beginning of the season for the three 4A schools from Juneau-Douglas, Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain, the venue is the final matches for the small schools before their Region V Tournament at Mt. Edgecumbe Dec. 5-7.
The 1/2/3A teams will be looking to see what match ups will bring individual and team points and qualifications for the state venue Dec. 12-14 at Anchorage Christian School. The large school state championships are Feb. 7-8 at Bartlett High School.
JDHS coach McDonald said the high school wrestling scene is not that different from middle school.
“Just the level of competition you are going to run into if you are coming straight out of middle school and are a freshman in high school,” McDonald said. “You may be up against seniors that are going to be a lot stronger and way more experienced. You are not going to win all the time, you have to understand that and stay determined and disciplined. Eventually you will become that guy that wins all the time.”
McDonald noted that Brandon Pilot, the wrestler whose name is honored on the tournament, wrestled for him at FDMS.
“He was a hard working kid,” McDonald said. “We were friends. He used to date my sister.”
Pilot was a sophomore wrestler when he died in a vehicular accident on Eaglecrest Road in the early morning on Nov. 18, 2000. One week later, the wrestling team went on with the scheduled Thanksgiving Classic wrestling meet, dedicated it to Pilot’s memory and won the team title.
Pilot was ranked sixth in the state at 152-pounds and had just finished in fifth place at the Anchorage Christian Schools Invitational tournament, basically a preview of the state championships.
This year’s Brandon Pilot Invitational is free to the public, as the Juneau Youth Wrestling Club (JYWC) has paid all entrance fees for the public.
Friday wrestling action begins at 4 p.m. and Saturday matches begin at 9 a.m. Friday action should be finished by 9 p.m.
Saturday will begin semifinals and finals will begin at 5 p.m.
“It will be interesting to see some of the match ups this weekend,” TMHS assistant coach Gary Reid said. “Craig and Ketchikan have some good kids. We will see who makes weight and who shows up.”