At the average wrestling meet there is generally a small group of parents, friends, girlfriends and a few wrestling diehards scattered throughout the stands. Tuesday, however, many of the Ketchikan wrestlers got to show off in front of an energetic afternoon crowd as they ran through a set of 29 mix-and-match exhibition matches against Juneau Douglas and Thunder Mountain. The meet began at 2 p.m. with a full school assembly on hand to watch.
The assembly lasted for 45 minutes, or through the first eight matches. The Kings fed off the energy to win the first five matches, including four by pins in the first period.
“With everybody in the school watching it actually made us work harder,” said junior Theophilus McBurnette, who was the first of the Kings to take the mat. “I just had way more energy. I didn’t really run out of gas. It gets the adrenaline pumping when everybody starts cheering for you.”
McBurnette squared off against Thunder Mountain’s Dante Taylor at 152 pounds. Former Kings wrestler and state champion Kenny Hamilton began the night as the meet announcer and asked the crowd to be completely silent until the first Kayhi takedown “and then go nuts.” Injured Kayhi wrestler Trevor Wutzke, who was assisting at the scorer’s table, whispered to Hamilton, “I’m not sure if they’ll know what a takedown is.”
It only took 18 seconds to find out as McBurnette brought Taylor quickly to the mat and the crowd let loose with a roar. Taylor escaped, but McBurnette brought him back to the mat again and eventually worked his way to a pin with nine seconds left in the first period.
“I was a little nervous, but it was great knowing the whole school was behind you,” McBurnette said. “Normally it is just the guys on the team screaming for you, and that’s not always very loud.”
Following McBurnette’s win, Ketchikan senior Davo Wake faced Thunder Mountain’s Q’On Bear Clark at 170 pounds and earned a pin with five seconds left in the first period. Freshman George Bolton followed with another first-round pin, sticking Roland Mitima of Juneau-Douglas with one second left in the opening period of their 170-pound bout.
After Kayhi’s Nate Fousel earned a hard-fought 12-8 decision over the Crimson Bears’ Cody Weldon in a 182-pound match, the Kings’ Dan Eichner pinned Lianno Vejar of Juneau-Douglas in 51 seconds in front of a stilll-crowded gym that took to chanting the wrestlers’ first names during the matches.
“We work these kids hard, and it was a great reward to have them get that support,” Kayhi coach Rick Collins said. “It was really cool. Obviously, we would like to have it that way all the time.”
It was senior night for the Kings, and Kayhi recognized seniors Wake and Josh Danao. Danao is in his second year of wrestling. He took the mat Tuesday after the assembly had ended, but before the crowd had completely dissipated, earning a 4-2 decision over Thunder Mountain’s Edwin Meyer in a 126-pound match.
“I was kind of scared; everyone was here. No one usually really watches wrestling,” Danao said. “It was great because it was senior night. My mom was here. All of my friends were still here.”
Danao joined the Kings last year after being recruited by his friends. He almost didn’t come back after coach Bill McLaughlin left at the end of the season, but decided to return for his senior year. He’ll have to beat out teammate Marcus Martin or Juneau’s David Dumesnil at 126 pounds in order to make it to state, but still has that as a goal.
“I wasn’t wrestling last year and everyone of my friends was doing it,” Danao said. “They kept asking me. I had to work really hard last year, but I enjoyed it. I haven’t beaten Marcus yet. I don’t know a lot of moves, but I’m trying my best to catch up.”
The crowd was at its loudest when freshman Connor McCormick took to the mat for a 98-pound match against Thunder Mountain’s Juan Fisher. McCormick weighs 81 pounds and generally gives up 15 or more pounds to everyone he wrestles. McCormick lost a 10-0 decision and most of the students left near the end of his match as the student assembly was over.
There were many extremely competitive matchups throughout the day, including Nate Fousel’s 12-8 decision over Cody Weldon of Juneau-Douglas at 182 pounds, and Keenan Spencer’s 12-9 decision over David Dumesnil of Juneau-Douglas at 126 pounds, but the only match to go into overtime was won by Kayhi’s Bryce May. May got a takedown in the extra session to earn a 4-2 sudden victory over Louie Rubenstein of Juneau-Douglas at 160 pounds.
“There were some good matchups out there,” Collins said. “The kids came out and put in some great performances.”
The most animated reaction from Collins came near the end of the night when Bolton, wrestling against Thunder Mountain’s Q’On Bear Clark at 170 pounds, used a throw to get Bear Clark to the mat early in the first period. The throw caused Collins to jump out of his chair in excitement. Bolton was eventually pinned in the second period, but that didn’t quell his coach’s enthusiasm.
“I was fired up,” Collins said. “It is a throw I showed him over Christmas (break) and asked him to use it. It is definitely a new weapon for him.”
The meet was also teacher’s recognition meet, and each of the wrestler’s chose their favorite teacher, who then sat next to the Kayhi coaches at the edge of the mat.
“They definitely got to see the wrestlers from a different vantage point. They got to be a lot closer,” Collins said. “A lot of them didn’t know exactly what to say. They asked us what they should do.”
Collins said that one of the teachers noticeably winced when his wrestler got in a bad spot, “so I told them, we don’t normally do that,” Collins said.
McBurnette chose Eric Stockhausen as his favorite teacher.
“He’s been there for me since eighth grade. He’s always been there to help,” McBurnette said.
Danao’s favorite teacher was Greg Middag.
“I’m really close to him,” Danao said. “I go to his class every sixth period. I don’t have a sixth period class, so I just go and talk to him. I talk to him about my plans for the future.”
Joey Fama, who along with Matt Hamilton coaches the Schoenbar wrestlers, was the only official on hand for Monday’s and Tuesday’s matches. He officiated 30 consecutive matches on Monday, and 29 straight on Tuesday.
“He did a great job,” Collins said. “He and Matt wrestled for Greg (Molby) and I. It is neat to see them giving back to the community. You see a number of people in Southeast that commit their lives to support wrestling, just like you see it happen in basketball and other sports.”
Juneau-Douglas coach Ken Brown wrestled for Sitka and now coaches the Crimson Bears and Floyd Dryden Middle School. Thunder Mountain coach Jake Jacoby and Gary Reid wrestled for Juneau the same years as Fama and Hamilton were wrestling for Kayhi.
The Kings are now off until the Southeast region tournament against Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain. The region meet will start at 9 a.m. on Feb. 1 at Kayhi.
152—Theophilus McBurnette (K) pin Dante Taylor (TM) 1:51; 170—Davo Wake (K) pin Q’On Bear Clark (TM) 1:55; 170—George Bolton (K) pin Roland Mitima (JD) 1:59; 182—Nate Fousel (K) dec. Cody Weldon (JD) 12-8; 182—Daniel Eichner (K) pin Lianno Vejar (JD) :51; 220—JD Hudson (JD) pin Robert Williams (K) 4:57; 126—Keenan Spencer (K) dec. David Dumesnil (JD) 12-9; 98—Juan Fisher (TM) maj. dec Connor McCormick 10-0; 138—Hunter Boyer (TM) dec. Ben Kacena (K) 9-5; 126—Josh Danao (K) dec. Edwin Meyer (TM) 4-1; 138—Kadin Hallstrom (K) pin Devon Mason (TM) 1:18; 145—Dylan Taylor (TM) pin Hitsati Hudson (K) 3:11; 160—Bryce May (K) dec. Louie Rubenstein (JD) 4-2, SV; HWT—Joey Yaletchko (TM) dec. Dallin Ward (K) 6-0; 152—Dante Taylor (TM) pin Zachary Eichner (K) 1:28; 182—Jake Stout (K) dec. Lianno Vejar (JD) 7-5; 126—David Dumesnil (JD) pin Tim Rodriguez (K) 1:52; 106—JT Nell (TM) tech fall Connor McCormick (K) 18-1; 138—Hunter Boyer (TM) dec. Theo Benson (K) 7-2; 145—Dylan Taylor (TM) pin Gerrick Sherrell (K) :24; 132—Ben Kacenas (K) maj. dec. Edwin Meyer (TM) 13-0; 160—Dan Lontz (K) def. Roldan Mitima (JD) DQ; 126—David Dumesnil (JD) dec. Dallas Dillard (K) 5-1; 182—Cody Weldon (JD) pin Dan Eichner (K) 5:09; 145—Devon Mason (TM) maj. dec. Gerrick Sherrill (K) 14-2; 170—Q’On Bear Clark (TM) pin George Bolton (K) 3:18; 138—Hunter Boyer (TM) dec. Kadin Hallstrom (K) 14-7; 170—Davo Wake (K) pin Tyler Cole (TM) :25.