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In one of the closest finishes in history of the West Valley Invitational high school wrestling tournament, the top four teams were separated by just 13 points when the dust settled this weekend in the Wolfpack gymnasium.
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"The championship finals were very exciting because every match had an implication in the team scores," West Valley coach Norm Davis said. "It made for a great finish."
Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears took third overall in the tournament Friday and Saturday. Wasilla emerged with 187.5 points and Lathrop placed second with 182.5. Juneau-Douglas took the third spot with 175 and North Pole was fourth with 174.5. West Valley and West Anchorage rounded out the field with 110 and 44.5, respectively.
Juneau-Douglas High School head wrestling coach Kris Mercer said after the match that the Bears are "right on track for the State Championships in February." Though the school had only half the players and lacked a full varsity team, Mercer said JDHS was "small but strong and showed up north that we are ready for seeding come State."
The Bears started great on Friday, earning first place with an 8-point lead. Juneau compiled 143 points on the first day of the two-day event, while Wasilla had 135. North Pole and Lathrop were both still in the hunt as the Patriots compiled 131 and Lathrop registered 122. Rounding out the field were West Valley with 75 and West Anchorage with 29. This sent eight Crimson Bear wrestlers into Saturday's final matches.
Second-place Wasilla and third-place North Pole each had six wrestlers in the finals while Lathrop sent five. West Valley had two and West Anchorage had one. The final outcome hinged on the four championship matches between wrestlers from Juneau and Wasilla.
The lack of depth proved difficult for JDHS on the second day, although five Crimson Bears finished champions and Juneau's Dante Santos won the award for Most Outstanding Wrestler in the tournament. Santos reached the finals by pinning his first three opponents then he defeated Wasilla's Mike Chafin in the 125 weight category with a final score of 4-1. Bobby Hunt beat Kendra Nelson from Wasilla in the 103 weight category by pinning her in 4 minutes, 41 seconds. Ian Otnoss, 112, lost a close match to Wasilla's Wesley Koch with a final score of 10-9. Matt Berry, also from Juneau, defeated fellow Crimson Bear junior varsity Steven Dyer 14-5. Third-ranked Joardan Savland upset first-ranked Westley Gagnon of Wasilla in overtime with a final score of 4-2.
Warriors who claimed crowns were two-time state champion Alan Bartelli at 119 with 17-2 technical fall over Lathrop's Joe Hughes and Duane Carpenter at 135 with a pin of North Pole's Steve Jutila. Host West Valley's two champions were Jeremy Fulk at 189 and unbeaten Dustin Baxter at 215. Fulk pinned Lathrop's Kent Osborn, while Baxter scored a 7-1 win over Juneau's Jake Mason. Heavyweight Max Collins and Josh Witcher at 140 were North Pole's champions. Collins won a 7-3 decision over Lathrop's Kris Dixon, while Witcher pinned Lathrop's Luke DeBoard. Lathrop's lone champion was Bobby Hicks at 130 with a 7-3 win over North Pole's Dillon Neth and West Anchorage's only winner was Max Rosafigura at 145 with a pin of North Pole's Levi Jutila.
Winners of third-place matches were: North Pole's Justin Padgett at 103; Lathrop's Jeremy Simmons at 112; North Pole's David Vanvliet at 119; West Anchorage's Budde Pressler at 125; West Valley's Pierce Stowman at 130; Lathrop's Kyle Demientieff at 135; Wasilla's David Mezechuk at 140; West Anchorage's Carson Roberts at 145; Wasilla's Casey Katchinska at 152; Lathrop's Eddie Hoch at 160; Lathrop's Levi Brower at 171; Wasilla's Chris Crane at 189; North Pole's Jackson Collins at 215; and West Valley's Gavin Lorens at heavyweight.
Winners of the fifth-place matches were: Lathrop's Eric Tupper at 103; West Valley's Forest Owen at 112; North Pole's Blayne Kiser at 119; North Pole's Anthony Grzeskowiak at 125; Wasilla's Kevin Harless at 130; Wasilla's Stephen McElroy at 135; North Pole's Eric Gustafson at 140; Wasilla's Jon Jensen at 145; North Pole's Lewis Williams at 152; North Pole's Keaton Collins at 160; West Valley's Joe Neetz at 171; Wasilla's JC Knighten at 189; West Valley's Jay Phillips at 215; and Lathrop's Peter Aumau at heavyweight.
South Anchorage and Chugiak also were scheduled to compete in the event, but they did not make the trip north to Fairbanks.
The next event on the local wrestling calendar is Tuesday night when West Valley travels to North Pole for a dual meet. The junior varsity action starts 6 p.m. and varsity matches get under way at 7 p.m.
The Fairbanks Daily News- Miner contributed to this story.