The Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team got a little creative this weekend while hosting conference rivals Sitka and Ketchikan.
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With the five-month season in its final stages, the Crimson Bears found ways to get everyone a little more action.
"It's about mixing and matching and getting as many bouts as we can with as little kids as we have," JDHS coach Kris Mercer said. "We have so few, it's hard to come up with new things. And we're limited with the matches we can do. They can only go up one weight class."
While teams north of Juneau can take a bus to wrestle neighboring schools, the Crimson Bears and their Southeast Conference brethren are limited by travel and finances. When the teams do get together, wrestlers are forced to face the same opponents multiple times over a weekend.
"It's kind of depressing sometimes," JDHS senior Tyler Zimmerman said of wrestling the same opponents. "It was probably the same way when we were young and the seniors were going, 'Oh, those guys again.' It's just the way it goes."
Sometimes monotony can spark ingenuity, however.
The takedown tournament has emerged a popular antidote for the traditional dual meet for short-handed squads. Ketchikan used it for a Southeast meet in mid-December.
The format forces wrestlers to do the one thing coaches constantly stress - attack. In the tournament, only takedowns score points. As soon as a wrestler records a takedown, the referee immediately blows the whistle and brings both combatants to their feet to do it again.
"The takedown tournament is nice because that's what we really need to work on," Mercer said. "All of the region needs to get off the mat and on their feet because that's what they do up north. If we can't be successful on our feet, our season is done. We have to shoot and take it to them and apply that pressure. If we're not pushing it, they're pushing us."
The tournament also allows wrestlers to grapple multiple times in a night, compared to a dual meet where everyone wrestles once and the whole event could take less than an hour. While the results don't count toward any overall records, it gives the athletes an opportunity to improve their skills.
Juneau-Douglas hopes the tournament and the final parts of the season will lead to a strong showing at the upcoming regional tournament on Jan. 27 in Ketchikan.
For more pictures from Friday's senior night, check out spotted.juneauempire.com. Also, state rankings can be located at www.akmat.org.
The Crimson Bears aren't a deep team, but the wrestlers who survived the arduous 16-week season are battle-tested.
"The guys sticking with it and consistent all year are right where they need to be," Mercer said.
Among those favored to win conference titles are Matt Barry and Dante Santos.
Santos is ranked first at 125 pounds. Barry is ranked third in the state at 152 pounds, according to Web site AKmat.org. On Saturday, he defeated teammate Steven Dyer, who's ranked fifth at 152.
The Crimson Bears' heavier wrestlers also exhibited toughness this season. Jake Mason (215 pounds), Zimmerman (189) and Samson Keeney (171) have been models of consistency all season long with their work ethic and intensity.
Mason is ranked fifth in the state while Keeney recently won his weight class at the Red and Gold Tournament in Fairbanks.
"We've all been wrestling with each other since our freshman year," Zimmerman said. "Pretty much everyone on the team feels if one falls, everyone will. ... We all just keep going."
Freshman Bobby Hunt (103), Jufer Librando (112), Bryce Saviers (119) and middleweight Joardan Savland have also been solid this season.
Next year, JDHS and the rest of the Southeast Conference will get a break.
The season will be cut in half and the Class 4A season will run parallel with Class 1-2-3A. That means a larger variety of opponents for JDHS. Also, the shorter season should help teams retain wrestlers and let them stay healthy and focused.
While the changes will likely help the overall health of wrestling in Southeast Alaska, those wrestlers who survived the seemingly endless days of toil in musty practice rooms will carry the knowledge that they can endure almost anything.
"If you learn to fight through it, it can be really rewarding," Keeney said. "It burns a lot of kids out, but once you get past it, I feel like it's been one of the best things for me in high school. ... It gives you the determination you need to push through."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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