When the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team opened the season, the Crimson Bears felt it might take some time its young lineup to develop.
The Crimson Bears took some lumps early on, with the older, more-experienced wrestlers leading the way. But as the season progressed, the younger wrestlers gained confidence and now they're starting to come through in the clutch for the Crimson Bears.
The Juneau wrestlers will close out their regular season with a series of dual meets today and Saturday against the Sitka varsity and the Ketchikan junior varsity at Sitka High School, and the younger wrestlers are expected to continue expanding their role on the team.
"The team's gotten way better," said junior 119-pounder Jordan Saceda, whose pin of Greg Ginter last Friday helped Juneau clinch a 39-36 dual meet victory over the Ketchikan varsity in Ketchikan. "You can trust them now. You think they'll win. Before, you didn't expect them to win or score points, but now you expect it. They've earned my respect."
Last Saturday, freshman 135-pounder Garret Cox won a 7-6 decision over Sitka's Kyle Johnson to clinch a 30-27 Juneau victory. Cox said he knew the team was depending on him to close out the dual meet's last match since the team score was tied, and he felt some pressure. But Cox said he was happy with his performance.
"Yeah, I felt pretty confident, I knew him (Johnson) sort of," Cox said. "I wouldn't have been so confident at the start of the season. I feel a little better now. I think we'll do good."
"We're just getting some mat time in and most of us will be bumping up a weight so we don't have to cut (weight) this weekend," senior 125-pounder Dennis Hall said. "We did a good job coming back from the holiday and we're starting to peak at the right time."
The Crimson Bears have two of the state's top-ranked wrestlers in the Jan. 7 AlaskaWrestling.com rankings in 103-pound sophomore Gerry Carrillo and 215-pound junior Jake Ritter, who is undefeated.
But Juneau lost third-ranked 112-pound junior Sungie Musarra for the rest of the season to an injured left shoulder. Musarra is scheduled for surgery today, assistant coach Darren May said. The only other ranked Juneau wrestlers are Saceda (fourth at 119) and Hall (fifth at 125).
Sitka has two ranked wrestlers - Dylan Bergman (sixth at 152), who leads the Wolves in wins, takedowns, pins and team points with a 29-3 overall record; and George Howard (eighth at 130).
Ketchikan, which is sending some of its top wrestlers to Anchorage for the Glen Vandergaw Invitational tournament at Dimond High School this weekend, has the only other No. 1 state wrestler from Southeast in 112-pound senior David Mann. The other ranked Kings are Jes Boyd (second at 140 pounds), Jon Hamilton (second at 275), Zach Thompson (fourth at 171) and Rafael Ramirez-Ruiz (sixth at 135).
After this weekend, the postseason schedule features the Region V-Class 4A tournament Jan. 30-31 in Ketchikan and the Class 4A state tournament Feb. 6-7 at Chugiak High School.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.