This weekend will be the last time the six seniors on the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team compete in their home gym, in front of their classmates, family and friends.
But for Sungie Musarra, Jordan Saceda, John Kuterbach, Jake Ritter, Alika Bradley and Luis Highley, their focus isn't on this weekend. They're looking ahead to the next two weekends, when the Crimson Bears will aim for success at the Southeast Conference-Class 4A and state championships.
"I don't think it's that big," said Ritter, who joined Bradley and Saceda in a senior send-off for the football team in September. "There's a little more emotion. But we know it's not the last time we'll wrestle."
"We're looking at state," Musarra said. "There are only two teams coming (this weekend), and there are not a whole lot of wrestlers who'll be here. ... But we would like everybody to come out and say goodbye to the seniors and see us wrestle one last time."
The Crimson Bears will host a series of dual meets against Southeast rivals Sitka and Ketchikan this weekend, but finals week and travel plans have lightened today's schedule.
Juneau will wrestle Sitka at 8 p.m. tonight, provided Sitka's late afternoon plane arrives on time, but Ketchikan won't arrive in time for a meet. On Saturday, Ketchikan and Sitka wrestle at 10 a.m., Juneau wrestles Ketchikan at 1 p.m., and Juneau faces Sitka at 3 p.m.
"I think this weekend will be a good warm-up for regions," Juneau assistant coach Darren May said during Tuesday's practice. "I think it'll be a typical Southeast weekend, and it'll give kids a chance to get back to their wrestling weights."
The Crimson Bears are coming off a weekend where they went 3-1 in a series of dual meets in Ketchikan, sweeping two close meets against Sitka and splitting two meets with Ketchikan. Juneau didn't take any of its lighter wrestlers to Ketchikan, forfeiting four weight classes a meet, so the Crimson Bears are looking forward to being back at full strength this weekend.
"We'll have our whole team together," Musarra said.
"For the guys who don't have great state potential, these may be their last meets of the season," Ritter said.
The seniors will enter this weekend with different goals. Four of them - Musarra (second at 112 pounds), Saceda (fourth at 119), Kuterbach (second at 171) and Ritter (fourth at 215) - are ranked among the top four in the state in their respective weight classes by AlaskaWrestling.com, so they are focused on the postseason.
The goals for Bradley (275) and Highley (189) are more immediate. Bradley had knee surgery last year and wasn't able to finish the season, while Highley has mainly wrestled exhibition matches this season as there have been others on varsity in his weight class.
"I'm trying to stay healthy so I can do my best at regions," said Bradley, who added that the conversion from football to wrestling has been difficult at times. "You're in a totally different mindset. In football you have your plays, but in wrestling you're always thinking about what you have to do next. If your opponent leans on you one way, you're thinking about what you need to do to counter it. You're thinking a lot more."
"I want to go to state and win a medal," said Highley, who won three exhibition matches last weekend in Ketchikan.
Saceda took a break earlier this season, as he thought about quitting the team because he wasn't enjoying things, and he'd just suffered a tough loss in a meet up north. But after awhile, he rejoined the team and rededicated himself to the sport.
"I took that break to figure out why I was wrestling," Saceda said. "I figure I've got to be dedicated to wrestling. It's a lot of work."
And Kuterbach will close out a career that saw him grow from a struggling freshman to a senior who is one of the top contenders for a state title.
"I was pretty surprised I was doing so good. All the work's paid off, I'm thinking," Kuterbach said. "It shows if you keep working at it, you're going to improve."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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