Despite qualifying 13 grapplers for this weekend's Alaska State 4A Wrestling Championships at Chugiak High School, the Juneau-Douglas High School will probably not challenge for a team title.
That doesn't mean that the Crimson Bears can't finish the season strong.
"We don't have to have all firsts, we can do some damage by getting some thirds and fourths," JDHS coach Kris Mercer said. "Our guys have been wrestling tough and they're healthy, peaking, looking good and have great attitudes."
Only one wrestler for Juneau-Douglas - 119-pounder Dante Santos - is ranked in the top-five in Alaska prior to this weekend's tournament..
The junior pinned Sitka's David Blore in 2 minutes, 59 seconds to win the region 119-pound title and will likely be seeded in the top two or three for the state tournament.
Meet the Crimson Bears
Kyle Foote, so., 103 pounds
Buddy Howard, sr., 112 pounds
Dante Santos, jr., 119 pounds
Bryce Saviers, fr., 125 pounds
Steven Dyer, so., 135 pounds
Kurt Barry, fr., 140 pounds
Garret Cox, jr., 152 pounds
Joardan Savland, Jr., 152 pounds
Ramiro Lamas, so., 160 pounds
Tyler Zimmerman, jr., 171 pounds
Samson Keeney, jr., 171 pounds
Jake Mason, jr., 189 pounds
Justin Behrends, sr., 215 pounds
His main competition for the state title should be either Wasilla's Sam Miller or Lathrop's Bobby Hicks.
While the rest of the wrestlers will probably be passed over in today's seeding meeting, Mercer believes that the best wrestlers will win regardless of ranking.
"I never really believed in seeding," Mercer said. "The best wrestler is gong to go to the top even if he's seeded ninth."
While Santos is arguably Juneau's best hope for an individual title, there are a number of interesting stories and potential dark horses surrounding the Crimson Bears.
One of the more intriguing wrestlers heading to the tournament is 112-pound senior Buddy Howard.
As the lone senior in his weight class at state, Howard could have a strength advantage due to his overall physical maturity. While most 103 and 112-pound wrestlers are freshmen and sophomores still growing into their bodies, Howard would have more muscle mass than a 14-year-old.
His main competition in the weight class will be top-ranked Alan Bartelli of Wasilla.
"He's gone against the best," Mercer said of Howard. "He went against Bartelli and got beat pretty soundly. But he knows Bartelli, knows what he's got and he's not afraid of him. If nothing else, he's going to do better."
Santos and 215-pound qualifier Justin Behrends are the lone seniors who will be making the trip to Chugiak.
Garret Cox is a junior at 152 pounds, but will be leaving Juneau for Ohio after the year. This weekend will mark the end of his time as an Alaskan.
"This is pretty much it," Cox said. "This is final for me. I really have to step it up."
The Crimson Bears will send two wrestlers at 152 pounds, Cox and junior Joardan Savland. Juneau-Douglas' Tyler Zimmerman and Samson Keeney will compete at 171 pounds.
Jake Mason (189 pounds) and Steven Dyer (135) will be making their second-straight appearances at Chugiak.
The remainder of the Bears will be making their state championship debuts.
Freshmen Bryce Saviers (125) and Kurt Barry (140) and sophomores Ramiro Lamas (160) and Kyle Foote (103) will experience the loud, raucous atmosphere of the championships for the first time.
"They're going to see it, and it's not going to be this mystery thing," Mercer said. "It's better to go up there this year and learn some lessons and realize that those other guys aren't gods. They're guys just like us and we can hold our own."
Despite his youth, Saviers has been one of Juneau's strongest wrestlers in the waning weeks of the season.
"He's a fighter, he's strong and in great shape," Mercer said of Saviers. "He could third-round somebody. He's giving up a lot of weight, but he's a tiger. He's a 112-pounder wrestling against 135 pounders cutting down. He'll be giving up strength, but what he lacks in strength he makes up for in technique."
The state tournament is where wrestlers aspire to go. Alaska's best 16 grapplers in each weight class will descend upon Chugiak to decide who's the best.
The pressurized atmosphere and top-flight competition can intimidate an unprepared wrestler. JDHS hopes its final week of practice got the team in the proper frame of mind.
"It takes the entire week to prepare for that," Cox said. "You can't just go there and be like, 'All right, I'm going to do this now,' and put it off an entire week. You have to be thinking about it all week."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com
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