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Southeast wrestlers will be trying to end a lengthy streak when they head to the Class 4A state wrestling tournament Friday and Saturday at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center.
Since Scott Falzerano of Sitka won the 189-pound title in 1992, no Southeast wrestler has come home from the state meet with a state championship. For Ketchikan and Juneau-Douglas, the streak goes back even further, to 1986 when Juneau's Phil Isaak won at 155 pounds and Ketchikan's Charlie Jeffries won at 167 pounds, two weight classes that haven't even been in existence for 13 seasons.
But the streak has a good chance of ending this weekend. The meet starts at 9 a.m. Friday and continues through Saturday. The championship semifinals are at 7 p.m. on Friday, with the championship finals at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
``I know I have a good chance,'' said Garrett Schoenberger, a Juneau senior who just moved back into the No. 1 spot at 171 pounds in the Alaska Wrestling Poll. ``Every match will be a battle, and any of the people who qualify can beat you. Last year (when he took third place), I almost got beat in the quarterfinals by a guy who didn't even come close to placing. I just want to come out hard and to have no excuses. I want to know I gave everything I had.''
Schoenberger, who has a 31-2 record this season, is one of several Southeast wrestlers who might end the no-championship streak this weekend. His two losses came to wrestlers with the last name of Thompson -- Ketchikan's Leif Thompson who will wrestle up a weight class at 189 pounds and is ranked fourth in the poll, and Soldotna's Justin Thompson who was the top-ranked wrestler at 171 until being upset in the Region III championships last Saturday. Schoenberger has since beaten Leif Thompson two times, but has yet to have a rematch with Justin Thompson who knocked Schoenberger out of the top spot earlier this season.
Juneau is sending nine wrestlers to the state meet, and only three of those are seniors -- Schoenberger, Gary Reid at 140 and Orion Bloom at 152. Reid is ranked second in the poll for his weight class, and is probably Juneau's next best hope. Also sporting decent chances for a title are junior Anthony Manacio III at 125 pounds and his younger brother, sophomore Anthony Manacio IV at 103. Anthony III is ranked third in his weight class and Anthony IV is fifth in his. Juneau's other state qualifiers are Willy Dodd at 112 pounds, Jestin Hulegaard at 130, Jonathan Moore at 189 and Jerrod Harvey at 215.
``My weight class had some upsets, so the bracket's all messed up,'' Reid said. ``We've got four or five guys, out of our nine, who can do it. People know who's out there and who wants it more. I think Jeff Ragelin was the last Juneau guy to even reach the finals (second place at 171 pounds in 1995).''
For Bloom, who is making his first trip to the state meet, this is the culmination of his career. But, even though he took second place in the region tournament, Bloom said he feels he still has an outside shot at a title because there were a lot of upsets in the region meets.
``In my weight class, the seedings are all messed up and there were two guys who weren't even ranked who won titles last week,'' Bloom said. ``It's anybody's game. I'm going to try my best. We've got four or five guys who should at least reach the semis. I think if we break the streak, we'll keep on winning.''
Because some of the top schools in the other three regions qualified between 14 and 18 wrestlers for the state meet, the three Southeast teams will be hard-pressed to contend for the team championship. But Juneau coach Bob Mahon still thinks the Crimson Bears can be competitive. Since many of his wrestlers are young, Mahon hopes being at the state tournament will help prepare the younger wrestlers for state championships in the future.
``We want to finish in the top 10, and even with nine kids I think we can still do it,'' Mahon said. ``I'm really going to be curious about how they seed the brackets. This is the first year Jerrod's ever wrestled, and it's Willy's first year, too. I'm hoping we're wrestling pretty good and we get what we can. This will be a great learning experience for the younger kids.''
Schoenberger is the only Southeast wrestler who is currently ranked No. 1 in his weight class, but the most recent poll has three Ketchikan wrestlers ranked No. 2 - junior Geoff Nordlund at 152 pounds, senior Trygve Westergard at 215 and sophomore Matt Hamilton at heavyweight. Ketchikan, which qualified 10 wrestlers for state, also has junior Joey Fama ranked fourth at 119, senior Leif Thompson fourth at 189 and junior Travis Johnson sixth at 135. The other Ketchikan state qualifiers are Jed Michaels at 103, Stephan Haseltine at 130, Matt Haseltine at 135 and Nick Conley at 160.
Sitka's only ranked wrestlers are Justin Carlson (eighth at 112), Jamie McCrehin (seventh at 119) and Brian Roderick (fifth at 145). Sitka qualified nine wrestlers for state and its other qualifiers are David Gauthier at 125, Cory Gould at 140, Todd Wyman at 145, Waylon Evans at 160, Darren LaDuke at 171 and Mike Loucks at heavyweight.
Sitka coach Mike Schlins said he thinks the top Juneau and Ketchikan wrestlers have a better shot at winning a state title than his top wrestlers. But he said all the Southeast teams will be pulling for someone to end the no-champion streak.
``I think you're really looking more at Ketchikan and Juneau, I don't think this year Sitka has the guys to break through,'' Schlins said. ``We're looking for some thirds and fourths. It's been a long time, and I think all three coaches want to see it ended. We're all pulling for each other. We all help each other when we get to state.''