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KETCHIKAN - After a one-day delay due to fog, the focus of the Class 4A state wrestling tournament Saturday finally was where it belonged - on the wrestlers, not the weather.
Teams had been scattered from Anchorage to Seattle, with small groups in Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell and Ketchikan on Thursday as fog kept several planes from landing in Ketchikan in time for Friday's scheduled start of the meet. The stranded teams were able to get into Ketchikan on Friday - with the last group arriving about 11:30 p.m. in a chartered plane carrying about 80 wrestlers, plus coaches and supporters, from the Anchorage School District.
With a revised schedule that moved everything back a day, wrestling began at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Ketchikan High School's Clark Cochrane Gymnasium with the first of four rounds scheduled for the day. Four more rounds are scheduled for today, with the championship finals set for 7:30 p.m.
"There's a lot of relief, for sure," Ketchikan coach Rick Collins said. "I think the tournament's running pretty well. We had a lot of weird circumstances. But kids are smiling, and that's why we do this."
"That's where it's supposed to be," Juneau-Douglas High School coach Bob Mahon said. "That's what we needed, to start wrestling. This is not for the coaches, the parents or the fans, it's to make a lasting impression for the kids."
Juneau senior Isaac Cadiente reached the championship finals at 145 pounds, but he nearly was surprised in the first round when Wasilla's Brandon Wright took Cadiente down and got a two-point near fall for a 4-0 lead. That woke Cadiente up, and he went on to pin Wright. He then won by a 9-1 major decision over Blaine DeWalt of North Pole in the quarterfinals and beat Chugiak's Dan Bailey by a 14-3 major decision.
"I felt great," Cadiente said of his semifinal victory. "He (Wright) pissed me off. It just reminds me to be cautious. I got bad position. In the next match I was cautious and tried to keep good position."
Senior Robert Vicario was Juneau's other finalist, reaching at 189 pounds after picking up a late escape point in a 4-3 decision over Homer's Jim Pollack. Earlier on Saturday, Vicario pinned Chris Lawrence of Skyview in 2 minutes, 49 seconds, then he won a 17-7 major decision over North Pole's Justin Ballek.
"I feel good," Vicario said with a huge smile on his face. "I made it to finals. I'm really happy. I'm just happy to be in the finals. This gives me another shot at Wade (undefeated Jed Wade of Wasilla, who beat Vicario 3-2 in their only meeting). I love being the finals. The spotlight's right on you, it's the best thing in the world."
Juneau had two other wrestlers reach the semifinals, but they both lost and will have to come back through the consolation bracket to have a shot at third place. Freshman Cody Wolf lost a 3-2 decision to Wasilla's Bo Kittley at 103 pounds and sophomore Sungie Musarra lost a 12-4 major decision to Skyview's Eli Hutchison.
"I think I did pretty good, since I'm a freshman," Wolf said. "I could have done better in the last one. I could have been faster. I didn't put enough pressure on him."
"It's not too bad," Musarra said as he iced his separated shoulder from a month ago. "Everyone's doing what we expected them to be doing. We'll definitely come back through the back side and try and do good."
The West Valley Wolfpack sent the most wrestlers into Sunday's championship finals, as seven out of West Valley's eight semifinalists advanced. Other teams with more than one finalist were Ketchikan and Soldotna with three apiece, while Wasilla, Juneau-Douglas, Skyview, Chugiak and Lathrop had two each.
The seven finalists gave West Valley a commanding lead in the team scores with 147.5 points. Skyview is in second place with 89 points, followed by Lathrop with 86, Soldotna with 85, Wasilla with 81.5 and Ketchikan with 75 points for sixth place.
Juneau was in eighth place with 59 points, while Sitka was in 17th place with 14 points to round out the scoring for the other Southeast teams.
The Wolfpack got off to a good start in the semifinals as sophomore 119-pounder Kaylen Baxter took advantage of a mistake by Kodiak junior Sean Costello to win by a pin in a battle between two 2002 spring season state champions. Costello said he shot a move too high, went back on his heels and Baxter tossed him. Baxter said he wanted to get West Valley off on the right foot.
"We've got to get going, get the momentum, keep it and go. If we get all our guys to the finals we've got a chance. It's still a tough race, though."
West Valley had the most wrestlers qualify for Saturday night's championship semifinals with eight. Wasilla and tournament-host Ketchikan both sent five wrestlers to the semifinals, while Juneau-Douglas, Skyview, Kodiak, Lathrop and Soldotna had four semifinalists each. The largest team at the tournament - Service, with 20 wrestlers - only had two advance to the semifinals.
"Any time you have eight make the semifinals you have to be happy," West Valley coach Dan Carstens said. "But this is far from over. The semifinals are a hard round, and that's where the leaders kind of pull away. Each match is worth 12 points in the team standings. I expect us and Lathrop to hopefully both finish in the top five, we've been in the top three the last couple of years."
The Southeast teams - who only qualified 28 wrestlers for state - nearly matched the number of semifinalists from the six Anchorage schools - who qualified 80 wrestlers for the tournament. The Southeast teams had nine in the semifinals, with Anchorage having 10 and Fairbanks 14. Region III sent the most to the semifinals with 23 - eight from the Mat-Su Valley schools, 11 from the Kenai Peninsula and four from Kodiak.
"I figured we had five semifinalists, but David (135-pounder David Liliedahl) lost to Phipps (Cody Phipps of Skyview)," Mahon said. "We're still up there. We've been in this position before, in West Valley, and with Liliedahl and Jake (Ritter at 189 pounds) getting points on the back side we can still do well."
Six of Juneau's wrestlers won their first-round matches, and of the three who lost, 125-pounder Logan Harvey was able to stay alive in the consolation round. Ritter and Liliedahl both lost in their championship quarterfinal matches.
Only two Crimson Bears were eliminated from the tournament during Saturday's four rounds - 112-pounder Gerry Carrillo and 140-pounder Buckley Svinicki. Both were young wrestlers, and Mahon said he wanted them to experience the atmosphere of a state tournament.
Juneau brought 10 wrestlers to state, but lost one before he even wrestled a match. Junior 119-pounder Dennis Hall tweaked his neck during Tuesday's practice and it never loosened up so he could wrestle. Hall was still having to turn his whole body to turn his head because of his stiff neck on Saturday.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.