Juneau's Floyd Dryden Middle School wrestling team wrapped up a successful season on Saturday at the Tanana Middle School Invitational - the unofficial state championships for seventh and eighth grade athletes.
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Ben Hotch, an eighth grader, captured the 148-pound state middle school championship in sudden-death overtime. The Eagles finished 12th out of 34 schools at the tournament.
Hotch became the first state champion for coach Geoff Harben, who's led the Eagles for 20 years.
"He's just a gifted athlete," Harben said. "He plays basketball, football. The high school coaches are all drooling to get this kid up there. But wrestling has been good for him too."
In the finals, Hotch used his brain and his muscles to win a state title against the hometown wrestler for nearby North Pole.
With the score knotted at 4-4, the match moved into overtime in which the wrestler who earns the first takedown wins.
Harben said Hotch's opponent exhibited a tendency to back up to draw his opponent towards him and then lunge in for a takedown. Hotch read and reacted to his strategy perfectly in the extra session.
Harben said Hotch moved from side to side rather than going directly at his North Pole opponent. When the North Pole wrestler backed up and then lunged, he was too far away to grab Hotch. Floyd Dryden's state champ quickly snapped down on his opponent and spun around for the takedown and victory.
"We constantly say, 'Wrestle smart,'" Harben said. "You can't just lunge at people. You have to be patient and set up your moves. A lot of people who don't know about wrestling think it's just two people mauling each other, but there's a lot of thinking out there."
Hotch's state title capped a terrific tournament for Floyd Dryden.
Tyler McMichael (121 pounds) and Cole Bossio (260) each finished third in Tanana. McMichael and Bossio both won their preliminary matches via pinfall before each finishing with a 5-1 record.
Eric Hill, the Eagles' lone seventh grader competing, went 2-2 at the tournament.
"That's a lot of wrestling against good competition," Harben said. "Tyler is a strong kid at 121 and he wrestled three guys that were stronger than him, but he out-wrestled them. Strength helps make the move work, but you can't depend on it to win."
Eric Hill, the Eagles' lone seventh grader competing, competed at 95 pounds.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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