Although its season is more than halfway over, the Juneau-Douglas High School varsity wrestling team will see its first big test today through Saturday at the Alaska Christian Schools tournament in Anchorage.
More than 45 schools will compete in one of the largest fall-season tournaments, giving the Crimson Bears their first, and only, taste of competition outside Southeast.
"We got a lot of good, young guys," senior 189-pounder John Moore said. "We lost some good seniors from last year, but not enough to kill us. The core we got is real strong."
The Crimson Bears placed second among 49 teams at last year's ACS tournament while not missing wrestlers in three of the 14 weight classes.
This year, Juneau gives up one weight class and looks poised to take the tournament with a lineup led by the experience of six seniors and two juniors.
"I think Nikiski is going to be the one to get a hold of," said Crimson Bears head wrestling coach Bob Mahon. "Last week, they beat Ketchikan 40-25 at the Nikiski tournament, but we match up well against them (Nikiski)."
"I'm pretty nervous," said junior 140-pounder Isaac Cadiente. "Hopefully we can go up there and surprise some people. Nikiski's going to be the team to beat. We're pretty close to Ketchikan, so there's no reason why we can't do well."
Wrestling for the Crimson Bears are: Cadiente, Moore, freshman Sungi Musarra (103 pounds), senior Anthony Manacio IV (112), senior Vernon Perry (119), senior Willy Dodd (130), junior David Lilidahl (135), sophomore Reid Dihle (145), senior Stephen Perry (152), senior Kyle Monte (160), freshman Jake Ritter (171), senior Justin Rassmussen (215) and senior Jerrod Harvey (275).
"We're pretty strong," Mahon said. "We're young in a couple spots, but all around, were a strong team. They'll be coming for us."
Crimson Bears who played football are still going through an adjustment period. Dodd will be competing in just his second tournament of the season and Moore and Rassmussen also have seen limited action due to overlapping of the football and wrestling seasons.
"It felt good to get back on the mat," Dodd said, referring to his first-place finish at Hoonah last week. "I feel tired, but I'm getting my endurance back. It's really hard to adjust. First of all, it's a short wrestling season, then you come in late from football. It's really hard to go from one sport to another."
"Wrestling takes a lot more endurance than football. Basically it's six minutes of hell," Moore said.
Next week, the Crimson Bears travel to Ketchikan for another Southeast tournament before coming home to the Juneau Invitational the following week.
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org