The Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team got its final preparations in for this weekend's Brandon Pilot Tournament by going to the mat Thursday with Hoonah and Skagway.
With more than 10 schools converging on JDHS at 4 p.m. today, the Crimson Bears wanted to get a little action in before one of the most important tournaments of the season.
"I wanted to get them warmed up and forget about the fact that it's their first time in Juneau in front of the family," JDHS coach Kris Mercer said. "I wanted them to get the skunk off the deck and make it happen."
In all, JDHS competed in 19 matches. The Crimson Bears split four bouts with Skagway and took all but two from Hoonah. Team scores were not kept.
While some of the Bears' veteran wrestlers used Thursday as an opportunity to polish off shots, the informal tri-meet also allowed new wrestlers to get important competition against opposing schools.
Among those new wrestlers were 171-pounder Cary Kelly, who pinned Skagway's Tom Littlefield in 1:10.
"I was impressed with Cary Kelly, he surprised everybody," Mercer said. "I was worried he was going to get killed out there and he came back and stuck him. He's a first-year wrestler and it shows what kind of athlete he is."
Some wrestlers got to wrestle two bouts on Thursday. DeAndre King and Kurt Barry each split their two matches.
Clinton Clark won both of his matches at 140 pounds, pinning Hoonah's Killian Skafelstad and Steve Montantes.
"It's a warm-up for tomorrow," Clark said. "Tomorrow is a big day."
Other winners for Juneau-Douglas included Ian Otness, Buddy Howard, Dante Santos, Bryce Saviers, Tyler Zimmerman, Garret Cox, Matt Barry and Chris Twomley.
Jake Mason won his 189-pound match 13-6 over Lyle Coutlee of Hoonah.
Mason expertly utilized a double-leg takedown to control Coutlee. Following tournaments in Ketchikan and Sitka, Mason said the coaches go over film of his matches to find where he can improve.
"Coach sits with us and says this is what you need to work on, and my shots were something I needed to work on," Mason said. "I feel like I've definitely improved on them so I'm pretty proud about that."
In addition to working on their takedowns and stamina, Mercer wanted to get his Crimson Bears acclimated to wrestling in front of their home crowd.
JDHS hosts just two tournaments this year - the Pilot Tournament and the Region V tourney in late January.
"The get really worked up for it," Mercer said. "When you only wrestle here two times a year, it's important to have your best showing so it can be quite stressful."
The Pilot Tournament will feature a very large field with teams flying in from throughout Alaska.
The interior will be represented, as South Anchorage and West Anchorage will compete in Juneau.
Also participating are Southeast rivals Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Petersburg, Craig, Klawock, Wrangell and Mt. Edgecumbe.
"We've been conditioning a lot so definitely everyone can pull it off physically," Mason said. "Mentally, the team is coming together. It's only been two weeks so it's starting to look more like a family."
In addition to wrestling in front of the home folks against hungry competition, there is also an emotional component to this weekend's tournament.
The tourney is named for Brandon Pilot, a former JDHS wrestler who died in a car accident in November 2000.
"We hold this in his memory," Mason said. "He won't be forgotten here in Juneau. He's a great athlete and we do this in honor of him."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org