With only one tournament left before the Region V meet, Juneau's prep grapplers are tuning up for the final time at home before going after a berth in the state tournament.
Schools from all over Southeast are in Juneau this weekend to compete in the Pilot Invitational, but the local focus is on the three 4A schools that will be at Thunder Mountain High School. With only one state berth per weight class in Region V, coaches and grapplers alike will see where their teams stack up against the competition.
"We only get the one berth, so the 4A guys are really trying to get amped up," Falcons wrestling coach Chad Requa said. "We're coming off of a tournament up north where Ketchikan showed us to be the one to beat in 4A. They'll be the ones we're chasing down. It'll be a good tournament."
While Requa said Ketchikan looks like the best team in the region, he believes his grapplers are primed to do well after an up-and-down season thus far.
"We've had some disappointments throughout the season, but we've had some surprises as well. And that goes with the territory," he said. "My initial goal was to bring nine or 10 to state, but with reality setting in, seeing where Ketchikan is and seeing some of the talent Juneau-Douglas has, we're looking to bring six or seven through.
"But things still need to line up right for that to happen."
On the other side of town, Juneau-Douglas coach John Smith has stuck with his initial goal of creating a family atmosphere during a rebuilding process in the Crimson Bears' program. He said he's particularly excited about the matchup between two Juneau heavyweights, Eric Ashenfelter from Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain's Cole Bossio. Ashenfelter pinned Bossio in an earlier matchup this season.
"(Ashenfelter) is looking strong, he's lost some weight and he's leaned up quite a bit. It's hard finding someone to wrestle him he's so big," Smith chuckled.
Another wrestler looking to perform well for the Bears is 140-pounder Andrew Hoch, and Smith had plenty of praise for him.
"Hoch is also looking Sharp. We've had a lot of extra people come in to battle with him, to try and push him," he said. "We mix it up quite a bit, and some of the tough kids will go up against heavier guys to beat on them a little bit.
"We're such a small team that we don't have a lot of the weights, but we all make it worth everybody's while to keep them in shape," he continued. "As far as the team scoring points, I'm not even looking at that because we don't have enough kids. But I know there will be some kids shaking it up in there, especially the seniors."
But Thunder Mountain - a team with more wrestlers than Juneau-Douglas - still has the ability to represent in most weight classes, and Requa identified several grapplers, Bossio included, who will make an impact in the coming weeks.
"Cole wrestled in the finals last week against the No. 1 heavyweight in the state and lost that match 5-2. It was a very winnable match, as he and I have discussed," he said. "That's a good part of getting that mindset right to begin with. If he believes he can beat that guy, I think he'll do very well."
The weigh-in for this weekend's tournament is today at 4 p.m., with matches beginning at 5 p.m. at Thunder Mountain High School.
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