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After weekends spent at tournaments in Hoonah, Sitka and Ketchikan, the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team gets the special treat this weekend of their first home meet of the season.
The Crimson Bears host the annual Brandon Pilot Memorial Invitational Tournament today and Saturday at the JDHS main gym, a tourney expected to attract about 100 wrestlers from around Southeast Alaska.
Wrestling opens at 6 p.m. tonight with the first two rounds of the tournament, and it continues on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. The semifinals start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with the consolation finals (third-place matches) at 5 p.m. and the championship finals at 6 p.m.
"I think everyone will be more motivated to do well," junior 215-pounder Jake Ritter said of competing at home for a change. "We're getting better every week, and our younger kids want to do well before their moms and dads and friends. From the first meet to this practice, we've made a lot of improvement."
"We get to show them (parents and friends) how hard we're working and how good our coach is training us and how our young team is developing," junior heavyweight Alika Bradley said.
Juneau's annual Thanksgiving tournament has been around for more than a decade. But several years ago the tournament's name was changed to honor former Juneau wrestler Brandon Pilot. Pilot was a sophomore when he was killed in a Nov. 18, 2000, car wreck, a week before that year's Thanksgiving Classic.
With Alaska's large and small schools having staggered seasons, the tournament is the last time the large and small schools will see each other this year.
"It's the last big thing for the small schools before they go to regions," Juneau coach Kris Mercer said.
The Region V-Class 1A-2A-3A tournament is Dec. 5-6 at Wrangell High School, with the Class 1A-2A-3A state meet Dec. 12-13 at Anchorage Christian Schools. The Class 4A state meet isn't until Feb. 6-7 at Chugiak High School.
"It's still early in the season for us," Bradley said.
While this is the fourth week of competition for the Crimson Bears, this will be Juneau's first weekend where the focus is a single, two-day bracketed tournament with prizes for the top team and individuals.
Juneau took part in a bracketed tournament at Sitka two weeks ago, but that event followed a day of mix-and-match bouts. At Hoonah, the Crimson Bears just had mix-and-match bouts. Last weekend in Ketchikan, the Bill Weiss Tournament featured a series of dual meets followed by an All-Stars Session.
"We're going to try," Juneau freshman Garret Cox said when asked about his team's chances to win the team title. "We'll probably get more rest at home. We'll have a lot more people in the stands. We'll have more support, but there'll be more pressure to win, though. We've got to step it up more."
With Juneau's young roster - the majority of wrestlers are freshmen or sophomores, with only a couple of seniors - this will be the first home meet for many of the Crimson Bears. Some of them said there will be more anxiety about doing well.
"I'll do my best, but I may not win that many matches," said freshman Samson Keeney, who competed this summer in regional and national championships for freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
"I'm new to high school wrestling, but I wrestled at DZ (Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School)," freshman Joardan Savland added. "Juneau will win the tournament. We've been working hard the last three weeks."
The Crimson Bears are strongest in the lower weight classes, from 103 pounds through 125, with Ritter being among the state's top wrestlers at 215 to add some strength on the top end. Ketchikan returns last year's state champions at 103 pounds (David Mann) and 275 (Jon Hamilton), but their strength has been in the middle of the lineup. Sitka's strength also is in the middle.
While the three large schools will have depth in their favor, some of the smaller schools could be a factor in the team race.
In the most recent Class 1A-2A-3A state rankings on the Web site www.AlaskaWrestling.com, Wrangell had the state's top-ranked wrestlers at 140 pounds (Harry Churchill) and 160 (Jake Mork), while Hydaburg's Curtis Demmert was No. 1 at 189. Petersburg returns several ranked wrestlers from its team that took second at last year's small schools state meet, even though none are ranked No. 1 this week. Mount Edgecumbe also has several ranked wrestlers, while Craig has two ranked wrestlers and Kake has one. The small school rankings ran in Thursday's Empire.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.