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The old home mat advantage didn't produce any champions this weekend, but a pair of Crimson Bears wrestlers treated the crowd to close title matches and three more bounced back from losses to take third at Juneau-Douglas High School's annual Pilot Invitational.
The JDHS wrestling team ended up with a well-earned fourth place after Saturday's finals of the 16-team tournament. Colony, the state's top-ranked team on the 4A level, took home the team championship as many had expected. Sitka finished in second, and Wrangell ended up in third.
Senior Bryce Saviers, one of four fourth-year wrestlers to take part in Saturday's Senior Night ceremonies, was the final Crimson Bear eliminated. He faced Colony's Kyle Wilson, 4A's top-ranked 125-pounder, in a nip-and-tuck championship match before surrendering just his third loss of the season and securing the weight's second spot.
Saviers had never faced Wilson before the match, but grew to respect his opponent as he watched Colony's team captain place second in the state last season and first the year before.
"I'd say I feel pretty good about how I did. I think a lot of people were impressed that I stuck with a kid of (Wilson's) caliber and I've got nothing to hang my head about," Saviers said. "Now my goal is to make it to state and, hopefully, wrestle with him again."
Fellow seniors Ben Roemling, Kurt Barry and Tony Barril joined Saviers in presenting flowers to their parents and getting a final acknowledgment from their home crowd prior to Saturday's finals matches.
"It was neat to have them get that moment in front of everyone," head coach Bob Cox said. "We had a lot of people there cheering this weekend and it was just a pretty good tournament."
Freshman Wilson Suzuki was the other Crimson Bear to lose his finals match, also falling to a ranked Colony opponent and matching Saviers' second-place at 103 pounds. The real excitement of Suzuki's weekend came in the semifinals, however, as he finally defeated Sitka's Cameron O'Neill in dramatic fashion.
Suzuki had already dropped "at least two" close matches to O'Neill this season, according to Cox, and appeared to be headed for another defeat as he trailed 7-0 with just seconds remaining in the final period. A quick strike from the freshman put O'Neill on his back in the final ten seconds, though, and Suzuki was able to secure the pin just before time ran out.
"He really showed a lot of heart and proved that old adage - it's never over until it's over," Cox said. "A lot of people would have slacked off being down that much at the end. It's a great thing for him to experience through staying so focused on his goal."
Three more JDHS wrestlers battled back from earlier losses to take third in their respective weight classes.
Freshman Thomas Riley finished third at 112 pounds after dropping a semifinal match to Jesse Rogers, his pesky rival from Mount Edgecumbe this season. Rogers is currently ranked third in the state in 3A, and stretched his streak to three close wins against Riley.
"Thomas was actually leading by a point headed into the final round, but (Rogers) got a
quick little reversal to go up a point on his side," Cox said. "Thomas just wasn't able to flip it back around before time ran out. He was real close to getting to the finals."
Ross Lietz, the team's new 215-pounder, also placed third in just his second weekend of wrestling in competition. Cox admits that Lietz still has some rust to shake off, but added that his progress has been quick thus far.
"He gets better and better each time he wrestles, but he's definitely still getting the hang of things right now," Cox said. "We should be able to get him ready for regionals in a coupe of weeks."
Sophomore heavyweight Cole Bossio was the final Bear to take third, bouncing back from a tough semifinal match in which he lost by a single point.
With next weekend off for the Thanksgiving break, Cox and company will turn their focus to the regional tournament that is now just two weeks away.
"I think we've covered everything technique-wise. Now it's time for fine-tuning through repetitive drilling," Cox said. "Of course a coach sort of cringes when the kids have two weeks of eating ahead of them. Hopefully they don't get too far over the weights they need to be at for regionals."