When the Class 1A-2A-3A wrestling season started early last month, Rafael Ramirez-Ruiz set the goal of breaking a state record.
As the season draws to a close, the 140-pound Klawock senior has broken a state record. Just not the one he was shooting for.
Ramirez-Ruiz wanted to break the state record for technical falls - the lopsided decisions that end a wrestling match early when one of the athletes has a lead of 15 points or more. Instead, he's broken the record for pins and he has a good chance to set a record for victories in a season during the Southeast Class 2A-3A regional Dec. 3-4 at Mount Edgecumbe High School.
"I'm really surprised at how well I'm doing. I never thought I'd do something like this," Ramirez-Ruiz said during last weekend's Brandon Pilot Invitational in Juneau, where he won the 140-pound weight class and also won four exhibition matches that weren't part of the tournament bracket.
"My goal was to get above 30 matches, because we don't get to travel to a lot of meets. I feel lucky."
Ramirez-Ruiz ended the Pilot tournament with a 51-2 record this season, with 40 pins - including five during the weekend. During a tournament in Ketchikan two weeks ago, he picked up his 35th pin to break the state record of 34 pins set in 1990 by two West Valley wrestlers - Ryan Tennis and Andy Leathers. The state records were researched by Eric Wade, who runs the Web site www.AlaskaWrestling.com.
With two more victories, Ramirez-Ruiz will tie the record set last season by current Skyview junior Eli Hutchison, who posted a 53-1 record and won the Class 4A state title at 119 pounds. Ramirez-Ruiz's 51 victories tie him with Wasilla's Jed Wade, who won the 189-pound Class 4A state title last season. Before last season, Wade held the state record for victories with 43 in 2002.
"My original plan was going for tech pins (technical falls), since the record is 13," Ramirez-Ruiz said. "But I missed (the technical fall) on the first match, and then I started pinning everyone."
While Ramirez-Ruiz won't break the technical falls record, another Southeast wrestler has a shot at it.
Wrangell sophomore Jon Garrison has 12 technical falls this season and just needs one more to tie the mark held by Troy Walker of Nome-Beltz in 1994 and Jake Johnson of Palmer in 1998. Garrison, who wrestles at 103 pounds, is 29-2 this year but wasn't able to compete in the Brandon Pilot tournament.
"I dislocated my left shoulder in Ketchikan, and we didn't want to risk making it worse," said Garrison, who is first in the state at 103 pounds in Class 1A-2A-3A rankings posted on www.AlaskaWrestling.com. "I'll get it at regionals."
Ramirez-Ruiz, who is ranked third at 140 pounds, was born in Mexico and lived in California until his family moved to Klawock about five years ago. He said he didn't start wrestling until he was in the eighth grade. Ramirez-Ruiz and his brother, Rodrigo, both went to Ketchikan last year. But Rafael moved back to Klawock and talked wrestling coach Stu Merchant out of retirement this season.
"I expected him to do very well this year. He worked every morning with Iain Brown (of Ketchikan, who won the 160-pound title last week) last spring," said Ketchikan coach Rick Collins, who said he thought Ramirez-Ruiz went 36-11 last season. "Raffy's a gifted pinner. He can stretch a guy out. He's basically the same wrestler he was last year, just more confident. He was incredibly focused, but he made some small mistakes last year and this year he's not making them."
Ramirez-Ruiz wasn't originally scheduled to be in Juneau last weekend for the Pilot tourney. But breaking the record for pins made him change his plans. So did recent interest from Ohio State, which might offer him a scholarship if he does well this season.
"I wasn't supposed to wrestle this weekend. I was supposed to be boxing so I could defend my featherweight belt with the Ketchikan Fight Club," said Ramirez-Ruiz, whose last-minute change of plans meant Merchant was out of town for the Juneau meet and he had to travel with the Hydaburg team coached by Dan Edenshaw.
Now that the regular season is over for the small-school wrestlers, Ramirez-Ruiz is focused on the region and state meets. At last year's large-school state meet, he went 2-2 and finished in a tie for seventh place at 135 pounds. Ramirez-Ruiz wants to win a state title, he'll face a tough challenge in the 140-pound weight class this year. Three of the wrestlers ranked above him placed in the top five at 135 pounds at last year's small-school state meet.
"I've been up north once, to the ACS tournament (the Anchorage Christian Schools Invitational) and I lost 0-1 to the No. 1 guy, Justin Tumbaga of Nikiski (in the championship semifinals)," said Ramirez-Ruiz, who also lost 7-2 to No. 2-ranked 135-pounder Lucas Salzbrun of Bethel in the consolation semifinals and took fifth place at 140 at ACS.
"I've heard from Ohio State and it (getting a scholarship) depends on how I do. That's one reason I'm wrestling so many exhibitions. I want to do well."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.