Sophomore Jestin Hulegaard has a dream for the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team as it heads to the Region V Championships this weekend in Ketchikan.
After losing last year's region title to Ketchikan by just three points in Juneau, Hulegaard wants the Crimson Bears to reclaim the region crown in Ketchikan. The Kings have owned the region title for three years now, beating Juneau by 12 points three years ago and by six points two years ago before last season's tournament came down to the final match.
"When we take it from Ketchikan, at their house, that's going to be sweet," Hulegaard said. "We want to take it at their town."
The Region V wrestling tournament opens at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, with more wrestling starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday. The championship finals are slated for 8 p.m. Saturday night. The top six wrestlers in each weight class this weekend will qualify for the fall season state tournament Dec. 14-16 in Kenai.
"I've never won regions before," Juneau senior Anthony Manacio III said. "I'm really looking forward to this year's meet after coming so close last year. Everybody was wrestling well, then all of a sudden Ketchikan was ahead."
This year's region meet will have a wild card element since it's no longer just a Class 4A affair for the larger schools. Since the state's wrestling schedules were broken up into two unclassified seasons this year, the Class 2A and Class 3A teams in Southeast will now wrestle against the Class 4A teams at the region level instead of holding their own tournament.
That means wrestlers from Petersburg, Wrangell, Hoonah, Mount Edgecumbe and other schools could impact how the wrestlers from the Class 4A schools of Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka place in the final standings.
"It will be totally different," Juneau senior Brian Thatcher said. "It'll be fun with all those teams. We've already proven we can dominate the lower weights, but now the heavier weights need to step it up."
"It's going to be a battle," Hulegaard said. "It could go either way. Everyone has to step up. Our second guys have to finish second or third in the region if we're going to win it. I think that's one place where we're stronger, our depth."
The added wrestlers will put a premium on a team's depth. In past years, when there were only three teams in the region, a large gap in talent between a team's first and second wrestler hasn't been much of a factor at the region level because there were so few competitors. Now, a large talent gap can mean the difference between a second- or third-place finish and not qualifying for state.
"I think it's going to help us," Juneau coach Bob Mahon said of the new wrestlers being added to the mix. "Where we're really strong is in our lower weights, from 103 to 130, and Ketchikan is stronger in the upper weights. Ketchikan will bring out a few extra guys, they always seem to have a few new guys at region time."
Juneau will have two new wrestlers itself. Isaac Cadiente, who did well this summer competing at the club level for the Juneau Tornadoes, is coming off a Class Three separated left shoulder (all the ligaments pulled loose from the bone) from a preseason practice. Chris Peele, whose older brother won the 1994 small schools state heavyweight championship while at Hydaburg, has finally cut enough weight to compete in the 275-pound division this weekend. Peele was over 300 pounds at the start of the season, and dropped 40 pounds to get below the maximum weight allowed to wrestle.
"I'm kind of nervous," said Cadiente, who will wrestle at 140 pounds. "I didn't think I would get to wrestle this year after I got hurt, but the doctor gave me the OK to practice two weeks ago. I just want to help the team out as much as I can. I didn't want the year Juneau might win state for the first time ever be the year I was out with an injury."
Juneau, which is currently ranked third in the state's team poll on www.alaskawrestling.com, will have 22 wrestlers at the region meet out of a possible 28 spots (two per weight class). Mahon said Juneau has no wrestlers at 135 and 152, and only one at at 103 and 189. All the other weights are doubled up, and there is a possibility in a couple of weights -- like at 119 with Patrick Carrillo and Willy Dodd -- that Juneau could send both wrestlers through to the finals.
"It's just going to be whoever wants it most," Manacio said. "And we want it (the region title) this year."
"We want to go down and make a statement for state," Hulegaard said. "But Ketchikan is ranked fourth in state, so we can't look past them."
Charles Bingham may be reached at email@example.com.