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Riding high, but not too high, from their first Region V title in four years, 17 Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bearss will try to carry their team's momentum to the state wrestling tournament at Kenai Central High School in Kenai beginning today.
Two sessions are scheduled to be wrestled today, which started at 10 a.m. and continue through 9 p.m. Friday's action begins at 8:30 a.m. with Session Three, while Session Four starts at 7 p.m. Saturday's final rounds start at 10 a.m. for Session Five, with third-place and championship matches scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively in Session Six.
The Crimson Bears' team victory at the region tournament in Sitka last weekend marked the first time all season that the entire squad wrestled together. And it was evident that the team's confidence grew as the tournament progressed.
"They got a little confidence," Crimson Bear head coach Bob Mahon said. "And I think it will follow them to state. They came together as a team for the first time and it's what they needed to do."
Juneau's 17 wrestlers this year is two more than qualified last season when the Crimson Bears wrestled to a second-place team finish behind the champion Skyview Panthers. The Panthers, along with Nikiski, are expected to give Juneau the most trouble agiain at this year's tournament.
"Skyview is going to have a bunch of numbers," Mahon said. "Nikiski is strong and Soldotna has been coming on as of late."
However, southeast rivals Ketchikan, which just edged Petersburg for second place at the region should also fare well in Kenai. Petersburg qualified 16 wrestlers and Ketchikan qualified 14.
"I'd be happy if we finish in the top four," Mahon said. "If we have another performance like last weekend, then we can finish better. I expect us to do what we did last week -- wrestle hard and relax. Hopefully the kids will do that."
Juneau has produced three individual state champs in the past two years, and this year the Crimson Bears' best shot at an individual title should come from senior Anthony Manacio IV, senior Jerrod Harvey and junior Isaac Cadiente. Last season sophomore Jestin Hulegaard -- who moved to Minnesota over the summer -- won the title at 130 pounds, while Gary Reid and Garrett Schoenberger both won titles in 1999.
Manacio is ranked No. 2 at 112 pounds in the final state rankings put out by alaskawrestling.com behind Skyview's Cody Phipps, last year's 103-pound state champion. Manacio, a three-time region champ, lost in the state championship match last year to Kotzebue's Hans Hansen, 4-2. Hansen moved up to 119 pounds this year.
Harvey, the Bears' hulking team leader, moved up to the 275 pound class midway through this season to fill a hole on the roster and score more team points for the Bears. Harvey was the top-ranked 215-pounder all of this season and should still be a force in the heavyweight ranks. Last year, Harvey placed third at 215 pounds at the state tournament with a pin over Unalakeet's Kenny Ivanoff.
Cadiente had his best performance at the Brandon Pilot Invitational two weeks ago when he won a strong 140-pound weight class that featured four of the state's top-five wrestlers. Cadiente, ranked No. 5 in the state, finished second at the region tournament when Ketchikan's Stephan Haseltine caught him off-guard and pinned Cadiente early in the second period in the championship match.
"I just want to prove that I can wrestle with those guys," Cadiente said earlier this season. "Last year I went two and out and I don't want that to happen this year."
Other wrestlers who should have good showings include freshman Sungie Musarra at 103 pounds, senior Vernon Perry at 119 pounds, senior Willy Dodd at 125 pounds, junior David Liliedahl at 135 pounds, sophomore Reid Dihle at 145 pounds, freshman Jake Ritter at 171 pounds, senior Jonathan Moore and junior Robert Vicario at 189 pounds and senior Justin Rasmussen at 215 pounds.
"I'd be looking for Manacio to place in the top one or two," Mahon said. "Jerrod Harvey, Cadiente and maybe Rasmussen, Moore and Vicario plus a handful of others could place in the top four."
The rest of the Crimson Bears who qualified for state by finishing in the top six at regions include: Freshman Logan Harvey at 103 pounds, senior Amanda Krafft (Southeast's first female qualifier) at 112 pounds, freshman Buckley Svinicki at 130 pounds and senior Stephen Perry at 152 pounds.
"We don't have any pressure on us," Mahon said. "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at email@example.com.