The Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team is still a bit in shock over its 21-point loss to Ketchikan in last weekend's Region V championships, but the Crimson Bears don't have much time to lick their wounds.
The Crimson Bears arrived on the Kenai Peninsula Wednesday afternoon, ready for the fall season state wrestling tournament that opens today at Kenai Central High School. The state tournament continues through Saturday, with the championship bouts scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday.
"I think we match up better at state," Juneau coach Bob Mahon said from Soldotna, where the team is staying. "We lost to Ketchikan, but we never really matched up with their wrestlers. We went to ACS (the Anchorage Christian Schools Invitational), so we know where we rank. Where we're strong, we're outstanding. But where Ketchikan is strong they could get beat up a little bit."
Juneau took second place to Skyview at the ACS Invitational, losing 236.5 to 192, with Nikiski third with 169.5 points and Dillingham fourth with 153.5 and Barrow fifth at 150. Many of the state's coaches consider the ACS Invitational to be the top state preview meet of the season, although Ketchikan didn't attend the meet. Ketchikan and Juneau both went to the Peninsula Duals in Nikiski, with Juneau taking fourth place and Ketchikan fifth in that team-format tournament.
Juneau has more wrestlers available this week than it did during the two November meets in Nikiski and Anchorage, so the Crimson Bears feel pretty good about their chances to finish well at the state tournament. Juneau has 18 wrestlers at the state meet, the most its ever taken to state. When the Crimson Bears went to the tournaments in Nikiski and Anchorage they could only use up to 14 wrestlers per tournament and ended up using a couple fewer because of injuries and illness.
"We might have a chance if we wrestle good, like we did at ACS and Nikiski," Juneau senior Anthony Manacio III said about the team's chances to win a team title. "We're up there and we might have a chance if we step up and take it. The weight classes are covered better now than they were at ACS or Nikiski. It'll be really close and tight. We've got a good shot, but I can't say we'll take it."
"Personally, I think we'll be in the top-five definitely, but taking No. 1 teamwise we're going to have to work," Juneau sophomore Patrick Carrillo said. "After losing at regions, I think we'll have to step it up a notch. But I feel we'll do better at state than we did at regions."
Juneau had four wrestlers claim Region V championships -- junior Vernon Perry at 103 pounds, junior Anthony Manacio IV at 112, Carrillo at 119 and Manacio III at 125 pounds. Four other Juneau wrestlers reached the championship finals, with junior Willy Dodd losing to Carrillo at 119 pounds and the trio of sophomore Jestin Hulegaard at 130, senior Brian Thatcher at 171 and junior Jerrod Harvey at 215 all finishing second to Wrangell wrestlers.
Manacio III won his fourth straight region title and is the top returner for Juneau from last year's Class 4A state tournament, where he took third at 119 pounds. Manacio IV is Juneau's only other returning medalist from last year's state tournament, taking fourth at 103 pounds.
"We could win, but I think they (Skyview) have more people at state," Manacio IV said. "I think I've got a shot. I only lost to the kid from Barrow (Spencer Hirt) by two points when he got me on my back late in our match. I kind of got nervous."
This year's wrestling season has been broken down into two unclassified seasons -- fall and spring. The fall season has nearly 60 schools of all sizes competing at its state meet while the spring season will have only 17 schools, mostly larger schools from Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su Valley area. Because there are a few Class 4A schools mixed into the fall season, there will be separate trophies for the winners of each of the state's four size classifications.
Ketchikan had four region champions last week at the Region V tournament -- senior Joey Fama at 135 pounds, junior Stephan Haseltine at 145, senior Geoff Nordlund at 160 and junior Matt Hamilton at heavyweight -- but only three other Kings reached the finals. Ketchikan had 17 wrestlers qualify for state.
Petersburg also has an outside chance at a state crown, if not for the overall title then for the Class 3A championship. Petersburg took third place at last week's Region V meet in Ketchikan and qualified 17 wrestlers for state even though its only region champion was Mike Nilsen at 140 pounds. Other Southeast teams that could do well for the classification titles at state are Wrangell at Class 3A and Hoonah at Class 2A.
In the Dec. 2 fans' poll on the www.AlaskaWrestling.com Web site, Skyview led the poll and Nikiski was second in the rankings, followed by Juneau in third and Ketchikan in fourth. Other ranked teams from Southeast were Petersburg in ninth and Hoonah in 19th.
In the Dec. 7 individual rankings on the Web site, Nordlund is the only Southeast wrestler with a No. 1 ranking. But several other Southeast wrestlers are ranked among the top five in their weight classes.
Manacio IV and Klawock's Chris Schnur are ranked third and fourth at 112, Carrillo and Dodd are ranked second and fifth at 119, Manacio III is ranked fourth at 125, Hulegaard is ranked second at 130, Fama is fifth at 135, Nilsen is fourth at 140, Haseltine is fifth at 145, Klawock's Craig Wallace is fifth at 152, Wrangell's Alec Pempek is fourth at 171, Harvey is fourth and Petersburg's Geoff Hall fifth at 215, and Hamilton is fourth at heavyweight. Juneau also has two sixth-ranked wrestlers in Perry and Thatcher, and the top-ranked wrestler in Perry's weight class (Seward's Eric Higbee) didn't make weight at his region meet and didn't advance to state.
"He was the only guy who really beat me by a lot," Perry said of Higbee. "There are a couple of other guys, like the kid from Barrow (Nuk Harcharek), but I think they'll be in the other half of the bracket. I'm nervous, but I've seen everyone in my weight class."