For two days in December, young men and women experience one of the loudest, most intense and most intimidating athletic events in Alaska.
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Nine members of the Juneau-Douglas High School wrestling team will enter the cauldron of sound and sweat at the Alaska State Wrestling Championships in Chugiak on Friday.
"The state gym is just electric," Crimson Bears senior Steven Dyer said. "I remember my freshman year and the energy in the gym is just crazy."
A number of factors make the state wrestling championships a special occasion.
For one, the Chugiak High School gym's unique characteristics add to the atmosphere. Surrounded by bleachers and featuring an upper deck that looks directly onto the floor from all sides, boisterous fans are right on top of the action. The noise generated during an exciting match can create a thunderous sound.
To see the brackets and seedings for the Alaska State Wrestling Championships, check out www.akmat.org or www.asaa.org.
JDHS wrestling state qualifiers
Sabrina Storey, so. 103 pounds
Jufer Librando, so. 112 pounds
Bryce Saviers, jr. 130 pounds
Cameron Fronimos, fr. 145 pounds
Steven Dyer, sr. 152 pounds
Kurt Barry, jr. 160 pounds
Colton Baker, sr. 171 pounds
Ramiro Lamas, sr. 215 pounds
Cole Bossio, sr. 215 pounds
Couple that with the best competition some wrestlers have ever faced, and the atmosphere can devour an unprepared wrestler.
"You have to be calm, confident," Dyer said. "You can't get upset when you make a mistake because if you make a mistake, and it gets in your head, your whole match spirals down. You have to keep your head up the entire time and, if you lose, you gave your all."
Of Juneau-Douglas High School's nine qualifying wrestlers, Dyer is the only one who's been ranked in state this season.
The senior has dedicated himself to wrestling since middle school, going to wrestling camps in the off-season and sparring against one of the state's best in Matt Barry during his first three years at JDHS.
He's currently ranked fifth at 152 pounds, according to state wrestling Web site www.akmat.org.
While he's excited to head back to state, the close of his high school career leaves him with mixed emotions.
"It's sad, man," Dyer said. "Wrestling has been my life for five years. It's what I do. It's where my friends are. It's my life."
Another senior, Colton Baker, will be closing his high school career this weekend but in a different way.
The 171-pound grappler is in the midst of his first year of high school wrestling.
"He's very strong, very athletic and he's starting to remember the stuff he used to do in middle school," JDHS coach Kris Mercer said. "He figured out the way to wrestle is to shoot."
Baker's aggression on the mat has paid off with a regional championship. His lanky frame and athletic ability give him a shot to be successful this weekend in Chugiak.
"My goal is not to go two-and-out," Baker said. "If I do better than that, I'll be happy. My real goal is fifth in the state.
"Whatever I can do, I'll risk it. If I'm down, I'll risk it. I'd rather try to pin the kid and get pinned than do nothing."
The energetic Bryce Saviers could be a factor at 130 pounds. The junior possesses boundless energy and shouldn't be intimidated by Chugiak's atmosphere.
"Bryce is wrestling the best he's ever wrestled," Mercer said. "Last week he was tough. It was the best I've seen in a long time."
JDHS senior and regional 215-pound champion Ramiro Lamas faces arguably the toughest weight class in the entire tournament. Lamas, however, is a savvy veteran who will know what to expect.
Juneau-Douglas junior Kurt Barry and sophomores Sabrina Storey and Jufer Librando will also be fighting for a spot on the podium.
Also for the Crimson Bears, two freshmen will be making the trip up north. Cameron Fronimos (145 pounds) and Cole Bossio (215) both finished second in their respective weight classes in last weekend's regional championships.
Fronimos said he's expecting very good competition.
"The kid I wrestled in regions, Torin Lehmann (of Sitka), is seeded third," Fronimos said. "If he's third, I can't imagine what the first two guys are like. I have to bring my 'A-plus' game, not just my 'A' game."
With just nine wrestlers, the chances of JDHS bringing home any trophies are slim.
For Mercer, however, it's not about how many wins his wrestlers win. He just wants them to perform their best on Alaska's biggest stage.
"I want them to wrestle better than they have this year," Mercer said. "I want them to peak and be decent, nice kids. Be nice and wrestle your best."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.