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Thunder Mountain wrestling finished their season Saturday at the state meet in Anchorage, completing the first step in building a program to be reckoned with in Southeast Alaska.
Of the four student-athletes that went to state, junior Cameron Fronimos was the only one to place, coming in sixth overall. Sophomore Thomas Riley, freshmen Luke Swiger and Gary Speck did not place. Coach Chad Requa said that the most valuable aspect of going to state was the experience gained by the young athletes, but he expects them to be back for more next season, especially Fronimos and Riley.
"Thomas had close matches and certainly can compete at that level, and next year we plan on him being in the finals," he said. "Cameron was so close I don't think he can stomach anything less, and I'm sure he's already set his sights set on the finals next year."
Requa said the freshmen, Swiger and Speck, wrestled well for their first competition at that level. He also said he expects each of them to be back strong next year as well.
After the first year of the program came to an end, Requa reflected on the experience.
"More than just being the first year at Thunder Mountain, it's being my first year coaching in Southeast Alaska. I have learned a whole bunch of things that I just never expected," he said. "The transportation and the way they do tournaments - being that each tournament is a three- or four-day ordeal. So it was a whole different mentality that I had to get used to and I learned a lot about the issues the Southeast is facing as far as putting wrestling back on the fast track.
"We don't have as much participation here in the Southeast, especially at the 4A level. We need to get our participation up so we can find a way to get our berths back."
He said Colony High School was able to bring 18 to 20 people to state when the most possible athletes he, or any other 4A school in Southeast Alaska including Juneau-Douglas and Ketchikan, would have been able to bring was 14, and that's if they had swept the regional tournament.
"It's really important for us in the Southeast to get a second berth back, and in order for us to do that we're going to focus on getting more kids involved," he said. "I'm looking to double my numbers next year because if we can increase participation that will increase competition in the room, and that's going to make everyone better faster and it's going to build our program quicker."
All season, Thunder Mountain has shared quality mat time with Hoonah at practices, and the Braves had six student-athletes represent their school at state, with three placing at the event.
Senior Kole Skaflestad, 160 pounds, placed third, Tim Coutlee placed fourth at 125 pounds, and heavyweight junior Casey Mills took fifth place. The Braves finished in first place at the 2A level while wrestling against schools at the 3A level at state.
Coach Keith Skaflestad said the Southeast is trying to get a girls' wrestling tournament that would be run through Thunder Mountain.
"We're excited about that because that's just another thing for the kids to look forward to," he said. "Right now it's in the preliminary stages. Anchorage usually hosts it, but they don't have any room to host it this year.
"Chad (Requa) at Thunder Mountain is very interested in trying to get something going and Hoonah would volunteer to put on girls' state, because now it is an Olympic sport."
Skaflestad said the Thunder Mountain program has really shined in its first year, in big part because of Requa and the way he relates to the kids. He said he is doing a great job helping to bring wrestling back to power in Juneau.
He also mentioned that they are doing their part to bring back wrestling to younger athletes, especially at the junior high level.
"Everybody's wondering what's wrong with our kids," he said. "We just have to start offering what we offered years ago and get them off the street and back on the mat.
"The nice thing about wrestling is, you don't have to be the top five best players to play, like basketball. You can be the smallest guy at 103 (pounds) or the heaviest guy at heavyweight, and you can be a winner at every weight, size or shape. That's what makes wrestling so unique."
One thing is for sure, with coaches like these putting in the effort in the Juneau area, wrestling in this city should be back on top in no time.
Matthew Tynan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.