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Wrestlers win 3A Region tournament, four heading to state meet


Will Ware / Submitted Photo

The wrestlers gather for a team photo in Wrangell after a great finish at the Region V Championship. Buddy Stelmach earned the region's title at 113 pounds. John Brooks narrowly lost by decision in the 145 pound finals. Billy Ware is the region's best at 152 pounds. DJ Toyomaru earned a 4th place medal at 120 pounds.

The Vikings more than held their own against a fuller regional pool than usual, coming out on top of the 3A southeastern region schools during the battle in Wrangell. The 3A team racked up 11 pins in the tournament, fourth in the overall bracket behind the filled rosters of Ketchikan, 17, Wrangell, 15, and Craig, 15.

In addition to the usual spread of 1A, 2A and 3A teams that gathered for the matches, the larger 4A teams also were included, Assistant Coach Rob Schwartz said. "I knew Ketchikan was going to have a powerhouse. They were three deep in most weight divisions – four in some. That being said, we wrestled well enough and hard enough to beat Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe and the other 3A teams."

Not having full rosters to score in all weights, 98 up to 285, seriously hampered smaller teams when facing off against schools that did. Additionally, the availability of rivals at their own practices also served to hone the young athletes' talents – a great source of the competitive motivation that coaches strive to foster, he said, glancing at the walls of the Petersburg gymnasium, where paired years of champions hung in assent to his musings.

The state meet, hosted Friday and Saturday in Anchorage, is where seniors John Brooks, 145 pounds, Billy Ware, 152, and DJ Toyomaru, 120, are headed this weekend, along with sophomore Buddy Stelmach, 113, for their shot at bringing home a championship, Coach Dan Van Swearengen said.

Stelmach came in as the team's top scorer, first in his weight with 28 points for the team with three pins and a bye. Ware also came in first, 26 points after two pins, a decision and a bye. Brooks, 20 points, ran up the front side of the bracket until the very end, losing by decision in the final match. Toyomaru placed fourth in his weight, 13 points, after an early fall and later decision match with Bryan Castle of Craig.

Stelmach continued on his earlier blitz tactics – aiming for an efficient early pin, but now tempered by a bit more prudence after some tough matches against canny wrestlers earlier in the year, Swearengen said. "I'm confident he'll make it to the finals, but it'll be a dogfight. There are no easy matches at state."

"He's so solid and so confident," Schwartz said. "Saturday night he walks in against this pretty tough kid, Ian Jensen from Wrangell. Walks in, double legs him and picks him up into the middle of the mat - throws him down - double arm bars him and pins him."

That match lasted 52 seconds. Stelmach's longest match was 1:55 against Jacob Tapia of Thunder Mountain.

Ware is likely to have an even tougher time as he works on fully recovering from his own matchups, including his championship decision.

"He's banged up – he had a tough match in the finals," Swearengen said of the sudden death overtime match, "The kid that he beat was the two-time returning region champion, Wyatt (Pattern) from Craig."

Brooks is a solid wrestler, he said. Compact and alert, he battled conservatively through a 2:33 pin and a wide 13-8 decision before taking a 5-4 loss against his major rival of the season, Hunter Boyer of Thunder Mountain.

"He's got out with nothing to lose," Swearengen said. "It's his senior year at the state championship."

That same advice also held for Toyomaru, sometimes held back by a lack of confidence in his abilities and overly willing to come up off his balance to face off against taller opponents.

"He's going to be wrestling the best kids in the state at 120, but if he goes in and wrestles like he can, he'll do well," Swearengen said. "He's extremely technical. He's a very good wrestler who knows a lot of moves and he knows how to execute them."

The rest of the team also made good on most of their opportunities, with Cody Stelmach taking fifth in the 132 division with four wins, three by pin, and two falls. Nick Hofstad, 152, also put up a tough fight, with two pins against a fall, a decision and a first fall overtime match. Nathaniel Lenhard, 145, didn't give up any pins, taking a technical fall and a decision against his own pin and decision victories.


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