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Mt. Edgecumbe and Sitka High took sixth and seventh, respectively, in the small-schools tournament. Both teams had wrestled earlier in the season at the ACS tournament in Anchorage, and were expecting tough competition from schools in the interior and western Alaska.
Mt. Edgecumbe’s Michael Matthew took the state title at 182 pounds. The senior from Quinhagak won an 11-7 decision over Shyler Johnson of Unalakleet. Johnson wrestled for Mt. Edgecumbe last year, and went all the way to the finals in the same weight class. Matthew took it in stride.
“It was a little intimidating, because I hadn’t wrestled him before. But I told myself, Just go out there and wrestle your best, whatever happens happens. Just go hard.”
Mt. Edgecumbe coach Mike Kimber was not quite so relaxed. He grew up in Unalakleet. He says Michael Matthew’s match was one of the hardest he’s ever had to watch.
“Ualakleet is a community. It’s a family. So you’re kind of competing against your family which you grew up knowing. It was pretty difficult to do that, because I wanted Shyler to win so badly, but I also wanted Michael to win so badly. So it was a tough match, but we knew Shyler’s strengths and weaknesses, and we tried to coach Michael into using his strengths against Shyler’s weaknesses.”
This is the fourth year in a row Mt. Edgecumbe has returned from the state tournament with an individual champion. Kimber may be looking toward the lighter weight classes in the future. 98-pounds, in particular.
“I remember it getting really loud when I got my first takedown. I think the crowd was on my side. I guess they liked seeing the girl dominate.”
That’s Mt. Edgecumbe junior Deirdre Creed, who won regionals in her weight class, and took fifth at state. Her twin brother, Trevor, also took fifth at 113-pounds. The Creeds are from Kotzebue. Deirdre says she and her brother fought like any siblings – but it evolved into sports.
“We both started wrestling in third grade. We’re the first people to wrestle in our family. Our parents kind of had us start out wrestling because they wanted us to stay active, and we both fell in love with the sport.”
According to Mt. Edgecumbe coach Kimber, Creed is the first female regional wrestling champion, and the first female to place in the state tournament since Tela O’Donnell in 2000. O’Donnell went on to wrestle in the Olympics four years later.
There was drama for the Sitka High wrestling team this year as well. Senior Mitchell Boord captured the state title at 170-pounds. Moreover, he went undefeated this season. 32 – 0. He says he tried not to let it affect his wrestling, but it’s a hard thought to put down.
“Probably like three tournaments in. That’s when I started thinking about it.”
Boord finished fifth last year, making his season both incredible and somewhat unexpected. Boord also plays quarterback on the Sitka football team, and hopes to walk-on in college in Colorado.
Jaren Sumuaung took a strong second for Sitka at 138-pounds. Sumuaung won regionals in his weight class, but lost in the state final on a 9-4 decision. He says the back-to-back tournaments are not as hard on athletes as you might think.
“By the time I get to state it’s like the perfect time – not like you’ve been wrestling too long, and not too early in the season to where you’re not at your top skill level.”
Sumuaung, a junior, will wrestle again next year for Sitka, and could likely be a top seed at state.
Sitka’s biggest threat in Anchorage was also one of its smallest wrestlers. Darin Davis took the title at 106-pounds for the second year in a row. Davis pinned Bethel’s Gage Hoffman less than a minute into the final.
“I wrestled this guy before. I saw him in Anchorage, and pinned him there, too. This time I just went out there and got a shot in early. It was just the right situation, and I got the move I wanted.”
Davis, a senior, plans to wrestle in an open tournament in Reno, Nevada, before wrapping up his season. He says it’s an opportunity to get his name out there, and to be seen by college coaches.
Sitka High took seven wrestlers to state, four of whom scored points. Head coach Aaron Routon is justifiably proud.
“A couple of kids had higher dreams than what happened, but that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s a very high level of competition, and your opponents are ready to come after you no matter if you’re ranked first at state, or if you’re not ranked at state.”
Routon says his wrestlers were in every minute of every match, and one, Elliot Anderson, was in it to the last second, defeating a Cordova opponent on a switch with less than 10 seconds to go, for third place at 195-pounds.
“Even though wrestling is a team sport, it’s also an individual sport. And these guys got there with the help of their team.”