The Thunder Mountain High School wrestling team, made up of TMHS and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé athletes, will host the Region V Wrestling Championships on Friday and Saturday in the TMHS Thunderdome gym. (Photo courtesy of TMHS)

The Thunder Mountain High School wrestling team, made up of TMHS and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé athletes, will host the Region V Wrestling Championships on Friday and Saturday in the TMHS Thunderdome gym. (Photo courtesy of TMHS)

Falcons grapplers have mat mission at Southeast Tournament Championships

Thunder Mountain High School upperclassmen have waited lifetime for title chance.

Thunder Mountain High School wrestling co-captain Colton Cummins weighed less than 20 pounds when the Ketchikan High School Kings wrestling team won the Region V Championship in 2007 and started a Kings’ 15-year title run that gives Kayhi 21 of the last 25 region crowns.

Sixteen years later, Cummins, now a 125-pound TMHS junior, and fellow co-captains 145-pound Hayden Aube, 152-pound Justus Darbonne and 160-pound Carvin Hass have a chance to spoil the Kayhi title streak when the Falcons host the Southeast Tournament Championships on Friday and Saturday at the TMHS’ “Thunderdome” gymnasium.

“I’m feeling really good about our chances to take back the title this year,” said Cummins, who placed sixth at last season’s state tournament at 112 pounds. “We have such a hard-working team this year. Nobody is slacking at all. I don’t see any issues with the team…we have been working really hard ever since preseason.”

With a new wrestling facility available for more intense practices the TMHS team, comprised of Falcons and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears, has, according to Cummins, “been flipping tires, earning bloody noses and black eyes and pushing for the region title…We are drilling hard and dropping sweat and have been counting down the days since the first practice…our coaches are like little kids on Christmas Eve.”

TMHS head coach Adam Messmer and assistants Jason Hass, Dan Ondrejka and Gideon Monette have the Falcons primed for that aspiration.

“I would say the most important thing tomorrow is for the kids to stay active all day,” Messmer said. “Sitting around all day is a killer. They need to stay focused on the task that is right in front of them. Focus on the next point, not the next match.”

Added J. Hass, “I think three years ago when this year’s junior class were the freshmen class we realized that a regional championship banner hanging on the TM wall was possible and within reach. For their entire lives, Ketchikan has reigned as regional champs, some of the individual rivalries between these wrestlers took root in the sixth grade…the biggest storyline for this weekend is the growth of the wrestling community. Not only on our TM team, but our middle school teams, our club teams and the whole of Southeast Alaska. There has been an undeniable wrestling resurgence regionwide…our new Juneau Wrestling Center building is complete, but the building of our wrestling programs is still underway.”

Cummins, Aube, Darbonne, C. Hass, classmates Sage Schultz and Owen Woodruff, and seniors Liam Hart, Mason Heiber and Shanen Mitchell have provided the upperclassmen guidance needed to continue a transformation on the mats and restore Southeast dominance to the capital city.

“I think we have a clear shot at taking it this year,” Aube said. “This is our year. It is definitely not a solo effort, it is a team and this is definitely the hardest working team I have been a part of.”

Darbonne won last season’s 125-pound region title.

“I believe that this team is one of the most successful teams we have had and I have been a part of,” Darbonne said. “I have faith that we will take regions with a strong lead because of the hard work on and off the mat…The Southeast towns should expect an exciting event with our top wrestlers going head to head, rival teams taking each other on. It will be entertaining and intense and there will be very close matches and very competitive matches to see and the finals will be an event not to miss.”

Earlier in the season Kayhi won the Southeast Showdown in Juneau based on a combined boys and girls score. TMHS would have won if only boys’ points were tallied. TMHS won a meet at Kayhi by just 8.5 points. These scores, however, include wrestlers from other schools competing, not a strict large school head-to-head like regions will be.

Team scoring includes falls (pins) worth six team points, technical falls worth five, major decision four, and a decision three points. Even if a wrestler loses he can impact scoring by minimizing how that loss occurs.

Teams can qualify two wrestlers in a weight division, but only designate one before the tournament starts as a point scorer. Teams that can put multiple wrestlers in a weight bracket can cause havoc on scoring by upsetting an opponent’s high seed while having little risk if they lose.

“I believe the idea of finally overcoming Ketchikan is a well-deserved victory,” said Carvin Hass. He placed third at regions last year at 152. “Having spent most of my life in the program, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to watch the adjacent generations of Juneau wrestlers along with mine develop as a team, and I think this regional tournament is the perfect way to see this work blossom into fruition. Wrestling is no easy sport, any parent, athlete, or coach will agree when I say the effort put in is immense. This makes for not only a respect amongst your brothers bonded on the team but even your opposition on the other side of the mat. It takes more than grit to tough out a season and much of our team has been grinding since August.”

“The tensions within the wrestling room have been palpable over the last two weeks as we lead up to the big weekend, and maybe it’s just me, but I think everyone is on the verge of pulling out their hair in anticipation…every single wrestler is going to have to bring the complete arsenal we’ve built during the season in order to break our unfortunate streak.”

TMHS and KTN will each have 27 wrestlers in the boys tournament. Kayhi’s 215-pound junior Paul Thompson placed sixth at state last season after winning the region title. Last season’s region title returners include TM’s Cummins (112, now 125), KTN senior Sampson Oliver (125, now 130), KTN junior Gage Massin (130, now 135), KTN senior Alexander Gilley (135, now 130), TM’s Darbonne (145, now 152), and KTN junior Easton Yoder (160, now 189).

The combined TM/JD wrestlers also include juniors Denali Schijvens, Gavin Grant and Merrick Hartman, sophomore’s Marlin Cox, Oliver Abel, Wyatt Kenney, Alexzandro Marx-Beierly, Quintin McCoy and Gunner Niere and freshmen William Dapcevich, Jed Davis, Landyn Dunn, Darren Foster, Felix Hesson, Jaeger Hubert, Jaxin Jim, Gage Keller, Eliot Klinger, Camden Messmer, Orrin Noon, Tyler Ouderkerk, Tristan Ridgeway, Zavier Thibeault, Ethan Van Kirk and Joseph Max Webster.

Aside from large schools<(DI) TMHS and powerhouse KTN, tournament fans can also watch the small schools (DII) and the girls’ championships.

Last season Sitka’s 215-pound region champ Aiden Ojala placed third at state in DII, Haines’ 171-pound Leo Wald placed second and Hayden Jimenez third, and Craig’s 189-pound Bryant Holloway, Petersburg’s 160-pound Jonas Anderson, Mt. Edgecumbe’s 145-pound Torian Dull, and Sitka’s 135-pound Evander Elixman placed fourth.

TMHS has no girl wrestlers this season. The girls competition has become a battle among Ketchikan and Mt. Edgecumbe for the team title in terms of number of talented athletes, with Wrangell and Metlakatla holding an outside chance, and less number heavy squads Petersburg, Hoonah, Craig/Klawock, Hydaburg and Southeast Island School District working for individual accolades. MEHS won last year’s girls crown. Hoonah’s 126-pound Krista Howland and Wrangell’s 114-pound Della Churchill placed fourth at state last season.

The Region V Championships begins at 1:30 p.m. Friday with opening matches, championship quarterfinals and consolation preliminaries, followed by the championship semi-finals at 6 p.m.

Saturday action begins at 10 a.m. with consolation quarter-finals, semi-finals and consolation finals. The Region V championship finals begin at 4:30 p.m.

While it is hard to pinpoint one wrestler over another, Cummins has certainly represented TMHS spirit well this season while battling a back injury, doctors and physical therapy appointments, and a grueling weight cut.

“I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to make Ketchikan lose the streak,” he said. “I know I am one of the most experienced wrestlers in the tournament and if I can stick to my stuff and my pace nobody will keep up with me…the whole team wants this, they stuck with it all the way and we are hungry for it and we are taking that title.”

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