A glut of state tournament bids are up for grabs between the Thunder Mountain High School and Ketchikan High School wrestling teams on Saturday.
The Falcons host the Region V Division I/II Wrestling Championships on Friday and Saturday at TMHS, performing at home for just the second time all season and first in six weeks.
Since holding the Brandon Pilot Invitational Oct. 19-20, TMHS has been well traveled, competing in meets in Ketchikan (Oct. 26-27), North Pole (Nov. 2-3), Wasilla (Nov. 16-17) and Sitka (Nov. 30-Dec. 1).
This weekend’s meet has considerably higher stakes: the tournament stands as the gateway to the state tournament next weekend in Anchorage. The top two wrestlers per weight class qualify in the Division I tournament; the best four wrestlers per weight class qualify in the Division II tournament.
TMHS and Ketchikan are the only Region V (Southeast) schools that fall under the Division I classification with student bodies exceeding 500. Mt. Edgecumbe, Craig, Wrangell and several other Southeast schools fall under the Division II classification.
But even with a relatively shallow pool of competition, the Falcons will be guaranteed a tough tournament. Ketchikan has won the last 10 straight Region V Division I team titles, and placed in the top seven at the last three state tournaments. Assistant coach Jesse Cruz has put a big emphasis on strength and conditioning this season, a factor he thinks could swing tide as several of his wrestlers look to upset the Kings this weekend.
Freshman Kadin Messmer’s lost several times to Ketchikan’s Degan Linne, but Cruz said his lightweight has “been closing the gap.”
Sophomore Camden Erickson is another underclassmen who will likely face a Ketchikan wrestler, Brandon Wieber, in the finals. Erickson is 0-3 against Wieber this season, but that has only fueled the rising sophomore’s appetite for upset.
“I think I have a good chance of winning,” Erickson, a JDHS student, said. “I think it’s definitely going to be a tough match, but I’m ready for it.”
Erickson’s confidence is well-founded, according to Cruz.
“Where it was last year, he was getting beat up by him pretty good, we’ve closed that gap and it’s been a one or two point match here or there,” Cruz said.
Erickson and the other wrestlers have had ample time to work with the coaches this season due to low numbers. Besides morning weight lifting, Cruz has also helped the wrestlers break down film to help remedy weaknesses.
“We get more coach-to-wrestler time,” Erickson added. “So it’s a smaller group of kids but I feel like it’s more in-depth with the kids that are here. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. All the kids are working really hard and getting a lot of good coaching.”
Overall, the Falcons will fill 10 of the 14 weight classes. Here are the wrestlers in action this weekend: Kadin Messmer (103), Ricky Ramirez Jr. (112), Empty (119), Jahrease Mays (125), Orion Denny (Girls 125), Mauricio Hernandez (130), Nate Houston (135), Blaze Darbonne (135), Kaleb Paddock (140), Empty (145), Ezra Elisoff (152), Empty (160), Steven Ireland-Haight (171), Nick Tipton (171), Camden Erickson (189), Jake Ferster (215), Derek Mason (215), Empty (285).
The Division II weigh-ins begin at 11:30 a.m. Friday with the tournament set to begin at 1 p.m. The Division I weigh-ins begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with the tournament set to begin at 9:30 a.m.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.