Wolverines wrestle to 4th at state tournament
ANCHORAGE - Jesse Noden might not have gone into the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Division II State Wrestling Championships as one of the biggest names on the Alaska wrestling scene. He certainly left it that way.
A junior, Noden powered his way to a second-place finish in the 132-pound weight classification and, in so doing, helped the Dillingham Wolverines turn in an eye-opening performance. Keyed by Noden's effort, the Wolverines rolled up 98 points — the highest total by any Class 2A school — and finished fourth in the team standings.
"We finished with seven wrestlers in the top six of their weight classes," said Dillingham head coach William Savo. "I think, overall, we wrestled a good tournament. Last season we finished the tournament in 15th place. This season, we climbed the ladder and finished fourth. We have things to get better at and we gained a lot of experience for next season."
Noden certainly set the stage for what could be a remarkable 2018 season with his outing. He kicked off his performance on Friday by sweeping to easy wins over Nunapitchuk's Cody Benn and Quinhagak's Collin Brown. Both victories came by more than 10 points. He followed those two wins with a thrilling 2-1 decision over Bethel's Mathew De La Cruz, the tournament's No. 2 seed.
He settled for second, following a 19-8 loss to Homer's Luciano Fasulo in the finals.
Justin Dye and Dillon Chaney also turned in outstanding performances. Both finished fourth in their respective classifications.
Dye, who competed in the 120-pound ranks, ended his high school career on a high note. After dropping his first-round match, the DHS senior fought through the consolation bracket, winning four straight matches to earn the right to face off against Bethel's Seth Smith for third. Smith escaped with a 2-1 victory in the matchup. Despite the loss, Dye finished with a 4-2 record.
Chaney cruised in his first two matches in the 138-pound division. He won his first two matches with relative ease. From there, he dropped a heartbreaker to Homer's Mose Hayes. Trailing by one point with about 20 seconds to left in the match, Chaney changed levels and hit a highlight reel duck under for a two-point takedown. Hayes, however, was able to wiggle free and get a reversal with less then 10 seconds left secure the win.
In the consolation semifinals, Chaney beat Dia Martishev of Voznesenka by a 7-5 mark to earn a berth in the finals. In the third-place match, he suffered a loss to Mt. Edgecumbe's Leon Evon.
Darius Tilden, Jimmy Nicolai and Sam Jenkins also finished in the top six in their classes. Tilden posted a 4-2 mark in the 106-pound ranks and finished fifth overall.
"He continues to impress me every time he steps on the mat," said Savo. "He wrestles with great mat awareness."
A junior, Nicolai finished the week end with a record of 3-3, and finished sixth in the 113-pound classification.
Sam Jenkins, also a junior, finished at 3-3 and took sixth in the 182-pound standings.
The Wolverines also picked up a solid showing from Chris Williams and Joseph Wassilly-Walker. Williams posted a 2-2 record in the 132-pound class. Wassilly-Walker went 1-2 in the 145-pound ranks.
Sam Calvert finished the tournament at 2-2, and was one match out placing. Mathew Krause advanced to the quarterfinals before being forced from the double-elimination field.
Dillingham also had several other athletes competing in the tournament, including Colten Hinks, Tanner Noden, Chris Taylor and Bobby Nicholson.
In the girls' state tournament, Cate Gomez gave Dillingham plenty of reason to smile. She wrestled her way to a third-place finish in the 106-pound classification by putting together a 5-1 record.
Blunka Blunka Jr. and Ivan Blunka also gave the Southwest region plenty of sizzle. Blunka Blunka Jr. finished second in the 120-pound division. He went 3-1 in the tournament and finished his season at 20-3.
The New Stuyahok standout opened the tournament with a win over Seward's Cole Norcross. He followed that with a 9-4 win over Craig's Zack Girard that vaulted him into the semifinals. A perennial state qualifier, Blunka defeated Bethel's Seth Smith by a 1-0 margin in the semifinals. He suffered an 8-3 loss to Homer's Seth Inama in the 120-pound championship match.
Ivan Blunka finished sixth in his weight classification.
New Stuyahok's Kivaso Neketa also wrestled in the state meet., going 0-2 in the 220-pound ranks.
Dillingham and New Stuyahok weren't the only Southwest Alaska teams sending athletes to the state tournament. Bristol Bay had two wrestlers in action, including Logan Phelps and Jackson Peters. Phelps was 0-2 in the 126-pound class, while Phelps was 0-2 in his division.
Koliganek's Natasha Merlino also participated in the tournament, wrestling in the 160-pound bracket.
Newhalen's Jared Paine and Manakotak's Edward Nick Jr. also competed at state. Paine notched a win en route to a 1-2 mark in the boys' 145-pound class. Nick was 0-2 in the 152-pound division.
King Cove's Braydyn Brandell and Dylan Larson also participated. Both went 0-2 on their outings.
In the girls' tournament, Newhalen's Jalyn Paine highlighted a solid showing by the region's female wrestlers. She wrestled her way to a fifth-place finish in the 220-pound class by posting a 3-2 record. She cinched fifth with a 6-4 victory over Mt. Edgecumbe's Cheyenne Lane.