Chugiak's comeback kid completes championship run

Sunday, December 18, 2016 - 14:40
Denied last season, senior Budke claims state wrestling title by battling through adversity
  • Chugiak's Dawson Budke gets his arm raised by the referee after Budke won the 170-pound championship at the ASAA Alaska Class 4A Wrestling Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

ANCHORAGE – Dawson Budke’s long road to redemption ended Saturday night with a triumphant victory in his final high school match.

The Chugiak senior claimed the only state championship Saturday night for Chugiak-Eagle River wrestlers at the Alaska Class 4A State Wrestling Tournament with a methodical 7-2 win over upstart Chad Edwards of Lathrop in the finals at 170 pounds.

For Budke, the win in front of hundreds of wrestling fans inside the Alaska Airlines Center was the culmination of both a lifetime of hard work on the wrestling mat as well as a year’s worth of pain while recovering from a leg injury suffered in last year’s tourney.

“There’s no words that can really describe this,” said Budke, who lost in the finals at state last year despite his injured leg.

The Budke-led Mustangs finished 12th, three spots behind Eagle River. The Wolves didn’t have a state finalist, but did get a stirring performance from Grant Burningham, who suffered an agonizing yet heroic loss in the third-place match at 138 pounds. Burningham battled through a wrenched shoulder in the match, then spent the final half of the third period defiantly holding his shoulders off the mat despite the best efforts of Wasilla’s Berit Sturgeon, who spent most of the period with his arm tightly cinched around Burningham’s neck.

The Wolves’ only win during the placing matches Saturday came from 98-pounder Robert Lecours, who placed fifth at 98 pounds by pinning Colony’s Jacob Harvey. Makiah Stafford also placed for the Wolves, dropping a decision in his fifth/sixth place match at 285 pounds to East’s Jacob Gariepy.

Chugiak’s lone place winner aside from Budke was 220-pounder Alex Rumfelt, who beat Lathrop’s Jason Edwards Saturday to place fifth.

Budke came into the tournament as the No. 2 seed in his weight class after an undefeated 39-0 regular season. His only hiccup on the way to the finals was a tight 7-5 decision over Palmer’s Christian Kurka in the semifinals on Friday. That narrow win set up Saturday’s showdown with Edwards, a Cinderella junior who entered the tourney unseeded.

Although Budke had handily beaten Edwards earlier this year, Saturday’s final was a closer contest. Budke controlled the first period with an early takedown Edwards never escaped from. In the second, Budke started in the down position and scored a reversal, then again rode out the period. Edwards got on the scoreboard with a reversal of his own in the third, but Budke escaped, took Edwards back down and didn’t let him up until the final whistle.

Budke praised his opponent for the strides Edwards himself has made this year.

“He’s made a lot of progress, that’s for sure,” he said.

Chugiak coach Tom Huffer Jr. said Budke’s win wasn’t a surprise to anyone who saw Budke in the wrestling room.

“He had more drive than anyone on our team this year,” Huffer said.

Budke – who started wrestling as a 6-year-old and was an ASD middle school champion for the Mirror Lake Coyotes – said battling back from injury and disappointment to claim a high school title drove him to success.

“I was just determined to come back,” he said. “It’s what I’m thinking about every time I’m working out.”

Budke thanked the Chugiak coaching staff for helping him achieve his goal, and gave a special shout out to the Mustangs’ newest coach, CHS legend Cayle Byers.

“He’s really pushed my limits,” Budke said of Byers, a former NCAA Division I All-American for Oklahoma State who finished third at the 2012 national championships and recently competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials. “Having him there gives you a really good perspective on what it’s like to be at a whole different level.”

Byers brushed off the praise, saying he simply helped Budke fine-tune the 18-year-old’s already solid technique.

“We just worked on the little things,” said Byers, a 2007 Chugiak grad.

The little things paid off big for Budke, who even several minutes after his title match was still coming to grips with what he’d accomplished.

“It still hasn’t totally hit me,” he said. “But I’m starting to get pretty excited about it.”

For more on the tournament, including complete brackets and results, visit

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the middle school Budke attended.

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