Wrestlers prep for big dance
Editor's note: For up-to-date brackets and scoring, visit the CIC tournament page at www.trackwrestling.com
If you’ve made it this far, wresting finally gets (a little) easier.
Head coaches at both area high schools said they were going a bit easier on their athletes in the final week leading up to this weekend’s Cook Inlet Conference tournament, which starts at 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27 at Chugiak and continues at 9 a.m. the following day.
“We try to stay healthy this time of year,” said Chugiak head coach Tom Huffer Jr.
Although wrestlers in-season work out almost every day, Huffer said the final week of practice is more geared toward team-building and basic fundamentals.
“We try to make sure that we stay positive,” said Huffer, whose team recently held a “bonding” night at Beach Lake complete with a bonfire and DVDs.
“I think they really enjoyed that,” Huffer said.
That doesn’t mean they’re getting lazy, of course. But Huffer said that most of his athletes are disciplined enough from a season of hard work to not slack off with the season’s most important tournament looming.
“It’s not about what happened during the season, all anyone’s going to remember is regions and state,” Huffer said.
Over at Eagle River, head coach Daren Williams said the idea this time of year is not to make big changes, but instead try to get wrestlers to focus on the little things.
“Most of it’s just drill work,” he said.
Although conditioning is something wrestlers must work on constantly, Williams said he was even trying to have fun with that monotonous chore Monday afternoon.
“Fun conditioning,” he said, carrying an armful of gym balls into the team’s practice room. “Dodge ball.”
Placing in the top six individual spots at the CIC tournament is the only way to qualify for state, and each coach has a pretty good idea which wrestlers will make it through — and which ones have a shot. Huffer said he’d be thrilled to see as many as 14 of his wrestlers earn state berths, while Williams said he’s probably got at least 10 who are capable of getting a berth.
Those figures are optimistic, but each team has several athletes who are very likely to reach the state tournament two weeks from now at Bartlett.
That group is led by a pair of defending CIC champions in Chugiak’s Garrett Morrison and Eagle River’s Dominic Taus. Morrison won the CIC at 215 last year and has been the state’s top-ranked 182-pounder all season. Taus won the conference at 135 pounds last season and showed he’s just as comfortable at 145 with a narrow 7-5 loss to top-ranked Auston Tennis of Soldotna in the finals of the Glenn Vandergaw tournament two weeks ago.
Huffer said other wrestlers likely to make strong showings at the CIC tourney include several with state experience, including senior Jacob Wenzl (132 pounds), junior Alex Medeiros (195) and sophomore Richard Burroughs (189). Wenzl and Medeiros were each third last season and Burroughs was sixth as a freshman.
Chugiak qualified eight wrestlers last season, and Huffer said he expects some new faces to make their first trip to the big rumble. Several other wrestlers have shown promise throughout the season, and Huffer believes this weekend is the time to take a step up.
“I told the kids you’ve gotta do something you’re not expected to do,” he said.
Taus is a defending conference champion for the Wolves, who will have six of last year’s nine state qualifiers in action this weekend.
“My expectation is to at least match what we did last year,” Williams said.
Senior Logan Sheets (170) finished third in the CIC at 160 last season. He leads a crop of returning placewinners that also includes juniors Zach Luff and Jachi Madubuko and sophomores Ed Hall and Nathan Gorski.
Like Huffer, Williams said he has a number of younger wrestlers who are more than capable of making a deep run in the brackets.
“It’s just if they can keep from making that one mistake,” he said.
Williams said the local venue will be an advantage for both team’s wrestlers.
“It’s going to be a lot better being closer to home,” he said.
Huffer — who will have to juggle the task of helping run the tournament in addition to coaching his team — agreed.
“It’s real exciting,” he said. “It’s nice for the kids getting to wrestle on their home mat.”
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected]