Haines High School wrestlers picked up two wins at last weekend’s state tournament in Anchorage, and got a closer look at schools that have dominated the field for years.
“The kids in the north are way better,” said senior Walker Blair. “They live wrestling up there.”
Blair, in his first state appearance, posted a 1-2 record at 152 pounds.
“He’s wrestled for four years, and to go there and get a win was nice,” said co-coach Dennis Durr.
Blair opened with a loss to a Valdez grappler who went on to earn third place; edged a Wrangell opponent, 4-2; and then lost to a Kotzebue foe.
“I’m happy with how I did,” Blair said. He set a goal to avoid being pinned, and all of his matches went the distance.
Blair said he plans to stay involved with wrestling by helping out with the junior high program and the possible launch of a wrestling club open to non-students.
Sophomore Kai Hays (160 pounds) secured the other win for Haines at state, pinning a Bethel wrestler in 2:28.
“I’m not really a point wrestler,” Hays said. “I wrestle for the pin.”
But, like Blair, he lost to Kotzebue and Valdez opponents.
Hays said he was “pleasantly surprised” to qualify for state after being injured much of the season. He said his experience at state against “very qualified, competent athletes” has provided extra motivation.
“I took wrestling a bit more seriously this year,” Hays said. “It’s become more a part of my identity, instead of just a sport.”
Durr said Hays is “definitely strong enough” to be among the top wrestlers in the state.
The third Glacier Bear state qualifier, freshman Charlie Bower (106 pounds), went 0-2, but Blair noted Bower’s participation as a first-year high school wrestler was “a pretty big accomplishment.”
Bower said state was “awesome and fun,” and on a different scale than earlier competition. “It was a lot bigger of a tournament and a lot harder.”
Bower credited his big improvement this season to more time on the mat and “just practice.” Bower, who ran cross-country this fall, had a quick turnaround for basketball, as he started practices this week after returning from Anchorage.
Coach Durr said for Bower, “just like anything, he’ll mature in the sport a little bit” after competing at state.
Bethel won state for small schools (Class 1A, 2A and 3A) for the fourth straight year. Petersburg was the top Southeast team, in ninth place, followed by Mount Edgecumbe.