Verhamme wins second back-to-back state wrestling championship


May 27, 2021

Kyle Clayton

Jackson Long and Wesley Verhamme are paraded down Main Street on a Haines Volunteer Fire Truck on Sunday, May 23. Verhamme brought home his second state championship win. This year he won the heavyweight division.

Wesley Verhamme brought home his second state wrestling championship title Sunday after defeating three heavyweights last weekend at the state tournament in Anchorage.

"It felt amazing," Verhamme told the CVN this week. "The last time I (wore) that Haines singlet (uniform), I went out on a win, bringing another state title home to Haines."

Verhamme, who graduated last week, had to compete against three wrestlers who all weighed more and were taller than him. He had little experience practicing against bigger opponents and wrestled in a lower weight class last year.

In his semi-final match over the weekend, Verhamme wrestled an opponent who towered over him.

"I was worried because the kid was someone I couldn't simulate in the room," coach Cosmo Fudge said. "We couldn't prepare him for what he was getting ready to go up against."

Knowing that Verhamme would have to wrestle bigger opponents, he trained all season on how to take advantage of his speed and technical prowess.

"I cannot get stuck under them. I would lose. That's their game. I didn't want to play their game," Verhamme said. "My whole season in training was fast outside shots with big rewards. Keep the pace fast because most heavyweights like to slow down."

Despite his win, that approach failed in his first two matches. Verhamme said they were the worst two matches of his life that he nearly lost. He got stuck "playing their game" and kept the pace slow. Fudge said Verhamme was being too cautious and getting penalized for stalling because he was afraid to get stuck underneath his larger opponents.

For the championship match, Verhamme faced off against Barrow High School freshman Uatahouse Tuisua. In the semi-finals, Tuisua defeated last year's heavyweight state champion, a fellow Barrow wrestler and Tuisua's sparring partner all season long.

"It was a pretty big upset," Fudge said. "The kid was on fire."

Fudge said Tuisua watched Verhamme's semi-final lackluster match, which may have underwhelmed Verhamme's opponent.

"We had that feather in our hat," Fudge said. "He didn't know what to prepare for with Wesley because Wesley wasn't doing his thing the way he usually does. In the finals, Wesley did the thing he does the way he usually does. He controlled it from beginning to end."

Verhamme said he nailed an early takedown within seconds of the opening round. He was also taken down, but escaped easily. That combination fueled his confidence.

"I was all go, go, go," Verhamme said. "I brought a different style of wrestling heavyweights hadn't seen."

Verhamme accumulated points over his opponent. In the final round of the match, Verhamme's opponent was coached to start the round in the neutral position, indicating to Verhamme that Tuisua would be going for a takedown to earn as many points as possible. That didn't sit well with Verhamme.

"I was expecting him to go up to try and pin me," Verhamme said. "I thought, 'They think he can take me down.' It added more kindling to that fire."

Verhamme said he barely recalls the intense match, but remembers looking at the clock toward the end of the final round after he continued to subdue his opponent.

"I looked up at the clock and saw 11 seconds away from the state title," Verhamme said. "I've never fought harder."

Kyle Clayton

Verhamme hugs his father, Jason Verhamme, after being greeted by dozens of residents celebrating his championship win.

Verhamme said he hopes his second state championship win will be a boon to the Haines School wrestling program, which has seen sparse participation in recent years.

"I hope me winning state shows younger kids that it can be awesome, it can be fun," Verhamme said. "Wrestling, and sports in general, has kept me out of a lot of trouble."

Fudge said he initially got involved in the school's wrestling program because Verhamme needed a sparring partner his sophomore year. He became coach this year after the former coach, Ben Bard, left Haines. Fudge said Verhamme has inspired him to stay and bolster the program.

"He's going to be hard to replace," Fudge said. "He is a very positive wrestler, for his teammates, for everybody. The freshmen got to see a really good example of what intensity gets you. It's the nature of the game. That's what Wes does so well. He puts his foot on the gas and doesn't take it off until the end."


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