Story last updated at 1:35 p.m. Thursday, November 28, 2002

Mariners gain mat respect
by Sepp Jannotta Staff Writer
and Jeff Helminiak Morris News Service-Alaska

Score one for the little guys.

For the second straight week, the Homer High School wrestling team took advantage of tournament competition to make the case that it is the best undermanned team in the state.

Bringing just five wrestlers to the mats (there are 14 weight classes in amateur wrestling), the Mariners placed eighth out of 17 teams at the North-South Tournament held last weekend at Soldotna High School.

Three of those five Homer wrestlers finished in the top two of their weight classes, with titles coming from Monte Garroutte and Camron Hagen for the second straight week.

The two-day tournament is an annual event that showcases many of the state's top big and small schools' wrestling programs.

"It's pretty much a prelude to the state tournament," said Homer coach Chris Perk. "It was big for us. The kids were real fired up."

That enthusiasm obviously paid off.

Hagen, wrestling in the 103-pound class and now 9-0 on the season, defeated Steve Gauna of Kodiak by a score of 9-2 in the championship round. The Homer freshman said he was nervous heading into the match, but that a takedown in the first period calmed him down a little bit.

"I didn't expect to do this good in my first year of high school wrestling," Hagen said.

Perk guessed Hagen would be the top-ranked 103-pounder in the state following his success at North-South.

Garroutte, a junior wrestling at 130, has just two losses this year and was the state's top-ranked wrestler in his class heading into the North-South.

In early-round action, Garroutte had a pair of pins before knocking off Cody Phipps of Skyview in the semifinals by a score of 5-2.

In the championship, Garroutte defeated David Weise of West Valley 9-2.

"Right from the beginning of the match, I felt like I could beat him on his feet," Garroutte said of Weise. "I'd heard that the key to beating him was beating him on his feet.

"Once I beat him on his feet, I started feeling good about my chances against him."

Sophomore 189-pounder Jim Pollack finished as the runner-up. He recorded one pin and one 6-0 decision in early rounds and then was able to hang with two-time state champion Jed Wade of Wasilla during the final.

The significance of his effort against Wade was not lost on Pollack. Though Wade was in control during the match, which ended with a 17-2 technical fall, Pollack was the first wrestler this season Wade was unable to pin. In a dual meet at Wasilla earlier this month, Wade had Pollack pinned in under a minute.

"He's just a bit more experienced than me, a little bit more fluent," Pollack said. "I definitely have some things I have to work on if I want to beat him next time."

Louden Greiner fell 7-2 to Gunnar Brannon of Wasilla in the consolation final of the 112-pound class, taking fourth overall.

Scoring a total of 89.5 points, the Mariners finished just ahead of Chugiak, which was the spring season state champion last year. Homer could possibly have finished ahead of seventh-place Soldotna (98.5 points), but the already understaffed Mariners got hit with the flu. Most notably, Homer was without the services of Adam Hediger, who took runner-up in the Homer tourney the previous week, after losing a one-point decision to Saturday's champion, John Howarth of SoHi.

The North-South Tournament has traditionally rotated on a year-by-year basis between Soldotna and Wasilla.

For the last two years, that rotation was messed up because the Alaska School Activities Association split wrestling into separate fall and spring seasons. That plan was abandoned last spring, and Homer is once again competing in Class 4A Region III.

With the large schools' and small schools' wrestling seasons no longer declassified and fully split, the North-South Tournament had a familiar feel, though Wasilla was anything but a familiar champion. Warriors coach Shawn Hayes said it was his team's first North-South title in at least 11 years.

Skyview went into the championship round nine points ahead of the Warriors, but all four Wasilla wrestlers in the finals came away winners, while only one of the three Panther wrestlers triumphed in the championship round.

Wasilla ended up with 190 points, while Skyview totaled 180.5.

Despite it's small stature amongst the big schools, Pollack said he thinks his team has something to show its rivals.

"(Coach Perk) conditioned us a lot and worked us hard in practices, and that's what gives us the strength to go so hard in the third period," Pollack said. "That's what makes us such a tough team."

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at Jeff Helminiak is sports editor at the Peninsula Clarion.