Story last updated at 2:53 p.m. Thursday, December 19, 2002

It all boils down to this
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: sports

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Derrick Turner of Unalakleet grimaces as he attempts to turn Mt. Edgecumbe's Jack Carney onto his back during the 145-pound semifinal match Friday night at the 1-2-3A State Wrestling Championships at Homer High School.  
There were more than 200 wrestlers at last weekend's 1-2-3A State Wrestling Championship at Homer High School. They came from nearly 50 schools from across the state, and during the course of two long days, dozens of matches unfolded on, first, four mats simultaneously, then two, then one.

After all of those matches -- 14 wrestlers were ultimately crowned as individual weight-class state champs -- the team title boiled down to what amounted to the wrestling equivalent of a John Elway final-seconds drive for the end zone.

Going into the finals round Saturday night, four teams were in the hunt for a team title, with Bethel, Petersburg, Anchorage Christian and Valdez all within five points of each other, and all with at least two wrestlers in the finals.

By the time the round had progressed to the 152-pound weight class, it was a two-horse race, with Bethel having a slight edge on Petersburg.

photo: sports

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Gage Graika of Valdez, right, and James Geffe of Glennallen use their heads during the 140-pound semifinal.  
At 160 pounds, Petersburg's Jim Smith took a nail-biting 6-5 decision over Logan Dodd of Valdez. Smith's win put Petersburg ahead, with teammate Kyle Hardin taking the mat against Bethel's undefeated 171-pounder Pat O'Brien. A Petersburg win would have locked up the team championship for the Vikings, but O'Brien won an 8-4 decision to nudge the Warriors in front 222.5 to 220.5.

Petersburg's hopes came down to its hulking heavyweight, Geoff Hall, who, after punishing all his previous opponents with his sheer girth and anvil-like forehead, would wrestle at 275 against Kotzebue's Dan Dalle-Malle. Dalle-Malle, who came into the tournament as the state's top-seeded heavyweight, would have the chance to redeem a disappointing tourney for Kotzebue, which was expected to be a serious contender for the team title.

Bethel wrestlers, who had earned quite a few points on the back of archrival Kotzebue, suddenly found themselves rooting for the Huskies.

Dalle-Malle exploited a conservative strategy of scoring with shots taken from his feet, and by the third period he had a 3-0 advantage, forcing a tiring Hall to try for a takedown. When the buzzer sounded, Hall's drive to earn himself and his team a state title came up short. Dalle-Malle had a 7-3 win.

photo: sports

  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Zack Doyel of Valdez works a half Nelson on Barrowpis Tino Fosi in semifinal action of the 215-pound weight class on Friday night.  
The Bethel section of the bleachers went bonkers.

The competition in the consolation rounds was nearly as exciting, and wrestlers from Ninilchik and Seldovia's Susan B. English School battled their way into the second day of wrestling on the back bracket.

Ninilchik's Steven Miller capped his career with a victory in the fifth-place match, earning a spot on the awards podium at 140 pounds.

"It's good winning your last match," Miller said after defeating Mt. Edgecumbe's Sam Carney 9-3.

Carney scored the first points of the match with a takedown, but Miller was able to escape, and took the lead with a takedown at the end of the first period.

Miller controlled the match the rest of the way, finishing with a two-point near-fall as time expired.

Miller said the tournament field was stacked at both 135 and 140. He said he bumped up to 140 after wrestling at 135 for much of the season.

"Guys are a little stronger when you move up like that," Miller said.

Miller said he would've liked to have finished a little higher on the awards podium, but "stuff happens and you've got to deal with it. You can't look back, and I don't regret anything."

Levi Russel also wrestled for the Wolverines, taking seventh place after finishing with a 2-2 record at 160.

Seldovia's Nick Oliveira also wrestled to a seventh-place finish, with a 2-2 record at 171.

Seldovia coach Steve Jones said it was a rewarding season for the Sea Otters, despite a season-long battle to keep everyone healthy.

"You never know what's going to happen," Jones said. "Every one of them, all nine of our kids, missed time because of injuries."

The injuries plagued the team right into the postseason, as Colton Collier, the Otters best chance to place at state, was unable to wrestle after he qualified and earned a Region II title at 189, despite dislocating his elbow in the region championship match two weeks ago.

"Still, it was a great tournament, and there were some great matches," Jones said. "I think (Homer High athletic director) Chris Perk and his crew did a really good job with it.

"One of the things that I liked about the state tourney was that everybody had to drive farther than we did. Even Ninilchik had to drive farther than we did."

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer