Wrestlers tough it out at state tourney

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 23:22
  • Eagle River’s Grant Burningham, on top, battles Lathrop’s Westley Bockert during their 145-pound semifinal round match of the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Andrew Hamilton, on top, battles Lathrop’s Andrew Mueller during their consolation round match at 160 pounds during the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak’s Daniel Niebles, on bottom, battles Colony’s Eric Christy during their semifinal round match at 170 pounds at the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Michael Caywood grimmaces as Colony’s Coa Gamble gets the upper hand during their consolation round match at 182 pounds during the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Grant Burningham lifts Colony’s Trace Severson off the mat during their 145-pound third/fourth place match at the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Eagle River’s Makiah Stafford scores the winning takedown during his overtime victory over East’s John Fitzpatrick in their 285-pound fifth/sixth place match at the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak’s Daniel Niebles, bottom, grimmaces as he tries to hold off Service’s Tyler Farless during their third/fourth place match at 170 pounds at the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • In the foreground, Lathrop wrestlers Josiah Opp and Zach Kosa wrestle each other in the fifth/sixth place match at 170 pounds while in the background, Lathrop’s Jordan Opp and Caedon Ott wrestler for third place at 138 pounds during the 2017 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. Lathrop won the tournament. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Nobody ever said wrestling was easy; if they did, you’d know they never wrestled.

Minutes after losing the final match of his high school career, Eagle River’s Grant Burningham was still able to crack a smile despite sporting cuts to his forehead and lips.

“I feel pretty good,” he said after going down fighting in a 6-0 loss to Colony’s Trace Severson Saturday on Day 2 of the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State Division I High School Wrestling Tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

All things considered, Burningham was okay with his tournament. He wrestled with a bum heel all weekend after an injury in practice had him walking to school in a boot.

“It really hurt,” he said.

There’s not much time for hurting in wrestling — wrestlers get 90 seconds of “blood time” per match, to be exact — and so Burningham competed through the pain. For a sport where inflicting pain is just part of the game, it’s often a battle of mind over matter, wrestlers said Saturday.

“The adrenaline just kicks in,” said Chugiak’s Daniel Niebles, who got pinned by Service’s Tyler Farless in his third/fourth place match.

Eagle River coach Chris Ruggles said Burningham was a trouper all weekend despite the setback.

“It’s easy to use something like that as a crutch,” Ruggles said. “He did the exact opposite this weekend.”

Like Burningham, Niebles wore an impressive array of scrapes on his face after leading his team with a fourth-place finish at 170 pounds. After wrestling four matches in two days against the state’s best Division I wrestlers, Niebles said he’ll probably take a couple days to recover.

“Usually once I get home, that’s when I notice it,” he said of the bumps, scratches and bruises acquired over the weekend. “And the next day — ooh.”

Niebles said the pain is nothing compared to the adrenaline rush from wrestling, a sport whose two-month season left Niebles hungry for more after his final match.

“It felt pretty short,” said the sophomore after his second state appearance.

Niebles credited his tenacity in his biggest victory of the tournament, a narrow 9-8 win over Lathrop’s Josiah Opp in the quarterfinals.

“I just kept wrestling,” he said.

Chugiak’s six qualifiers finished 17th out of 19 schools in the team competition, which Lathrop won to become the first Interior school to win the title since West Valley in 2002-03. The Maleumtes qualified a tournament-high 26 wrestlers to state (including two in 11 of the 15 weight classes) and had 15 placewinners. The Fairbanks squad was so deep this year that at one point both consolation finals mats were occupied entirely by Lathrop wrestlers wrestling each other for placing position. Last year’s champion, Colony, finished second, while South was third.

Lathrop got some help winning the title from their Interior rivals. After Colony closed to within two points during the championship finals, Lathrop clinched the title when the Knights’ final wrestler, 195-pounder Simon Ganechko, lost to North Pole’s Bradley Antesberger to cap Antesberger’s undefeated season.

Burningham was one of four Eagle River wrestlers to earn spots on the podium Saturday, with Makiah Stafford winning his 5th place match over East’s John Fitzpatrick at 285 pounds and Collin Blank and Austin Kraft losing theirs at 106 and 120 pounds, respectively, to place sixth. The four placewinners gave 10th place Eagle River one more than last season, when the team finished ninth overall.

Wolves coach Chris Ruggles said Stafford’s win in the Wolves’ final match of the tournament was a nice way to cap the weekend.

“I thought we did pretty good, and it ends it with a good taste,” Ruggles said of his heavyweight, who was sixth last season and finished with a team-high four wins at state.

Stafford outlasted Fitzpatrick in their overtime match, getting a takedown in the first tiebreaker to claim victory in his sixth match of the tourney. Afterward, he credited better conditioning for his solid state showing.

“I’m just a lot more in shape this year,” said Stafford, a hulking second-team All-Northern Lights Conference offensive tackle in football who said he lost more than 40 pounds to make weight this season.

Ruggles said he was especially proud of his four senior placewinners — Stafford, Blank, Kraft and Burningham — who he said have helped build the program in depth and quality.

“Seeing that, it gives those younger guys something to aspire to,” he said of his squad, which sent 14 wrestlers to the tourney.

Burningham leaves Eagle River as the most decorated member of the team, with four state appearances and back-to-back trips to the state semifinals. Although he’d have liked to reach a state final, he said he certainly proved he’s among the top middleweights.

“I think I showed I can go toe-to-toe with anyone,” said Burningham, who actually led during his semifinal match against Lathrop’s Westley Bockert before getting pinned by the eventual champion.

Despite the individual success, he said he’s most proud of the fact he and his fellow seniors have helped build the program by recruiting new wrestlers and enhancing the team’s statewide profile.

“We just kind of grew it as we came up,” he said of the Wolves, who finished 15th Burningham’s freshman year.

For complete tournament results, visit trackwrestling.com

ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Division I Wrestling Tournament

Dec. 15-16, Alaska Airlines Center

Team scores — 1) Lathrop, 320; 2) Colony, 318; 3) South, 264; 4) Wasilla, 160.5; 6) Soldotna, 82.5; 7) Ketchikan, 80; 8) North Pole, 79; 9) Dimond, 55; 10) Eagle River, 53; 11) Kodiak, 50; 12) Thunder Mountain, 44; 13) West, 42.5; 14) Service, 35; 15) Kenai Central, 28; 16) East, 24; 17) Chugiak, 20; 18) Bartlett, 16; 19) West Valley, 14.5

3rd/4th matches

145 — Trace Severson, Colony, def. Grant Burningham, ER, 6-0

170 — Tyler Farless, Service, p. Daniel Niebles, Chugiak, 3:34

5th/6th matches

106 — Roberto Porras, Lathrop, won by forfeit over Collin Blank, ER

120 — Darinn Peterson, North Pole, won by forfeit over Austin Kraft, ER

285 — Makiah Stafford, ER, def. John Fitzpatrick, East, TB-1, 4-3

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