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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
The holiday season, for most, is a time when diets tend to fall by the wayside. After all, that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for.
Unfortunately for the Ketchikan High School wrestling team, Thanksgiving falls in the middle of its season, annually acting as little more than a cruel temptation when it comes to eating.
"It is horrible," said 132-pounder Isaac Lontz. "It's absolutely terrible. (Thanksgiving) is one of my favorite holidays, so I always end up coming out a lot over (132 pounds)."
Lontz wasn’t the only grappler who came back to practice on Black Friday packing extra poundage.
"I think everyone was about five pounds over weight," said freshman Kadin Hallstrom. "You've got to make sure you don't eat too much, because you've got to make weight in about a week."
Coach Bill McLaughlin, a former wrestler who knows all too well about maintaining weight, said he kept Friday’s practice to just two hours as an added holiday bonus.
"We try to take some of the sting out of being a wrestler during one of the best eating holidays on the planet the best we can," he said. "Let them enjoy their Thanksgiving, and then we got them in here on Friday ... and burned off a little bit of that turkey."
However it was business as usual come Monday, as the Kings prepared to head to Soldotna for Friday and Saturday’s North/South Invitational.
Some of the top 4A programs in the state will be on hand for the event, which includes duals on Friday and a double-elimination tournament Saturday.
"It's a tournament where a lot of the big shots go," McLaughlin said. "There will be about eight or nine teams there. Colony, South Anchorage, Soldotna, Wasilla — there will be some big bats."
Kayhi will wrestle duals against Wasilla and Bartlett Friday before Saturday’s tournament.
"I want every kid to win a match Saturday," McLaughlin said. "That's important for them, and it's important for us to have them get a lot of matches. I want them to learn, and bang heads with some of the best kids in the state."
Facing some of the top wrestlers in the state early in the season allows Kayhi to better strategize for when the state tournament rolls around, the coach said.
"You wrestle the No. 1 kid at your weight now, No. 1, you have a shot to beat him," McLaughlin said, "and two, we can look back at this so when we go to the state tournament, it's not like we're trying to figure the kid out during the match. We can game plan for him a bit."
An additional talking point at practice this week was the release of akmat.org’s 4A rankings. Five Kings cracked the top six in their respective weight classes, including a pair of freshmen in Hallstrom and Trevor Wutzke.
"Normally down (in Southeast), if we get a kid in the rankings, he slides in at No. 6 because he took third at state last year and is undefeated this year," McLaughlin said. "Generally, they have to be glowingly great, and then they'll put them at six.
"For them to look down here, and rank as many as they did, it's a tribute to those kids here that are working hard, and shows them that it does pay off."
Wutzke (98 pounds) and Logan Colins (138) are ranked fifth at their weights, while Lontz (132), Hallstrom (113), and Dalton Spear (152) found themselves sixth.
McLaughlin said the rankings can give Kayhi a boost of confidence, but at the same time, the ranking at the end of the season is only what really matters.
"I bring it up to the whole team, because it's morale," he said. "It's good to know you're doing good. But I follow that right up with saying that rankings don't mean anything. You can be ranked No. 1 all year long, and still go two (losses) and done at the state tournament."
Lontz and Hallstrom echoed their coach’s statements, and aren’t putting too much stock in the rankings.
"I haven't gone on akmat yet this year," Lontz, a senior, admitted. "I'm not thinking too much about it."
Added Hallstrom: "I thought it was pretty awesome being ranked after just two tournaments, but I still don’t pay too much attention to it."
McLaughlin said he told the Kings that the rankings are "three or four guys on their computers looking at results. They don't mean much more than that.
"But wrestling is an ego sport," he added. "Does it give these kids an edge? Or will it undercut them a little bit? We'll find out."
Kayhi won’t be the only program at North/South with ranked wrestlers by a long shot. The Kings will have their plates full with Wasilla’s 11 ranked grapplers. Not to mention a helping of the nine ranked wrestlers out of South Anchorage. And don’t forget to leave room for Colony’s seven.