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4 weeks to state, Kings head north


Daily News Sports Editor

Now that Christmas was more than a week ago, the North Pole is set to function as a haven for some of Alaska’s top wrestlers.

The Ketchikan High School wrestling team joins seven other programs Friday at North Pole High School in Fairbanks for a weekend of duals and tournaments at the John Tobin Invitational.

It’s the Kings’ first test since breaking for the holidays, and their last major hurdle before the region and state tournaments.

"This is their last shot to go up to Anchorage, look at a guy and say, 'Be afraid. Be very afraid,’" said head coach Bill McLaughlin. "Come three weeks from now, we'll be at the state tournament. The next two weeks are probably the most intense we'll go. We'll start ramping it up."

Ramping it up includes added conditioning, technique drills and, surprisingly enough, more wrestling. The team took five days off, but has been hitting the mat hard since.

"We've had some pretty tough practices since we've come back," said 160-pound senior Craig DeBoer. "We're doing more conditioning and live wrestling. Really, we’re focusing a lot on conditioning, and getting the heart rate back up."

The veterans who have endured this grueling stretch before know just how taxing it can be, but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.

"You have that break, and you kind of forget about wrestling a bit, but then you realize you still have a month and a half to go," said 145-pound senior Joe Chadwell. "I'm excited for regions and everything, but it's still so far away. You wish you could get the rest of the season over with. Being my senior year, the first two months went by really quick, but this last month — it seems like it's taking forever."

According to McLaughlin, the added drills and attention to detail might seem extraneous, but make the difference in a match.

"It’s the stuff nobody likes to do," he said. "But it's the stuff that wins matches.

"If you don't have a love/hate relationship with this sport, you're doing something wrong. If at some point you don't hate it, you probably aren't working hard enough."

McLaughlin is turning to senior leaders such as DeBoer and Chadwell to push the less experienced guys to keep reaching for more. It’s what the coach believes will give them an edge come tournament time, and lift the entire team to new heights.

"What I like about this group of seniors is that they're not very vocal," McLaughlin said. "True leaders lead by example. Anybody can yell and scream. They lead by example, and the younger kids see that."

He hopes the other teams will see it, too, as the Kings will dual South Anchorage and North Pole Friday, before entering the eight-team tournament Saturday. The weekend marks the last time Kayhi sees schools from up north — and vice versa — until the stakes are raised much higher at the state championships.

"After this weekend, we'll have seen everybody in the state, and they will have seen us," McLaughlin said. "I think there was a time — a few years ago — where it was more important for us to see them. Now, it's maybe more important for them to see us."

Once they see Kayhi, the plan is to make them never forget it.

"I don't think we struck much fear in anybody three or four years ago," McLaughlin said. "We had one or two guys that they knew they didn't want to wrestle. Now, it's 'OK, wow, we have Ketchikan. This is going to be a match.' They know from our 98-pound freshman to our senior heavyweight, there is a hard-working, quality wrestler right there."