It wasn’t ideal.
But it was necessary.
As the sun shined through the windows that overlook Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium on Saturday — a constant reminder of the stark difference between wrestling during the dark, dreary days of the First City’s fall and winter months, and bright spring time — grapplers were going head-to-head throughout the morning and early afternoon on the gym floor.
Ketchikan High School pushed the Bill Weiss Tournament, typically a three-day wrestling event, into one day — or half a day — as it was on a mission to be done in time for participants to prepare for Kayhi’s prom Saturday night.
Wrestling and prom. There are two words that are not typically in the same sentence.
But wrestling in the spring time has brought a whole new list of challenges.
“Today, we just had to hustle, right through,” Kayhi wrestling coach Rick Collins said. “We just kept three mats, and didn’t take any breaks and ran through it.”
It was non-stop and action-packed, as 127 matches were squeezed into just a few hours, and for the eight teams that traveled to Ketchikan, it was a quick in-town, out-of-town, trip.
Wrestling teams from Mt. Edgecumbe, Sitka, Wrangell, Craig, Haines, Petersburg, Metlakatla and Thorne Bay high schools traveled to the First City. Many of them were scurrying back home after the Bill Weiss Tournament.
“Craig’s getting on a ferry, here, in about an hour,” Collins said toward the end of the Bill Weiss event. “And Sitka, and a number of teams are flying (out) already today, so it works out for everybody getting another night at home, which is good.”
Kayhi had several wrestlers win their respective weight classes during the tournament.
Kayhi freshman Julia Biagi won the girls’ 130-pound weight bracket, and her brother, Kai Biagi, won the boys’ 135-pound weight class.
Kayhi junior Degan Linne won the 140-pound weight bracket, and seniors Charlie Blair and Andy Collins won the 145-pound and 160-pound weight classes, respectively, as well.
Kolin Houthoofd won the 152-pound weight bracket, and Tyler Manypenny won the 171-pound weight class.
In fact, up and down Kayhi’s lineup, Collins was pleased with what he saw from his wrestlers.
“Liam Moseng, it was his first weekend of wrestling because he had a delayed start to his season from travel and quarantine, and things like that,” Collins said. “So he’s just improved a lot as a heavyweight.”
Moseng placed fourth in the 285-pound weight class, with a pair of victories over Sitka’s Hunter Littlefield, and Mt. Edgecumbe’s Arthur Heckman.
Both Kristian Kellogg and Dawson Larna placed second and third in the 112-pound weight class, respectively.
“They’re wrestling really well,” Collins said.
Likewise, Nathan Mowery and Sampson Oliver placed third and fourth in the 119-pound weight bracket.
“Sampson Oliver has just improved a lot,” Collins said. “He’s a kid that I’ve already seen grow physically this year — just getting more muscled up. In another year or two, he’ll be a kid that you won’t really recognize.
“... Dyllin (Kealiinohomoku-Salcedo) and Nathan Mowery, and all these guys,” Collins continued, “they’re tough; they’re just emerging. We’re just trying to get them to turn that corner. They’re real close, and that’s really neat to see.”
Kealiinohomoku-Salcedo placed third in the 130-pound weight class.
Kayhi’s Micah Blake placed third in the 189-pound weight class.
“(He) hit a great double leg (takedown),” Collins said. “He’s just learning to wrestle. He played football as a freshman, and this is his first year wrestling. We’re proud of him.”
Both Herbert Dowhitt and Jaden Stern, who are seniors and new to the wrestling team, both made their home debuts on the mat.
Stern recorded a victory in the 189-pound weight class, and Dowhitt — although he wasn’t able to tally a win — battled hard, the whole way through his matches.
“They’re making improvements, which is really fun to watch,” Collins said.
Stern beat Douglas Adams, from Haines, in his first-round match. Dowhitt wrestled well against Wrangell’s Ethan Blatchley, and Jonas Baekkelund, from Petersburg, despite falling in both matches. Dowhitt also fell to Manypenny — his own teammate, and eventual winner of the weight class.
The Kayhi vs. Kayhi bouts are always tough.
“Tyler Manypenny just continues to improve,” Collins said. “He ended up taking first place in the 171-pound class, which is super cool. ... I’m really proud of him. He’s just been working at it, and getting better.”
Collins’ son, Andy Collins, also improved.
Andy Collins not only beat Wrangell’s Ryan Rooney in the 160-pound championship bout. But he did so in a more methodical way than he’s wrestled in the past.
It was Andy Collins’ first time beating Rooney all season, and the two showed their respect for each other with a hug after the match.
“Rooney is a really tough wrestler,” Rick Collins said. “He’s a racehorse — just lean and great balance. He’s very skilled on the mat, which is Andy’s wheelhouse, also, so it makes for a very interesting matchup.
“So far this year,” Collins continued, “a lot of lead changes — a lot of very close situations, where it could go one way or the other. And Rooney’s come out every time this year.”
But Andy Collins learned from those matches, and adjusted accordingly.
“Today, Andy wrestled a lot smarter match,” Rick Collins said of his son. “Sometimes he just goes so fast, so intense, he isn’t thinking through some situations. So I was really pleased that he slowed his pace down today, and kind of mentally focused on some things.
“He’s serious, in the past, where he says, ‘I don’t really watch the score; I just try to pin him all the time,’” Rick Collins continued. “And so, you live by the sword; you die by the sword, and Andy’s had that. He’s lost some matches.”
Last season, Andy Collins was ahead in his state tournament match, 16-2, and went for a pin. His opponent reversed the move, and instead pinned Andy.
“For Andy to come in (today), and wrestle a really tactical match, as well as very skilled match, it was a wonderful match,” Rick said. “It felt good to get that win.”
But now, teams will have to wait until state.
Aside from Kayhi’s regional meet against Juneau’s one-schooled squad, with wrestlers listed from both Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools, on May 12, nobody has any matches scheduled.
“The biggest hurdle in Southeast this year, is whether or not they’ll have any more wrestling this year, between now and the end of the season,” Collins said. “And that could be a real tough thing — not having any more matches until you go to the state tournament in a month.”
The state tournament is scheduled for May 21-22 in Anchorage.
“Our biggest problem, right now, is normally we compete every week in wrestling,” Collins said. “It helps keep their weight down, and helps with improvement — because you can diagnose every week in competition.”
Even a makeshift match against another school would be difficult to schedule last minute.
“We’d like to,” Collins said. “It’s travel; it’s finding a time in the schedule — because spring schedules are so tight. Kayhi has (several) sports going on right now.”
Several Kayhi wrestlers are also playing soccer this year. Many others, that would typically be on the wrestling roster, are taking a hiatus to play other spring sports.
“And there are COVID issues,” Collins continued. “There have been some cases going up and down, and so we all have mitigation plans. We can’t host anybody that’s in an orange or a red (risk level). So they have to be in a green or a yellow (risk level). So we’ll just kind of see how it goes.”
That’s all anybody can do — “kind of see how it goes.”
As Kayhi’s wrestling season continues, the world continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus.
But at least in the short-term, there is a wrestling season.
“It’s a not ideal,” Collins said. “We’ve got some big challenges ahead of us.”
Division II regional meet in town
Kayhi hosted the Region V Division II meet on Friday. Small schools from across Southeast traveled to Ketchikan because the Region V meet, which was originally scheduled May 7-8 in Sitka, had to be rescheduled.
Combined with Mt. Edgecumbe’s graduation that same weekend, and Alaska Airlines cutting back its flights throughout Southeast, wrestling programs across the area had to come up with a Plan B.
“The athletic directors got together, and wrestling coaches, and we put some proposals together, and this is the one that we ended up with,” Collins said.
The same eight schools that were in town for the Bill Weiss wrestled on Friday.
Kayhi’s boys’ team didn’t wrestle, however — although Julia Biagi represented the First City in the Region V girls’ tournament. Kayhi’s boys’ team is classified in Division I, along with Juneau’s one-schooled squad.
Julia Biagi advances to state
In addition to the Region V Division II boy’s tournament on Friday, girl wrestlers from across the region went toe-to-toe for a chance to advance to the state tournament later this spring — and Kayhi’s lone girl wrestler this season, Julia Biagi, did just that.
After defeating Leslie McCarty from Metlakatla in the first round of the 130-pound weight class bracket, Biagi wrestled Chiara Chase from Mt. Edgecumbe for the regional championship.
Biagi fell behind, 2-0, in the first period, but battled back in the second period, scoring four points, and took Chase down.
“Julia is a really a tough gal,” Collins said. “She’s a gymnast, so she’s got a lot of flexibility strength, coordination and balance, and so that transitions really well in wrestling — and then she comes from a wrestling family. So it’s pretty neat stuff. I’m excited to coach her this year.”
Biagi is undefeated this season, also beating Chase in the 130-pound weight class finals of the Bill Weiss event on Saturday.
“She’s got a really nice half nelson,” Collins said. “She gets after it, which is good. She has a few things to work on with her feet — but overall, she’s super aggressive. Good stuff. I’m really proud of her.
“It’s exciting; she gets to continue her season,” he continued. “She’ll practice next month, and then head up to state. It should be great — and we’re excited to have three more years with her after this (season).”