The Nome-Beltz Nanooks wrestling team hosted schools from around the region for the Northern Conference Wrestling Tournament over the weekend. The top two wrestlers in each weight class qualified for the 1A/2A/3A State Wrestling Tournament.
Qualifiers from Nome included Stephan Anderson, Ben Cross, Elden Cross, J.J. Marble, Aaron Rose and Donald Smith, along with all three of the team’s girls: Starr Erikson, Madison Johnson, and Sierra Tucker. Nome took third place overall, behind Barrow and Kotzebue.
Nome head coach Dudley Homelvig says he’s proud of the Nanooks’ work:
“A lot of sitting and waiting for things to happen, you know, and the kids didn’t let it get to them. They stayed focused, and I was really pleased with our effort.”
Winter storms had wrestlers sitting and waiting for 24 hours as their peers attempted to make it to Nome. Homelvig says 14 students flew back and forth between Kotzebue and Anchorage before finally getting a lift from Bering Air.
He says the tournament could have gone ahead on Saturday, since over 75 percent of registered wrestlers were there, but the coaches voted to wait until Sunday.
“Travel’s an expensive thing, and it is basically your only chance to qualify for state, and to already do all that travel and have the tournament go on while you’re sitting in Anchorage waiting for a flight to Nome, that’s … I mean, what’s best for kids? That’s the way I’ve always looked at it, and not getting a chance to compete is not what’s best for kids.”
And for most of the students, this was their last chance to compete this season. Homelvig says for his team, he’s seen definite improvement since practices began in late September.
“I’ll use Donald Smith as an example. He wrestled his last high-school match this weekend, but he did it by beating a guy that had beaten him four times in a row during the season. So that’s the kind of progress we want every kid to make, and I think for the most part, that has happened.”
There’s also been progress in terms of team cohesion. The Nome coach says that’s included both serious challenges and some not-so-serious activities.
“We bet on NFL games, and those who pick the losing team have to do the winning team’s score in push-ups. And moving our mats is a team bonding thing because it takes the entire team. Those things weigh 600 pounds a piece, and for every home meet, we’ve got to move a mat from the Armory out to the school and then from the school back to the Armory.”
That teamwork will come in handy as the Nanooks prepare for the state competition. Though only six Nome wrestlers qualified, Homelvig says getting them ready will take the whole team.
“It’s tough if you based all your hopes of the year on qualifying for state and it didn’t happen. That’s a big letdown. So now they’ve got to shift their focus: ‘I’m going to try to make my workout partner who did qualify — I’m going to try to give them the best practice possible so that they’ll perform the best they can.’”
The State Wrestling Tournament will take place next weekend, December 15th and 16th, at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
Image at top: Nome’s Aaron Rose wrestles a competitor from Bethel at the Nome Wrestling Invite in October 2017. Rose took first place in the boys’ 160-pound weight class at the Northern Conference Regional Tournament this weekend. (Photo: Janeen Sullivan, used with permission)
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not include the names of two additional state qualifiers, Elden Cross and Donald Smith.