From first-time finalists to experienced champions, Friday's semifinal winners at the Class 4A state wrestling championships at Bartlett High traveled varied paths.
West sophomore Jejomar Briones won a dramatic semifinal in the 106-pound weight class, eliciting the day's loudest cheers when he scored a two-point take down in the final second of 3-1 decision over South's Noah Ottum.
"It was exciting, the crowd going wild, it gave me energy to keep going and push myself," Briones said. "I've never achieved something this big."
Like Briones, Kenai sophomore Ellery Steffensen will wrestle in his first state final Saturday, but Steffensen's semifinal victory was as quiet as Briones' was raucous.
While Briones needed every second of his six-minute match to gain victory, Steffensen needed just 19 seconds to pin Palmer's Collin Bendixen in a 138-pound semifinal.
"Wrestling's a crazy sport that way," said Steffensen. "It can be a six-minute grind match or you can just go out and catch a guy real quick and pin some big kids that way."
Steffensen, who battled illness during last year's state tournament and lost in the semifinals, came into the tournament as the state's top-ranked wrestler at 138 pounds. He said he has put in a lot of hard work this season, but he carries some perspective into competition.
"You know what, there's a lot more to life than high school wrestling," he said.
For Service senior John Pounds, the state's top-ranked wrestler at 132 pounds, Friday's win by 4-0 decision over Eagle River's Gavin Arnold provides a chance to cap years of hard work with a second state title.
"I've been training for seven years straight, pretty much, sacrificing my summers," Pounds said. "My whole high school career, it's been progressively getting better and better."
Pounds' first state title came last season at 126 pounds, so memories of wrestling under the spotlight are still fresh. For Kodiak senior Eddy Burris, however, wrestling in a state final is a distant vision.
"I made it there my freshman year and lost to Nathan Marquez of East," Burris said. "It's been so long since I've been there, it's kind of new territory to me again."
Burris switched wrestling styles this season and it paid off. He went from using a style based on strength to one based on length, a method that helped him pin Chugiak's Tyler Wintersteen in 2 minutes, 44 seconds Friday in a 126-pound semifinal.
"I stopped using double arm-bars all the time and actually went to leg riding," Burris said.
The championship finals begin Saturday at 5:15 p.m., and nerves will likely be stirring when wrestlers take their place under the spotlight, no matter how they got there.
"There's always adrenaline," Steffensen said. "You can't change that, I guess. Your body will respond."
ASAA/First National Bank
Class 4A state wrestling
Team scores after Friday
1) Wasilla, 134.52; 2) South, 131.53; 3) Palmer, 117.54; 4) Kodiak, 113.05; 5) Service, 103.06; 6) Colony, 98.07; 7) North Pole, 92.08;. 8) East, 81.09; 9) West Valley, 68.510; 10) Ketchikan, 63.511; 11) West, 55.012; 12) Chugiak, 52.013; 13) Lathrop, 40.014; 14) Kenai, 33.015; 15) Eagle River, 27.016; 16) Bartlett, 23.517; 17) Soldotna, 6.018; 18) Thunder Mountain, 4.019; 19) Dimond, 2.020; 20) Juneau 0.0.
98 -- Logan Albrecht (Wasilla), d. Bryce Adams (Colony), 6-1; Greg Shack (South) p. Trevor Wutzke (Ketchikan), 4:43. 106 -- Jejomar Briones (West) d. Noah Ottum (South), 3-1; Kyle Willard (East) d. Cameron Frazier (North Pole), 6-0. 113 -- Andrew Caballa (Kodiak), p. Kadin Hallstrom (Ketchikan), 4:52; Gavin Alvarado, South, p. Brandon Abbott (Wasilla), 3:53. 120 -- Joshua Fetko (Service), d. Rami Pellumbi (South), 6-5; Mason Cochran (Palmer), d. Zack Luff (Eagle River), 8-3. 126 -- Daide Agnew (West Valley), m.d. Alex Kennedy (East), 15-4; Eddy Burris (Kodiak), p. Tyler Wintersteen (Chugiak), 2:44. 132 -- Gage Wright (North Pole), d. Chase Jury (Chugiak), 8-3; John Pounds (Service) d. Gavin Arnold (Eagle River), 4-0. 138 -- Kraig Hammond (South), d. Damian Sotelo (Bartlett), 9-2; Ellery Steffensen (Kenai), p. Collin Bendixen (Palmer), 0:19. 145 -- Sam Zimmerman (Lathrop) won by injury default over Tyler Thammavongsa (Service)m 5:42; Nate McKimson (Wasilla) M.D. Colt Jury (Chugiak), 12-4. 152 -- Moo Rogers (North Pole) d. Robert Huffer (Chugiak) 10-3; Bryce Serna (Wasilla) d. Vince Fricilone (West Valley), 10-5. 160 -- Luke Heun (Palmer) p. Gabe Mcsharry (South) 1:25; Rilen Skieens (Service) p. Jean Paul Sosa (East) 1:03. 170 -- Josh Wiggins (East) d. Jacob Wharton (Lathrop), 10-6; Leroy Elliot (West) m.d. Sheldon Innes (North Pole) 13-2. 182 -- Hyland Story (West Valley) d. Caleb Nielsen (Palmer), 7-6; Sawyer Root (Colony) p. Mark Dobbs (Wasilla), 5:23. 195 -- Kerry Powers (Kodiak), m.d. Joel Ryno (Palmer) 16-2; Dalton Sauder (South) p. Jason Frizzell (Ketchikan), 0:24. 220 -- Quace Wright (Wasilla) d. Richard Burroughs (Chugiak) 5-3; Ian MacKenzie (Colony) p. Mike Hyde (West) 23-12, 2:56. 285 -- Brian Thompson (Palmer), d. Cody Ring (Ketchikan), 5-2; Salalau Sega (Kodiak), p. Cole Frohling (Palmer), 5:28.
By JEREMY PETERS