After three straight years in Nikiski, the Class 1-2-3A state wrestling is back in Anchorage this week, being hosted by Anchorage Christian for the first time in 12 years.
Bethel is three-time defending champion and is the favorite again this season, with 17 wrestlers qualified. Winning a state title is as much about numbers as it is about recording individual titles. Last year, Bethel's Trevour Chavez won the team's only individual title, but the Warriors still won by 47.5 points over runner-up Kotzebue.
"A lot of times, big scores come off guys that go to the back side (of the bracket) and make some pins, get some big victories and fight their way on back to third place," said Seward coach Chad Hinders. "Quite frankly, you can get more points from a guy who fights his way and pins all the way back to third place than a guy who just wins by decision and ends up in first."
Seward brought 10 qualified wrestlers to the tournament, and Hinders said they are all thrilled to be in Anchorage for the two-day event. Action begins with preliminary rounds Friday at 10 a.m., and the championship round begins Saturday at 5:15 p.m.
"I'm ecstatic for it to be in Anchorage," Hinders said. "It works out so much better for the village teams that come in. They don't have to take the long trip down to Nikiski.
"Nikiski put on a great tournament, but by nature of it being in Anchorage it is a lot more convenient."
The 145 and 285-pound divisions are the only ones without a Bethel wrestler in the mix, which means Seward junior Howie Hubbard won't have any Warriors to contend with as he tries to win in the heavyweight division. Hubbard has high expectations this week, in part because the tournament is in Anchorage.
"I've always done good in Anchorage," Hubbard said. "I don't know if it's a luck thing, but I've always done good here."
Being healthy is also a plus. Hubbard was dealing with the flu during last year's event and said that's no way to go through two days of exhausting tournament action. The top-ranked heavyweight is Mt. Edgecumbe's Paul Johanson. Hubbard and Johanson have never met on the mat, and Hubbard is excited for a chance to face Johanson. Hubbard said he has prepared well and knows the key to winning a title.
"Just stamina and keeping your head up, knowing you can beat the guy in front of you," he said. "Size doesn't really matter."
Hubbard said Seward will be glad to notch a top-10 team finish and will be gunning for Dillingham and Kotzebue. Trying to dethrone Bethel might be too tall an order.
"Bethel is a hard team to beat," Hubbard said. "They got a lot of really good wrestlers. That's pretty much all they do out there, is wrestle."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS