T-shirts were soaked with sweat Tuesday at the Team Alaska technique and training camp at South High, where 40 wrestlers honed their freestyle and Greco-Roman skills.
The camp provides a rare opportunity to practice the two Olympic wrestling styles used in next week's Junior and Cadet National Wrestling Championships in Fargo, N.D.
Fourteen Alaska wrestlers will leave Friday for Fargo, where some of the nation's best high school wrestlers will compete from Sunday to Saturday.
Representing Alaska for the first time will be Kotzebue sophomore Scott Hansen. Last year's runner-up in the 112-pound division at the Class 1-2-3A state tournament, Hansen said he is both excited and nervous about the event.
"There are some studs down there," he said. "So I'm just hoping to place."
The plane ticket from Kotzebue to Anchorage cost about $600, Hansen said, but the trip was worth it, because the camp is one of his only chances to get competitive mat time during the summer.
"It's pretty important to get some offseason training," Hansen said. "Make the most of it while you are down here."
South coach and camp director Tom Ritchie said there are 10 kids at the camp from off the road system. Ritchie likes to see kids from all over the state training together in the summer, knowing the most dedicated wrestlers come to the camp.
"Summer wrestlers make winter champions," Ritchie said. "Typically the ones in this are in the state finals or state champs."
Service senior Stephen Ellis, a two-time defending Class 4A state champion in the 189-pound weight class, is attending his second Team Alaska camp and getting ready to go to Fargo for the first time. Ellis is no stranger to national competition, however, having competed in the Reno Tournament of Champions in December.
"I'm excited to go to Fargo," he said. "I expect it to be a lot like Reno."
Ellis and the other campers are receiving instruction from some accomplished wrestlers. Among the coaches is four-time Class 4A state champion Nathan Hoffer.
Hoffer will be a redshirt sophomore at Arizona State, where he wrestles on a scholarship. He was a regular at the Team Alaska technique and training camp when he was a student at East, and he said the camp always helped set him up for success.
It feels a little strange to come back to the camp as a coach, said Hoffer, but he's eager to pass on tips and advice to those aspiring to follow in his footsteps.
"I hope they're setting their hopes high," Hoffer said. "To be competitive and always try to win at everything."
East coach Scott Armstrong coached Hoffer for four years and said his return as a coach is a great addition to the camp, because so many of the kids look up to him and still know his name.
"He's living the dream right now," Armstrong said. "That's all they can aspire to, because there is no professional league."
By the end of this week's camp, which started Thursday and ends Friday, the wrestlers might feel like professionals. They start their training at 8:30 a.m., and put in three sessions by 3:30 p.m.
Kotzebue coach Mark Lane, who won a national championship at Montana State Northern University in 1999, is in his fifth year coaching at the Team Alaska camp. He said he hopes this week's hard work results in a few kids placing at the tournament in Fargo, but he's sure the experience will help them improve regardless of the final results.
"The more experience you get at anything in life, the better you're going to get at it." Lane said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Alaska Dispatch Publishing