High School Sports

South claims Division I state wrestling title thanks to the ‘backside boys’

Heading into the final day of the 2022 Alaska State wrestling tournament, South Anchorage head coach Randy Hanson knew that even though his team had a healthy contingent of wrestlers in finals, their depth in the consolation rounds was going to have to carry them to their first state title since 2018.

“The guys got it done this morning,” Hanson said. “The “backside boys” is what we call them.”

If they wanted to break Colony’s stranglehold on the Division I team title after a run of three years in a row, it would take an entire team effort.

South needed those extra points the ‘backside boys’ provided, taking the title with 275 points, narrowly outpacing Soldotna with 261.5. Defending champ Colony finished fifth at 174.

“That carried us through,” Hanson said. “Some guys stepping up and beating opponents that they hadn’t beaten all year and that’s what got us a team state title. It was truly a team state title this year.”

His team dominated in the consolations to the degree that they had built an insurmountable lead and locked up the championship before the finals were even halfway over.

“We knew we wanted to try to clinch it or get as big of a lead going into the finals as possible because we had some tough matches going into the finals,” Hanson said.


One of the wrestlers that exemplified the resilience of the program was senior Dylan Shaw.

“The kid is a talent,” Hanson said. “He’s got some natural wrestling abilities and he can shine under the bright lights like the state finals and that’s where he wrestles his best.”

With a clutch takedown in overtime, Shaw won an individual state title for the second year in thrilling fashion over Kawaiola Patterson of Lathrop in the 135-pound weight class finals.

“It was little sketchy near the end but I pulled through,” Shaw said. “He’s been my finals match all throughout this year and I pulled through with the win every time, but he’s no pushover. He’s a great competitor. I love that kid, and he’s one of my good friends now.”

Shaw won state at 130 pounds last year and this marked his third straight undefeated season. His last loss came when he was a freshman, and he might’ve had a chance to win three straight titles had he made weight at regions that year.

“It’s all just unreal just to go undefeated for that long and have a target on my back that whole time,” Shaw said. “Just to be able to defend myself like that feels pretty good.”

As happy as he was to go out on top as two-time state champion as an individual, he is even more thrilled that he’s going out as part of a championship-winning team.

“I wanted a team championship more than my own championship,” Shaw said. “I’d much rather have my whole team winning after all this hard work we put in, that’s way bigger than just me winning.”

Soldotna Star Donovan enters rare stratosphere

It is not uncommon for high school wrestlers to repeat as state champions in back-to-back years over the course of their prep careers. However, it is extremely rare for one to finish on top at the state tournament four straight years.

With her first-period pin of Bethel’s Payton Boney, Soldotna’s Trinity Donovan completed her third straight undefeated season and joined an elite club of Alaska high school wrestlers to claim an individual state title in four straight years.

“I still feel kind of normal,” she said. “I know I accomplished something great and I’m making history, but I kind of feel just like any other person here.”

Donovan pinned all four of her opponents on her way to winning her fourth and final high school state title and admitted that she was hoping to be tested at state.

“I hadn’t really had anyone to challenge me this season which is kind of a little disappointing, but at the same time I’m really grateful for everyone that helped put me here and got me another title,” she said.

Donovan believes that her story can serve as inspiration and shining example to other young girls around the state that might be curious or hesitant to join the sport but lack confidence because they don’t have any prior experience.

“I started in seventh grade, I didn’t start when I was three or something so start now and start getting better now,” she said. “I would say don’t wait, don’t hesitate, just go for it.”

Despite her dominance on the mat, Donovan doesn’t want to jump right into college athletics because she wants to take a break from going to school for at least a year.

“I feel like I’ll eventually do it, I just don’t really plan on doing it yet,” she said. “I’ll take a gap year, coach for a year, see how much I miss competing and then go from there.”


Other highlights

There was plenty of exciting action from the finals including more overtime thrillers and a handful of shocking upsets.

The first match of the Division I boys finals set the tone for what would be a great round of wrestling when familiar foes Matthew Mitchell of Colony and Kenton Cooke of Bettye Davis East faced off for the 130-pound title. Mitchell notched his first state title at 125 last year by beating Cooke, who was still in search of his first.

The match had to be stopped several times because Cooke’s nose kept bleeding but he battled through having his face wrapped in tape and a tough opponent to come out on top by besting his rival for the third time this season in overtime by securing a takedown.

“I was like ‘Finally lets go’ because I’ve been working for this for awhile,” Cooke said.

Another exciting match between rivals occurred at 145-pounds when Elijah Larsen of Colony and Aaron Concepcion of South met up. Larsen was able to secure his second straight title at the weight class and complete a second straight perfect season as well with a second period pin of Concepcion who at one-point nearly had him pinned with a cradle maneuver.

“We’re both very strong kids so getting out of stuff is a dogfight,” Larsen said. “I was a little tight and turned into to something when I realized I made a mistake. I wasn’t going to end it like that so I just fought and was waiting for him to get a little loose.”

Once he was able to avoid disaster, he knew it was time to seize the moment.

“I got back on top and in my mind I was like ‘This is it, this is my chance, this is where I take him,’ ” Larsen said.


Wasilla senior Deshawn Campbell also came out on top of an overtime thriller over Aaron Johnson of Lathrop where he secured a takedown to not only complete a perfect season but pull off a hat trick by claiming his third state title in his third different sport this calendar year. In the spring, he won a track and field state title in the 110 hurdles and in November, he won state title in Boys 1 meter Diving.

Hunter Richardson of Soldotna bested James Shivers of South for the second in a row to claim the 189-pound title. His teammate, Liam Babitt won his third straight title at 215 with a 8-0 major decision over Pete Macchione of West Valley.

Lathrop’s Noah Curtis accomplished the same feat with 5-1 decision victory over Puni Pa`u of Bettye Davis East.

A pair of surprising upsets led to spoiled perfect seasons. In the Division I Boys 171-pound weight class, top-seeded Zachary Pribe of Service allowed a last second takedown and suffered his first loss of the season to Jacob Johnson of Lathrop in a 10-8 decision. Jessailah Thammavongsa of South suffered a similar fate when she lost her finals match at the Girls 165-pounds to Kiley Clouse of Dillingham in a 4-0 decision.

Alaska State Wrestling Tournament

Championship matches

Saturday at Alaska Airlines Center

Division I

103: Elijah Allen, West, def. Max Francisco, East, 4-2

112: Jacob Strausbaugh, Soldotna, def. Kael Salisbury, Palmer, 9-2

119: Asher Clayton, Colony, def. Joseph Spangler, West, by fall 5:00

125: Tristan Goodell, Koliganek, def. Jake Stockhausen, Glennallen, 6-5

130: Kenton Cooke, East, def. Matthew Mitchell, Colony, 6-4 overtime


135: Dylan Shaw, South, def. Kawaiola Patterson, Lathrop, 8-6 overtime

140: Cody Vansiegman, Palmer, def. Blake Foster, South, by fall 2:53

145: Elijah Larsen, Colony, def. Aaron Concepcion, South, by fall 3:26

152: Isaac Chavarria, Soldotna, def. Samuel Chaput, South, by fall, 2:58

160: Deshawn Campbell, West, def. Aaron Johnson, Lathrop, 7-5 overtime

171: Jacob Johnson, Lathrop, def. Zachary Priebe, Service, 10-8


189: Hunter Richardson, Soldotna, def. James Shivers, 5-1

215: Liam Babitt, Soldotna, def. Pete Macchione, West Valley, by major decision 8-0

285: Noah Curtis, Lathrop, def. Puni Pa`u, East, 5-1

Division II

103: Jaxson Young, Kenai Central, def. Jason Ekamrak, Akiachak, by fall 3:37

112: Aidan Schilling, Seward def. Alvino Vasquez, Bethel, by major dec. 12-3

119: Hunter Forshee-Kurtz, Seward, def. Oran Brown, Delta, 6-0

125: Ezekiel Miller, Soldotna, def. Riley Williams, Lathrop, by major decision 13-3

130: Myles Campbell, Redington, def. Paul Dyment, Bethel by fall, 1:04

135: Owen Whicker, Kenai Central, def. Colton Merriner, Grace Christian, 5-3

140: Russell Nyvall, Homer, def. Josh Paulson Grace Christian by fall, 1:09

145: Thomas Swalling, Redington, def. Garrett Nicholai, Anna Tobel by fall, 4:19

152: Andrew Gaethle, Kenai Central, def. Leo Wald, Haines, by tech fall 16-1

160: Randy Churchill, Wrangell, def. Jason Young, Sitka, 5-3

171: Ethan Blatchley, Wrangell, def. Wyatt Milnes, Redington, by fall, 4:00

189: Steven Warren, Delta, def. Stephen Scott, ACS, by fall, 3:48

215: Kyle Biggers, Petersburg, def. Benjamin Kaui, Barrow, 8-2.

285: Uatahouse Tuifua, Barrow, def. Mayaac Schmit, Nikiski, by fall, 1:51


100: Jamiezon Garcia, East, def. Grace Loutzenhiser, Colony, 8-2

107: Megan Spencer, Lathrop, def. Jaelynn Colby, North Pole, by fall 2:22

114: Amaya Coon, Lathrop, def. Kayla Nations, Lathrop, by fall 3:49

120: Mya Campbell, Redington, def. Alysa Stigall, Lathrop, 7-6

126: Saoirse Cook, Homer, def. Bayleigh Harrington, Colony, 9-2

132: Aileen Lester, Newhalen, def. Natalie Tobuk, Nome, 2-1

138: Isabel Lieb, Bethel, def. Daisy Hannevold, Soldotna, by major decision 13-3

145: Trinity Donovan, Soldotna, def. Payton Boney, Bethel by fall, 1:27

152: Emily Bellant, North Pole, def. Jahzara O’Neil, Dimond, 7-0

165: Kiley Clouse, Dillingham, def. Jessailah Thammavongsa, South, 4-2

185: Roane Cook. Homer, def. Lylah, Murrah, North Pole, by fall 5:04

235: Manusiu Muti, Barrow, def. Alice Bent, West Valley, by fall 2:49

Division I Team Top 5

1. South Anchorage 275; 2. Soldotna 261.5; 3. Lathrop 180.5; 4. Wasilla 176; 5. Colony 174.

Division II Team Top 5

1. Redington 172.5; 2. Kenai Central 118.5; 3. Bethel 100; 4. Petersburg 90; 5. Delta 86.

Girls Team Top 5

1. Lathrop 179.5; 2. North Pole 149; 3. Soldotna 113; 4. Bethel 81; 5. (tie) Colony 79; 5. (tie) Service 79.

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.