Wrangell wrestlers prepped to pin wins to mat

"Low, guys! Heads up, elbows in! Tap that floor a couple times," said Jack Carney, assistant coach of the high school wrestling team.

His direction is met with a resounding THUMP! as the squad of 14 student-athletes hits the mat. They continue to run drills and warm up without any further instruction from their coach.

Wrestling season started on Wednesday and athletes are already poised to pin the competition at the first meet on Oct. 22.

"They're looking tough," said head coach Jeff Rooney in a phone interview. "Wrangell has been putting out a top-end wrestling team, both boys and girls, for a long time."

Not all of this year's wrestlers were at practice last Thursday. A couple were getting COVID tests in order attend last Saturday's cross country meet in Ketchikan, and one was in Sitka getting a doctor's update on a broken leg.

The one with the broken leg is senior Ryan Rooney, who, like most of the other wrestlers, is a multi-sport athlete. Coaches encourage their students to participate in more than one sport.

"Cross country is great. It provides cardio, mental toughness, it's going to keep the injuries low, and keeps the legs and core in good shape," Carney said. Ironically, Ryan Rooney broke his leg during cross country practice.

Seven of this year's wrestlers are seniors, most of whom both coaches have worked with since they started wrestling in the Pee Wee league. Even though they'll be losing some of their top contenders, the coaches aren't worried for upcoming seasons.

"We're going to be competitive for the next eight years or more," Carney said. Out of the 17 wrestlers, five are girls. Two of whom, seniors Liana Carney and Jamie Early, are primed to compete all the way to the state level.

"For so long, people said women couldn't wrestle," Liana Carney said. "My dad (Jack Carney) has been my coach ever since I started wrestling, and it's great just being able to go out there and prove women can be every bit as good as men." She is a three-time regionals champ and a two-time state champ. She is also nationally ranked.

Early said when she was coming up through the wrestling ranks, there weren't enough girls in the sport for equal competition, so she and the other girls would have to wrestle boys in the same weight class.

"In the long run, it helped us out by wrestling tougher competition," Early said. "All around the Southeast (the popularity of wrestling among girls) has been growing every year. She is a two-time regionals champ and placed fourth at state her sophomore year.

Senior Jake Eastaugh, who's been wrestling since the age of 5 and is a regionals champ and placed at state, has gone to state twice and regions all four years has a simple strategy for his final year: "I'm going to go at them harder than I ever have. It's my senior year. You have to, right?"

In addition to the standout talent, Jeff Rooney foresees all the grapplers doing well, especially with the help of his assistant coach, who was a collegiate wrestler and has an eye for that talent.

"I anticipate our wrestlers doing really well. We're just excited to be competing and to get on the mat," Jeff Rooney said.

Jack Carney echoed that sentiment. "Regionally, we're the team to beat," he said. "We've run regionals the last few years, and won sportsmanship awards at regional and state levels. They wrestle hard, ruthless. But then they're shaking everyone's hand."

This year's team:


Della Churchill (senior)

Liana Carney (senior)

Jamie Early (senior)

Mia Wiederspohn (sophomore)

Lily Younce (sophomore)

Vanessa Barnes (freshman)


Lucas Schneider (freshman)

Elias Decker (junior)

Noah Stewart (freshman)

Randy Churchill (junior)

James Shilts (senior)

Daniel Harrison (freshman)

Ryan Rooney (senior)

Ethan Blatchley (junior)

Steven Bales (junior)

Rowen Wiederspohn (senior)

Jake Eastaugh (senior)


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