Wrestlers ready for return of regionals to Wrangell

For the first time in 14 years, the Southeast regional wrestling championships are scheduled to be held in Wrangell from Dec. 10 to Dec. 11.

And the Wolves are ready.

According to head coach Jef Rooney, the school activities association only allowed regional tournaments in larger communities like Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan. This is the first time in several years a smaller community has been mixed into the rotation.

"It's been a long time coming," he said.

In fact, the last time Wrangell hosted any wrestling meet was about four years ago, Rooney said. "We got a little trifecta. (Assistant coach Jack Carney) and I tried to get with the Petersburg and Prince of Wales teams and get them over here. We just threw some stuff together and had a little three-way meet."

The coaches are looking forward to regionals being on home turf since the wrestlers will be able to sleep in their own beds and be rested up for each day's competition. The home meet does have one downside, Rooney admitted.

"Me. When we're all in a room together, I can say, 'OK, let's go check our weight, let's go do this,'" he said. "When we're at home, I have to wait for them to show up. It's the only bad side of it, and it's not really bad."

However, both coaches say their athletes are ready to take on the competition.

"Right now, every one of the weight classes we cover are the strongest we've got," Rooney said. "We've got girls at (135 pounds), girls at 112, a boy (freshman Lucas Schneider) at 112 - he's new this year and I'm pretty excited to see what he's going to do for us. It's his first year wrestling and he comes in and asks all the right questions." Lucas had two wins at his first ever competition in Sitka two weeks ago.

Other wrestlers with a strong presence going into regionals are seniors Ryan Rooney and Liana Carney (both past state champions), seniors Jake Eastaugh and Rowen Wiederspohn (who the coach said are both on the cusp of winning state titles) and junior Randy Churchill, who "did some summertime wrestling this year, and it really changed his performance," Rooney said.

In a season that has seen injuries and has forced the squad to adjust its playing schedule due to COVID-19, the athletes said it's all about keeping a positive mindset.

"We've got the people for it; they know what they've got to do," said junior Ethan Blatchley. "Right now, it's just the mindset. You can't be messing around, especially with COVID. It could cancel it all out."

Senior Jamie Early knows all too well what her teammate is talking about, having her own experience with being taken out of the game.

"We've had some setbacks this season," Early said. "I was in quarantine for 11 days at one point. I've had previous injuries that I'm dealing with. Like (Ethan) said, we've got the skill for it; it's all about mindset. I know I'm able to perform well at regions just by keeping that positive attitude."

Early is looking forward to getting on the mat with the girls from Ketchikan. "They've always been tough competition. I've wrestled with a few of them. I wasn't in their weight class before, but I've bumped down a few this year."

Unlike Early, junior Randy Churchill has one wrestler he's focusing his sights on. "I hopefully get to wrestle my rival since seventh grade. His name is Rogan Hansen, he's from Craig. I've got two wins over him," he said. "He broke my arm my freshman year, but it's all right. I really do want to beat him again and hopefully get that region title."

Ryan Rooney has been back in competition only a few weeks after being cleared from a broken leg sustained during cross country practice at the beginning of the year.

"I'm looking forward to competing against Sitka," he said. "They have a guy (Jason Young) who was ranked No. 1 in the state. I beat him two weekends ago."

After having wrestled for 14 years, Ryan Rooney has switched up his goals a bit by not letting people score offensively on him. "That's a big thing I'm trying to hold onto."

The coaching staff believes that not only do they keep pushing the wrestlers, but they push each other as well.

"We're true believers that champions breed other champions," Jef Rooney said. "These guys and their efforts and everything they put toward their wrestling partners, they just escalate and keep climbing and everybody gets better and better."


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