Wrestlemania, Alaska style, brought more than a thousand wrestlers from across the state to Wasilla for the annual Lancer Smith Memorial tournament.
The Lancer Smith is the biggest and maybe the baddest regular-season tournament on the high school calendar, and it packed the Menard Center on Friday and Saturday with elementary school, middle school and high school wrestlers.
Among the 1,176 competitors were 834 high schoolers representing some 50 schools from all over Alaska — Ketchikan to Kotzebue, Chevak to Tok, Barrow to Unalaska.
At the end of 1,540 matches, the South Anchorage boys and the Soldotna girls emerged as team champions.
The tournament is named after Lancer Smith, who coached at Palmer and Colony high schools from 1973 to 2000 and promoted the sport throughout Alaska before his death in 2002.
It’s an early season preview that lets wrestlers see what awaits them outside their regions — and lets little kids see what awaits them in the future.
“It’s the tournament that everyone goes to, and it’s made into a big event,” South Wolverines coach Randy Hanson said.
The high school portion of the meet used eight mats in a large room that throbbed with activity at the Menard Center. In a smaller room, elementary and middle school kids competed on four mats.
“I used to wrestle the club matches next door when I was little and come over here and watch and think, ‘Them boys are big,’ ’’ said Soldotna sophomore Michael Dickinson, Saturday night’s runnerup at 140 pounds.
“Lancer Smith gives us a chance to look at the competition,” he said. “We’re so spread out we don’t get a chance to wrestle kids across the state.”
The South boys triumphed with a deep roster that included three individual champs and six runnersup.
Leading the way was senior Aaron Concepcion, who was selected the Most Outstanding wrestler for dominating at 160 pounds. Concepcion was a state runnerup last season at 145 pounds, and jumping up two weight classes suited him nicely Friday and Saturday.
He needed a little more than four minutes to storm through his first four matches, getting quick pins in each. He continued his pin streak in the final by finishing North Pole’s Simon Connolly in 3 minutes, 23 seconds.
Dylan Frawner (103 pounds) and Zane Gerlach (152) also won titles for South, which totaled 265 points.
“The kids wrestled hard,” Hanson said. “Made some mistakes, but competed very hard, so fixable things.”
Soldotna was second with 246.5 points and four individual champions — Titus Watts (119), Jacob Strausbaugh (125), Hunter Bras (145) and Bowen Korth (171).
In third place with 188.5 points was the Student Wrestling Development Program, a team from a Fairbanks charter school. A half-point behind in fourth place was Colony, which celebrated two individual champs — Matthew Mitchell (135) and Nolan Gallagher (215).
The East Thunderbirds had champions in Max Francisco (112), Deshawn Barbee (130) and Kenton Cook (140). Other titles went to Barrow’s Uatahouse Tuifua (285) and Palmer’s Kaelan Vesel (189).
In the girls competition, Newhalen sophomore Pagan Lester was selected the Most Outstanding wrestler. She registered pins in her first three matches at 120 pounds, including one that came in 36 seconds, and then survived a test in the finals by taking a 7-5 sudden-victory win against Danika Dawley of North Pole.
Soldotna sailed to the team title with 156 points. Jessica LeClair (100) and Daisy Hannevold (138) claimed individual wins for the Stars.
Amelia Fawcett’s title at 145 sparked Colony to second place with 131.5 points, and North Pole was third with 113 points, getting a title at 114 pounds from Jaelynn Colby.
Homer had two individual champions in Saoirse Cook (126) and Roane Cook (185) while South’s Jessailah Thammavongsa (165) became a two-time Lance Smith champ.
Other individual winners were Eagle River’s Lauren Bodeen (107), Bethel’s Isabel Lieb (132), Service’s Malila Miller (152) and Barrow’s Manusiu Muti (235).
ASR reporter Harlow Robinson contributed to this story.