Bethel Warriors end wrestling season with 1 state champion
To stand inside the Alaska Airlines Center is to experience sensory overload, especially when the 5,000-seat arena is filled with wrestlers and their friends and families who travel from every region of this vast state. From the lower level near the entrance, people migrate toward the aroma of hotdogs, buttered popcorn, and deep fried snacks wafting from concession stands. To get to the viewing area is to traverse the maze of wrestlers wearing team jumpers, some with headphones to drown out the public address speaker directing athletes to their mat assignments. There are recruiters and merchandise stands at the corners. There are people hovering near power outlets scattered along the arena walls, charging their phones to provide information to family members waiting anxiously for real-time results.
But that’s not where the focus is. It’s on the main floor of the multipurpose arena. There are scoreboards with clocks and timers at the edge of every taped mat, which cover every inch of the hardwood floors. Referees wear black trousers and black and white pinstripe shirts with a red and green wristband. They are at the center of each mat, at the ready to command action via whistle blasts.
For two days, the state wrestling championships at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage are a scene of controlled chaos. And after the dust settled, Bethel Regional High School had a new state champion.
Senior Paul Dyment became the Division II State Champion at 135 pounds after winning by decision over Colton Merriner from Grace Christian School. This is his second time as state champion, claiming the title again after his second place finish last year. He said that to be a Dyment is to be a wrestler.
“My brother, he's a couple of years older than me. He was a first four-time state champ for Bethel. And then there's me: two-time state champ and four-time state finalist. And my little sister, she's in eighth grade. She's looking good for her high school career,” Dyment said.
Dyment wasn’t the only Bethel wrestler to make it to the final rounds on Dec. 16. Junior Sheldon Smith was the runner-up at 125 pounds. He caught the competition off guard, but said that he believed in himself and his abilities.
“I came here unranked, unseeded. And just went after it,” Smith said.
But Smith faced Quinhagak senior Daylon Brown, a challenging opponent who ultimately won the weight class.
“I know he was a tough kid from the start. I knew he was fast. And he just caught me,” Smith said.
The second place finish didn’t dampen Smith’s spirit.
“I feel good. I'm happy I joined with all my friends. It's good to be here,” Smith said.
Senior Aaron Mute got third place at 130 pounds.
“I was just focusing on winning and trying my best. I just wanted to keep pushing until the end and I did,” Mute said.
Ellis Johnson had not previously placed at the state competition before. The senior wrestled at 160 pounds and got second place.
“I was sick the whole week. So I wasn't 100%, but I was pushing through it and that's all you can do. And I got all the way to the finals and I fell just a little bit short: two points,” Johnson said.
Johnson has been battling injuries, sickness, and the difficulties of weight-cutting, but he still managed to beat a lot of opponents in a stacked weight class.
Junior Landon Burke is a 189-pound wrestler for the Warriors and placed third at state. He said that he only competes in wrestling, and that he’s been doing it for a long time.
“I was just really interested in it when I was about four years old. Like Paul said, I joined the Bethel freestyle wrestling club when I was four, and I just kept staying with it. I liked it. I was, I think I was pretty good when I was younger, and just stayed with it,” Burke said.
The most anticipated finals match of the night might have been Soldotna’s Kaytlin McAnelly versus Bethel Lady Warrior Isabel Lieb at 132 pounds. Lieb, who entered into the finals with a record of 35-0 for the season, lost by decision at the end of the third period.
“Yeah, I fell short. I lost by one point, but I was working hard the whole match. I was going after everything. She was a tough girl. She scored on me a couple times and got my back once, but I kept going till the end and I just fell short,” Lieb said.
The loss didn’t affect Lieb’s attitude or school pride.
“Just because Bethel wrestling is graduating 12 seniors doesn't mean we're going away. Man, Alaska can never get rid of Bethel wrestling, and people can keep hating but we're not going away,” Lieb said.
Out of 48 teams, the boys placed third behind second place Haines and first place Seward High School. As for the Lady Warriors, they placed 12th out of 60 teams.