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Wrestler Claims Unalaska's First Individual State Title

Courtesy Brian Whittern

Unalaska has its first ever state wrestling champion.

"I was really excited [for the match] because my brother Seth Henning, wrestled before me and lost," said Blaine Henning. "That kind of made me a little upset and I wanted to go out there and be the first champion because [Seth] couldn't."

Blaine Henning entered the tournament seeded first and finished the weekend by taking home the 130 lb crown.

It was the sophomore's second appearance at the state championship and he expected to win.

"My friend told me if I won to put both my hands up. Because I'm kind of a humble kid, I just wanted to walk off the mat," Henning said. "But I raised both my hands with the number one. It was pretty good."

Blaine credits his brothers and his coaches for helping him develop as a wrestler.

According to Coach Brian Whittern, Blaine entered the final without any loses to opponents from 1A, 2A, or 3A schools.

"Blaine went into the finals wrestling someone he'd already beaten (7-1) earlier in the year," Whittern said. "He was definitely in control of the match at all times. It never felt like we were in jeopardy of losing the match. He came right out and within the first 20 seconds he had a takedown to go up 2-0."

Blaine wasn't the only Unalaska Raider in a championship match. His brother Seth narrowly lost (4-3) in the 215-pound weight class to Benjamin Joe Heather of Barrow.

"[Seth's] been such a leader on our team and set a good example for what it takes," Whittern said. "Sometimes you put all that effort out there and you want something so badly, but you come up a little bit short. That's a really tough thing to have to deal with."

The team also had fourth place finishes from John Esnardo (125 lb), Dustin Ruckman (140 lb), and Halle Savage (160 lb).

Credit Courtesy Brian Whittern
Dustin Ruckman finished 4th in his division.

Overall the boys team finished 5th -- three spots higher than last year. Prior to that, the team had never finished in the top 15.

With a number of members of this state squad returning next year, Whitten is optimistic for the future of the team.

"To continue to succeed, we need to continue to get our numbers out, get more kids involved, get more kids interested in wrestling," Whittern said. "We're starting to do a lot more with the youth program."

An investment in wresting from a young age Whitten said has helped the Henning's succeed. And Blaine knows he has to work extra hard for next season.

"It's going to be pretty hard because I'm going to be the target," Henning said. "Everyone's going to be looking at me. But I'm going to train. I'm going to go to as many camps as I can and try to get first [place] again."

Zoë Sobel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2019. She returned to KUCB after a year living in Nepal and Malaysia as a Luce Scholar. She then returned to KUCB as a ProPublica reporter August of 2020 through August of 2021.
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