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Unalaska wrestlers bring home wins in first competition in nearly 2 years

Courtesy of UCSD
Because the COVID-19 pandemic halted close-contact sports, the tournament was the first time in roughly two years that the island’s wrestling team had traveled to compete.

Unalaska’s high school wrestling team competed at the Bethel Scramble earlier this month. It was a two-day tournament with a total of 16 schools and over 190 wrestlers in attendance.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic halted close-contact sports, it was also the first time in roughly two years that the island’s wrestling team had traveled to compete.

Unalaska senior and co-captain Kirsten Henning took first place in her weight class at the event.

Her older brother Trey Henning also wrestled for Unalaska. While he passed away in a tragic snow machining accident almost two years ago, Henning said he’s still there with her on the mat.

“I was smiling when I did win because I knew he was watching,” she said.

Henning said she tries to bring her brother’s wrestling shoes to every match with her, as a reminder of his support and as motivation.

“Trey used to wrestle and he was also a coach my sophomore year,” she said. “So it was nice to have him [there].”

It’s been a challenge practicing and working out alone during the pandemic, Henning said, and she’s excited to get back to competing in-person.

Maggie Nelson
UCSD students hit the mats after school at practice.

Sophomore Matheas Lopez took second place in his weight class at the scramble. While he’s been with the Unalaska wrestling program since about sixth grade, this tournament was his first time traveling.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” Lopez said. “The fact that you go out there and do something that you love after waiting, it just felt good.”

Because junior high students don’t travel with the team, and they haven’t had the opportunity to compete for the last couple of years, Head Coach Matt Lightner said the trip was a first for many of the student athletes. But, he said, the excitement and the nerves didn’t hold them back for long.

“First day, they were a little rusty,” Lightner said. “They shook out the cobwebs and came back the next day and performed really well. I was very proud of them.”

Unfortunately, the team won’t have the chance to host any home matches this season. But 10th grader Jacey Morris said she’s just excited to have the chance to continue competing off the island and meet other wrestlers.

“I like to get to know people too, and make new friends, and to see different people's moves,” Morris said. “And then if I wrestle them again, [I’ll know] what kind of moves they're doing -- to know what [I’ll] do next time to improve.”

While this was also Morris’ first time traveling, she took third place in her weight class at the Bethel Scramble.

The student athletes will be traveling to Anchorage in a couple weeks to compete at the Anchorage Christian Schools Invitational. And they’ll have the chance to return to Bethel for regionals in early December.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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