The Kodiak High School wrestling community has been waiting for this moment — the arrival of a loaded freshmen class.
Fourth-year coach Junior Valladolid couldn’t help but be excited when talking about the youngsters who have potential to breathe life into a program that has struggled to retain wrestlers the past few seasons.
“Everybody in the community that knows about the wrestling program knows that this group of freshmen have very high potential to do well in the future,” Valladolid said.
“I’m hesitant to say that too many times because they have been told that so much — I keep reminding them all they have is the potential and they have to put in the work to get where they could be.”
Of the 26 wrestlers in the mat room to begin the 2019 season, 11 of them are freshmen. Leading the way for the rookie class are Sawyer Stevens, Garritt Roberts, Tyler Christiansen and Ivan Rodriguez.
The freshmen helped last year’s Kodiak Middle School team win the Palmer Jr. Middle School Varsity/Junior Varsity Tournament and place third at the Tanana Invitational — the unofficial middle school state championships.
“They are going to be up against totally different competition and will have to go into (the season) with a chip on their shoulders again and reprove themselves,” Valladolid said.
The coach will see how his young grapplers handle older competition this weekend when Kodiak opens the season at the Houston Invitational at Houston High School. The two-day tournament begins today.
Underclassmen make up the bulk of Valladolid’s roster as the team only has five juniors and three seniors.
Kodiak only returns four wrestlers who have appeared at a high school state championship — Olivia Troxell, Emily Lorring, Michael Hardy and Truxton Troxell.
However, Hardy begins the season sidelined with a foot injury, while Truxton Troxell, a senior, hasn’t wrestled since qualifying for state as a freshman.
Valladolid said Lorring, a junior, and Riley Birbilas, a senior, have helped the younger athletes adjust to high school wrestling.
“They are setting a really good example on how to drill, being accountable, responsible and on time,” the coach said.
Like always, Kodiak is loaded with mid-weight wrestlers — 119 to 145 pounds — and will not fill spots at 103, 152 and 107 pounds.
Kodiak placed fifth at last year’s Northern Lights Conference Championships and was 12th at the state meet.
The Bears’ last NLC title came in 2012, while their last previous title was Josh Nummer in 2017.
“I have high standards in our room, with how we carry ourselves on trips and on the mat,” Valladolid said. “We are not going to win a state title right off the bat; we are going to have to work towards it.”
The Robin Hervey Tournament — the only home weekend for Kodiak is scheduled for the week before Thanksgiving.
According to Valladolid, Houston, South Anchorage and Grace Christian have committed, while Valdez, Delta Hutchison and West Anchorage have expressed interest in coming to The Rock.
This will be Kodiak’s first home meet since the 2017 season. Last year’s Robin Hervey was washed out because of weather.
FINDING HIS STRIDE
Valladolid, a three-time state champion for Kodiak and a star at Southern Oregon University, is beginning his fourth season as coach.
“I’m just getting to understand the program and how I want to run it,” he said. “In the past, I bombarded them with techniques rather than making sure they got a solid foundation. This year, I’m focused on not feeding them too much.”