Bethel wrestlers don't justify losses to larger schools. Wrestling is wrestling to the Warriors. / Photo credit Regina Lieb
Wrestling is the ultimate equalizer because toughness and technique have no zip code.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s a matter of who wants to work hard in practice and get good grades so they can compete,” Bethel coach Darren Lieb told me.
Small-town wrestlers like Bethel’s Thomas Dyment, Eek’s Brandon Evans and Glennallen’s Joseph White beat plenty of big-city competition and the defending small-school state champion Homer Mariners finished second to score one for the little guy at the prestigious Lancer Smith Memorial in Wasilla.
Dyment was one of only champion from an off-the-road school.
Evans was the only person from his tiny school to earn a medal.
White was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Wrestler.
And the defending Class 1-2-3A state champion Homer Mariners made school history with a second-place finish at the 46-team tournament that featured the top Class 4A squads in Alaska.
“It’s the premier tournament in Alaska nowadays,” Lieb said.
Dyment beat Homer’s Wayne Newman in the finals at 106 pounds in a rematch of the ACS Invitational that ended up the same way. A year ago, Newman had Dyment’s number but the Bethel wrestler has seemed to flip the script.
“Right now Thomas is a step above everybody else in his weight class around the state,” Lieb said.
Dyment’s transformation started last summer when he traveled with Team Alaska to Pocatello, Idaho, where he knocked off nationally ranked wrestlers and defeated state champions from Idaho and Oregon.
“It turned on the light switch, I think,” Lieb said. “He got it in his head that he can compete with these top kids, and it’s showing.”
Evans is a former Bethel student who finished state runner-up for the Warriors two years ago.
He’s now in Eek, a small village of about 300 people in the Lower Kuskokwim School District.
At the Lancer Smith, Evans marched all the way to the finals at 132. He dropped the championship match to Lathrop’s Jordan Opp.
“For him to make the finals was awesome,” Lieb said. “People were asking where’s Eek? There are they at? That represents it doesn’t matter where who is from where, it’s who wants it most.”
Glennallen’s Joseph White outscored defending 4A state champion Dawson Nash of Colony by a 9-6 score in the 182-pound finals.
The Colony Knights won the two-day meet with 275 points, followed by 3A Homer , 4A Wasilla , 3A Bethel  and 4A Lathrop .
The second-place finish was the best ever for Homer, according to coach Chris Perk. Bethel’s strong finish was a promising sign to Lieb.
“Our kids competed well,” he said. “We got a few more weeks to figure some stuff out and hopefully get back on top. The losses – we don’t justify them if they are to a larger school. Our philosophy is, it’s a wresting.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.