By CRAIG GIAMMONA
Courtesy Daily Sitka Sentinel
Mt. Edgecumbe wrestling coach Mike Kimber estimates senior captain Jaylin Prince is 50-1 in heavyweight matches over the last two seasons.
The MEHS grappler from Kotlik went 38-1 in 2010 on his way to becoming the Japonski Island school’s first two-time state champion.
And Kimber figures Prince won at least a dozen matches late in 2009, when he bumped up to 285 and won state after spending most of his sophomore season at 215.
But in all that time, Prince has not wrestled an official Southeast match at B.J. McGillis Gymnasium, outside of duals against Sitka High.
That should change in 2011, as the Braves prepare to host the Southeast championships Dec. 2-3.
If he stays healthy, Prince will likely be battling for this third straight region title that Saturday night in December, with the talented heavyweight taking center stage in what would be one of the most hyped matches on Japonski Island since Claude Young won a state title at B.J. McGillis in 2007.
And if things fall into place for Kimber and his grapplers, the Braves could treat their home fans to a Southeast win, the program’s second in three years.
Kimber, an MEHS graduate originally from Unalakleet, is entering his 12th season coaching the Braves.
He’s won two Region V titles during his tenure, including in 2004, the last time MEHS hosted regionals.
Prince returns with two state titles to his credit, but gone are Matthew and Jesse Rogers, twins from Dillingham who each won a state crown in 2010.
In fact, this is the first time in six years that Kimber opens the season without a Rogers brother on the roster.
Terry, older brother to Matt and Jesse, was a four-year state placer at MEHS who finished second at state in 2009, his senior season.
Kimber said the Rogers brothers always brought a level of competitiveness to Edgecumbe practices that was important to the team.
But so far in 2011, there hasn’t been much of a drop off.
“This is one of the most intense groups I’ve coached,” Kimber said Wednesday evening as the Braves began practice. “Usually it’s two or three kids bringing the level of intensity up. This year, it’s five or six kids going at it.”
Led by Prince, the MEHS team is strong in the upper weights, starting at 160, Kimber said.
Carl Crockett, a junior from Brevig Mission, returns to the mats for Edgecumbe after qualifying for state at 160 in 2010.
Kimber has 2010 state qualifier Adam Iyapana, senior from Little Diomede, slotted at 195 for the 2011 Braves. (It’s worth noting here that new weight classes are being implemented nationwide this school year. Some familiar weight classes were retained, while others were changed. The new weights are listed at the end of this story).
Iyapana weighed about 185 in 2010, but Kimber bumped him up because the 189-pound weight class included eventual state champion Ryne Sorenson of Sitka High, in addition to Craig’s Tyler Thain, the 2009 state winner.
“He’ll actually get to wrestle his weight this year,” Kimber said of Iyapana.
Kimber said juniors Michael Matthew and Shyler Johnson will also be part of Edgecumbe’s strong upper-weight crew. Johnson was third in the state at 171 pounds last season, when he wrestled for Unalakleet.
Then there’s freshman Paul Johanson.
Kimber called Johanson a “blue chip” prospect and said the Hoonah wrestler is expected to contribute right away.
As a testament to the young wrestler’s strength and technique, Kimber said Johanson had thrown Prince onto his back during a recent practice.
Kimber said he had seen Prince on his back about five times, including three during the lone loss of his heavyweight career, which came to Petersburg’s Jacob Craig at a 2010 tournament in Ketchikan.
Kimber said he can fill out a full 14-wrestler lineup, though he is “a little bit thin in the 20s.”
Fritz Guy, a senior from Kwethlukm, is back to compete for a varsity spot at 106, and Daniel Villasenor, from Anchorage, returns for his senior season after taking second in the region at 119 pounds last season.
Kimber has four captains at this point: Prince, Melissa Fisher, Michelle Slwooko and Johanson. Fisher wrestled 112 for Thunder Mountain last year.
As always, Kimber plans to use his “shotgun” strategy for attacking the regional tournament. He has more than 60 wrestlers on his roster this season and he typically tries to use his team’s big numbers to overwhelm the Southeast brackets. If two Edgecumbe wrestlers meet in the regionals, it’s automatic pin points for the Braves.
“That’s how we win,” Kimber said. “It all depends on how good you get those lower-end guys. We feel confident we can make those guys good enough to win a match at regionals.”
Kimber said the “shotgun” strategy actually hurt the Braves in 2010. He said the pin points he depends on went to Sitka High, which scored a 61-point victory over MEHS at Southeast. It was the first time the Braves, who won Southeast in 2010, had finished in the top two for two straight years under Kimber, but the MEHS coach was disappointed to have missed out on a second straight Southeast crown.
“We self-imploded,” Kimber said. “We helped Sitka win that one.”
The Braves’ 2011 schedule features to duals with Sitka, one later this month and one in November. The local teams have swapped spots at the top of the Southeast 3A wrestling world the last two years, with a good rivalry taking shape between Sitka’s two high schools. Longtime coach John Hedden has retired and the Wolves are now led by former Kimber assistant Aaron Routon.
The Braves will make trips to Wrangell, Haines, Craig, Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain for tournaments.
Joe Serio and Jason Christner are back as assistant coaches for Edgecumbe and Matt Ione, an MEHS graduate, has joined Kimber’s staff. Ione wrestled at MEHS with Kimber.
The following weight classes will be used this year: 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285.