by Tommy Wells
There couldn’t have been a better ending to Hayden Lieb’s high school career. Not only did he become only the 15th male athlete to win four straight state wrestling championships, the BRHS senior also helped lead his team back to the top of the state’s wrestling ranks.
Lieb was also named the 2019 Outstanding Wrestler at the tournament.
Backed by state championships from Lieb, Landon Smith, Nelson Evans and Axel Madson, the Warriors staged a strong Saturday rally and overcame Glennallen and defending Division II state champion Homer to win its third state title in the past four seasons and the program’s seventh state crown in the past 10 years.
Bethel rolled up 191.5 points in the meet and finished 15.5 points ahead of Glennallen.
Making Lieb’s impressive career even more special for the Warriors is the fact that he completed a stellar 31-0 season with a perfect 4-0 run through the 160-pound weight classification.
“I feel alive right now, just very energetic,” said Lieb after winning his fourth state title. “I feel like I could go for another match. Definitely doesn’t feel like it’s all over.”
A Division I signee, Lieb kicked off his quest for a fourth consecutive state crown on Thursday with a quick win over Emmonak’s John B. Charles. He netted the victory at the 57-second mark of their match. After defeating Nikiski’s Simon Grenier in the quarterfinals, Lieb put on a wrestling clinic in the semifinals. He earned a return trip to the state finals by downing Grace Christian’s Andrew Beveridge by a 19-2 margin.
He finished off his run with an even more impressive 15-0 victory over Petersburg’s Kole Sperl in the finals.
“I had my whole family in the corner. My sisters and my mom, my dad was sitting there with the other coaches. I looked up I just saw all of them and I just could not be happier being able to say I am a Lieb and having that mean something, it is really special,” said Lieb.
After finishing, the University of Wyoming signee waved four fingers in the air to the large crowd in the Alaska Airlines Center before embracing his father, BRHS head coach Darren Lieb.
“With those other wins I learned a lot from all the seniors before me and the older guys … I know once it settles in and we go back to Bethel it’s definitely going to hit hard,” Lieb said.
Charles rallied back from his loss to Lieb to finish strong. He won his next three bouts and finished sixth overall in the 160-pound standings.
Like Lieb, Landon Smith etched his name deeper into Warriors’ wrestling history by completing an unbeaten season and winning his second state crown.
A sophomore, Smith improved to 36-0 by winning all four of his matches, all via falls.
“It was very quick and very exciting. I wasn’t too nervous for it, I felt very confident going into it,” said Smith after winning his second consecutive state championship. “I was very, very happy. It’s not often you get a state championship really quick with a pin, and that was my second one. It’s very exciting.”
After defeating Mt. Edgecumbe’s Elston Dock in the first round, Smith earned his way into the semifinals with a win over a familiar face – Scammon Bay’s Cassius Sundown. He followed that with a victory over Nome in the semifinals.
Smith completed his back-to-back title efforts with a convincing effort against Dillingham’s Darius Tilden.
“It’s been a lot of mental preparation, a lot of this building it young, prepping. He’s got this goal of going on beyond high school and doing better than I did in college. He’s got that goal in mind. He knows what he wants to do and he’s doing everything he can to go get it,” said Smith’s dad Martin who was there as a coach.
For every Bethel Warrior victory via pin, the coaches performed 30 pushups. Overall, they did about 1,050 at the state meet.
Evans and freshman Axel Madson gave Bethel four state champions as they won their respective weight classifications. Evans finished off a 4-0 mark at the state meet by defeating Mt. Edgecumbe’s Emilio Mangrobang in the 135-pound finals.
“It was exciting. I was really ready for that match,” said Evans who is a senior. “At first I was nervous. My whole family is here. It put me under some pressure but I wanted to do it for them. I was shocked, I had no words. I can’t even express my emotions now.”
This is Evans’ first state meet.
“It was awesome. I was mentally prepared,” he said. “After the first period I was up 10-0.” That was when he knew he had him. “I’d like to thank my wrestling partner Tyler Laraux and give a shout out to my parents.”
Madson posted one of the quickest wins in the state tournament’s history en route to taking the 103-pound championship. After claiming a workmanlike 10-2 decision over Redington’s Payton Metcalf in the semifinals, Madson set the tournament crowd on its ear by pinning Houston’s Riesen Seyer at the 25-second mark of their match.
“I’m very happy and thankful for my coaches,” he said.
Madson finished his rookie season at 29-4.
Kevin Valadez and Tyler Laraux narrowly missed medals. The BRHS standouts placed fifth in their respective divisions.
Valadez went 4-2 and placed fifth in the 189-pound division. Following a 7-3 loss to Sitka’s John Welsh in the second round, Valadez hit stride. He defeated Petersburg’s Adam Ware and Valdez’s Kyle Henderson in his next two matches and earned a berth in the consolation semifinals against Dillingham’s Colten Hink.
Hink survived a 10-9 thriller in their matchup, dropping Valadez into a fifth-place showdown with Stebbins’ Garrison Koutchak. Valadez took fifth with a 4-2 mark.
Jamin Crow and Terrell Jimmy also turned in solid showings at the state tournament. Both finished sixth in their respective divisions.
Laraux went 4-2 and took fifth in the 125-pound standings. After grinding out a 3-2 mark in his first five outings, he finished strongly, downing Mt. Edgecumbe’s Ajey Moses by an 8-4 clip.
The Warriors also collected points from Klaydon Charlie, who went 1-2 in the 125-pound bracket, and Charles Smith, who turned in a 1-2 mark in the 130-pound ranks. Jarvis Evans also notched a win, going 1-2 in the 152-pound class. Simon Snow, Lawrence Bayer and Kyle Valadez also notched wins.
Bethel also picked up strong efforts from Sam Beans-Polk, Jordan Leinberger and Eddie Jimmy.
Scammon Bay’s trio of Sundown, Xavier Smith and Adrian Kopanuk all did well, as did Nunapitchuk’s Devonte Sallison.
2019 Alaska Division II State Wrestling Championships
Held Dec. 19-20 in Anchorage
BOYS Final Team Standings
1. Bethel 191.5; 2. Glennallen 176.0; 3. Homer 118.5; 4. Redington 113.0; 5. Dillingham 111.0; 6. Sitka 92.0; 7. Craig 87.0; 7. Grace Christian 87.0; 7. Mt. Edgecumbe 87.0; 10. Eielson 85.0; 11. Wrangell 80.0; 12. Nome 62.5; 13. Kenai 57.0; 14. Petersburg 54.5; 15. Unalaska 54.0; 16. Napaskiak 34.5; 17. Houston 34.0; 18. ACS 31.5; 19. Barrow 30.0; 20. Haines 29.0; 21. Kotzebue 28.0; 22. Savoonga 24.0; 23. Nikiski 23.5; 24. Su-Valley 17.0; 25. New Stuyahok 16.0; 26. Delta 12.0; 26. Seward 12.0; 28. Noatak 10.0; 28. St Mary’s 10.0; 28. Stebbins 10.0; 31. Emmonak 9.0; 32. Hutchinson 7.0; 32. Scammon Bay 7.0; 32. St. Michael 7.0; 35. Bristol Bay 5.0; 35. Nunapitchuk 5.0; 35. Valdez 5.0; 38. Gambell 4.0; 38. Kivalina 4.0; 40. Shishmaref 3.0; 41. Aniak 1.0; 41. Galena 1.0; 41. Shaktoolik 1.0; 44. Buckland 0.0; 44. Chevak 0.0; 44. Golovin 0.0; 44. Hooper Bay 0.0; 44. King Cove 0.0; 44. Koliganek 0.0; 44. Koyuk 0.0; 44. Manokotak 0.0; 44. Pilot Station 0.0; 44. Sand Point 0.0; 44. Unalakleet 0.0.