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Bethel Freestyle Wrestling Club takes state championship in Wasilla

Sixth-grader Maya Iverson pins her opponent at the Alaska USA Wrestling state championship at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla on May 4, 2024.
Shane Iverson
Sixth-grader Maya Iverson pins her opponent at the Alaska USA Wrestling state championship at the Menard Sports Center in Wasilla on May 4, 2024.

The Bethel Freestyle Wrestling Club pinned their way to an Alaska USA Wrestling state championship over the weekend in Wasilla, beating out the Anchorage-based Alaska Battle Cats in a tie-breaker to claim the title.

At a packed Menard Sports Center, Bethel wrestler and Gladys Jung Elementary School sixth-grader Maya Iverson led the scoreboard. She claimed first place in all three of the wrestling competitions over the weekend.

“It feels amazing and I’m very proud of myself,” Iverson said.

Iverson is the second-ever Bethel girl to win the wrestling Triple Crown, placing first in Greco, folkstyle, and freestyle competitions. She said she wasn’t expecting to go undefeated all weekend, but looking back, she said her success was a combination of attitude and training.

“I have the perseverance. I like to be mentally tough. I learned that through my years of wrestling,” she said.

She said that perseverance was forged by enduring many defeats over the years, combined with the right guidance.

“My coaches kept pushing me to be a better person,” she said. “And my coaches are very loving.”

Iverson said pushing herself in practice was also a major reason she was able to claim the Triple Crown.

“I trained with people tougher than me and that really increased my level of skill,” she said.

One of the wrestlers that pushed her to her limits was teammate and fellow sixth-grader Tiel McIntytre. McIntyre claimed a championship in the folkstyle before an injury took him out of this year’s competition. He said if you want to be a champion you have to push for it when others aren’t.

“Work off-season, practice off-season. You have all summer to practice,” McIntyre said.

Other champions this year included Bethel Regional High School eighth-grader Isabel Kerr, who also took gold in the folkstyle competition. She said that hard work and lessons learned from prior losses are all part of the winning formula.

“Whenever you lose something, you look back at it and feel really sad. Then you look back at what you did and fix the mistakes and just improve by them and you just get better,” Kerr said.

Kerr was down by 8 points when she reversed and pinned her opponent in dramatic fashion in the championship match. She said a little extra motivation can help when you’re down.

“My stepdad sent a text, ‘I believe in you 100%. Keep it up.’ And I just kept on replaying that in my head,” Kerr said. “So I was like, ‘I’ve got to make someone proud.’ I just did what I had to do. Then I called him afterward, and he was like, ‘I knew you could do it, good job Isabel!’”

Dozens of other Bethel wrestlers placed at the tournament, all helping to secure Bethel’s top place in the state this year. Nova Kerr and Malia Laraux also came home with gold. Many others gave it their all, but never reached the podium.

Nekoda Simeon said she aims to place in the future, but for now, she’s focused on what matters most to her.

“I love it because I get to have fun. It’s nothing that I have to win, it’s just for fun to play,” Simeon said. “I try my best for fun. I don’t let people tell me I have to win for something. I can do it, just do it for fun.”

For Simeon and the other young wrestlers, enjoying themselves might just lead to their own podium standing one day.

Note: The audio version of this story was voiced by KYUK reporter Evan Erickson.

Corrected: May 7, 2024 at 12:49 PM AKDT
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Maya Iverson was the first-ever Bethel girl to win the AUSAW Triple Crown
Shane has been serving as General Manager since 2016. He joined KYUK as a journalist before he was promoted to radio director. He coaches several youth sports teams and enjoys hunting and fishing for his family and friends.
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