New Stuyahok coach says Blunka was a "baby-baby" in middle school, eating just to make 98 pounds. Now a lean mean junior, he's a favorite to win state in the 113-pound weight class.
KDLG: The 113 pound weight class has been arguably the most thrilling to watch this season in the Southwest Alaska Sockeye Conference. Bristol Bay's Logan Phelps, Dillingham's Justin Dye, and New Stuyahok's Blunka Blunka Jr. have kept crowds and coaches on the edge of their seats.
Blunka and Dye took first and second at regionals, respectively. The two have been going at it since middle school, says Dye's dad Jason.
“At this point they’re both pretty high level, so it’s definitely—they’re fun matches to watch," he said. "Blunka seems to have stepped it up a little and he’s been coming out on top for the most part this year. So it’s been on the one hand really frustrating and on the other hand really good I think to help sharpen skills to have somebody that good in your region.”
The final match at regions was in front of a dynamic crowd in a packed New Stuyahok gym. The mostly hometown fans were wild for “Man 2,” a nickname Blunka Jr. says he’s had since birth.
The wrestlers grappled fiercely till the end, trying each other’s strength and scrambling down to the mat. That’s where Blunka excels, says coach Justin Gumlickpuk.
“He doesn’t give up easy points. He has a way to wrestle. He goes underneath and waits for them to try to score and he just spins and spins until he scores usually. So he’s not easy to score on because he scrambles so well."
Gumlickpuk has coached Blunka since middle school. He has seen him grow over the years—as a wrestler, but also just physically.
“Man 2, in his first years, he was eating to make 98 pounds, so he was a small baby-baby.”
During his freshman year, however, Gumlickpuk estimates that Blunka grew half a foot.
“He kind of matured last year,” says Gumlickpuck, “when he was cutting a little weight for 106 pounds when he
was state runner-up, and this year he’s actually cutting some weight to make 113 pounds.”
Blunka edged out Dye for the top spot in the region last weekend. This weekend he is fighting for the state title. Principal Robin Jones says that the community is behind him.
“Everyone in the community is so proud of Man 2. Win or lose we would be proud of him…This is his junior year. He was a state contender last year in his sophomore year as well. And if he were to win state, yeah, it would be just such a great thing for this community.”
Pat Costello started the wrestling program in New Stuyahok in the late 70s. He used to coach Blunka’s dad. Costello was back in town to referee the tournament. Seeing Blunka wrestle for the first time, he thinks he has a shot at the state title.
“If I was coaching him, I’d want him to pick up the pace earlier. I think he could score a lot more points early and put the matches more under his control,” says Costello. “Homer’s got a decent kid. I think Blunka Blunka’s better than him, but I think he’ll do fine. I expect him to be in the top three and, depending on who’s around, could win it.
After the final round, Blunka seemed happy with himself and excited for the state tournament. In his hoodie and baseball cap, you might not guess the thin, lanky teenager is all wiry muscle.
“I’m feeling pretty confident. Just go out there and do what I do best.” he says.
Between running cross country in the off-season, working out for wrestling, and cutting weight, he says a specific goal has motivated his training—to finish with a better record than last year.
Last year he was 29-5. So far this year, he’s 16-4.
Blunka has been wrestling since he could walk, starting out in pee-wee's. He still has his senior year to look forward to, but he’s not anticipating stepping off the mat any time soon. A couple of colleges have already offered him wrestling scholarships.
If all goes well, crowds will still be cheering for scramblin' Man 2 for years to come.