by Samantha Lefebvre
Section 7AAA top seed St. Michael-Albertville (STMA) took its third section team title Feb. 17 at the section team wrestling tournament in St. Michael. STMA first entered the section three years ago and has been the section champions ever since. Cambridge-Isanti was section runner-up after losing 34-19 to STMA.
St. Francis faced STMA in the first round, but was only able to take four of 14 matches, resulting in a 51-16 loss to the top seed. The Fighting Saints came through big in the middle weights with three wins in a row starting at the 145-pound weight class with Alex Eastmen, who beat STMA’s Talon Juusola in an 11-3 major decision.
St. Francis’ Taylor Charles at the 152-pound class overcame Ryan Rostamo with a pin in 1:42. At the 160-pound weight class Alec Simoneau of St. Francis won a 7-1 decision over Owen Gammell. The fourth win came at the 182-pound weight class with Nate Lipinski’s 7-2 decision over Ben Haller.
One mat over, Anoka also finished its season in the first round losing 40-26 to Forest Lake. The Tornadoes won six of the 14 matches against Forest Lake. Cole Eischens started things off for Anoka at the 106-pound class with a pin over Trevor Wiess in 2:59. Forest Lake went on to take the next five matches until Jeremy Beaman and Ryan Norton each brought home a major decision for Anoka.
Beaman at 145 pounds stepped up with a 10-0 major decision over Cody Paggen, while at 152 pounds Norton won 17-4 over Forest Lake’s Austin Boniface.
Defending state champion and currently ranked number one in the state at 170, Kyle Begin also came through for Anoka with a pin over Kyle Winberg in 3:04.
Clay Wherley (195) and Dan Davitt (220) both won their matches, but in the end those wins were not enough to boost the team’s points and catch up to Forest Lake.
“We were looking to get two pins out of the last three weights and that is hard to do,” Anoka coach Kurt Werk said.
Todd Springer, Anoka’s other head coach, said that the Tornadoes have had some trouble performing as a team this season.
“We have had some real individual successes, but we never got that 14 on the mat at one time to get to the next level,” Springer said. “It felt like all year that we were one match away. We were always one match, one dual away.”
Coon Rapids and Blaine battled it out on the third mat in the St. Michael gymnasium. The Cardinals came out on top with a 51-19 win over the Bengals. Blaine got four wins from Malik Stewart (113), Jack Duffy (152), Caleb Butler (195) and heavyweight Aaron Martin with a pin over Coon Rapids’ Shad Olson in 1:35.
“I thought we wrestled better than the first time we saw them this year, but we made a lot of little mistakes and got caught on our back,” Blaine coach Josh Prokosch said.
Blaine sophomore Caleb Butler, currently ranked seventh in the state in the 195-pound weight class, won his match in less than a minute with a pin over Alex Wiser of Coon Rapids 0:41. Although he did not get much mat time during the tournament, Prokosch is optimistic that Butler will do well as an individual in the postseason.
“I think he has got a pretty good shot to go to state this year and once he gets there, he will impress a lot of people and wrestle really well,” Prokosch said. “We’ve just got to get him there first.”
After defeating the Bengals, Coon Rapids went on to face the No. 2 seed Cambridge-Isanti, to whom it lost earlier in the season. The Cardinals were once again unable to break the Bluejackets and lost in the section semifinals 46-22.
“The final score does not indicate how close it was,” Coon Rapids coach Bob Adams said. “We could have easily split 7-7, but I have to give credit to Cambridge. We were mathematically out of the match at the end.”
Before the match Adams said that they would have to fight in the lower weights, try to get a few matches in the middle and then have to come back in the heavier weights. And that is what they did, but it wasn’t quite enough for a victory.
Just like in the previous match Blane Tschida (106) started the Cardinals off with its first win in a 14-7 decision. At the 120-pound class Joe Anderson won with a major decision over Cambridge’s Nate Medin, 10-2. Nate Julkowski (126) also came out with a lower weight win for the Cardinals with a 10-7 decision over Ben Hartnett.
Senior captain Darrin Gagne (138) was the Cardinals only middle weight win which set them back for the comeback in the heavier weights. Gagne won a 3-1 decision over Tyler Tischer, who has beaten Gagne by fall the last four times they have met.
“Darrin had a fantastic match,” said Adams. “He is wrestling in one of the toughest weights in our section, but he has a good chance at state on the individual level.”
Cambridge-Isanti took the next five matches until Brandt Halseth, who wrestled up two weights, took his match in a 12-6 decision over Trent Chromy at the 195-pound weight class. Halseth is currently ranked sixth in the state at the 170-pound weight class. A 0:41 fall from Shad Olson (220) against Cambridge’s Kyle Chromy put Coon Rapids behind with just one wrestler to go.
Ranked second in the state at 220 pounds, Michael Burkhardt stepped up a weight class to take on Bluejacket heavyweight Derick Demars. Burkhardt got the pin in 4:35 for a final win in the last match against Cambridge but his efforts were not enough for a Cardinal win.
“We decided to sit (Tanner) Lowe and bump Burkhardt up,” said Adams. “It cost us a few more points. If we wrestled him we would have only lost by nine points.”
Lowe was cleared to wrestle the day of the tournament, but Adams decided to save the number one ranked senior heavyweight for the individual section tournament. In the end the sixth ranked in the state Cardinals were not able to take on the reigning section champs and third ranked in the state Knights for the title, but Adams said there is always next year and the year after that.
“We are challenging our guys every day and we are going to continue to challenge them,” he said. “And hopefully we will find a way to get to the state tournament as a team, if not next year then the year after that.”
St. Michael-Albertville and Cambridge-Isanti met in the championship round to decide which team goes to state. Both the Knights and the Bluejackets are top 10 ranked teams for Class AAA, third and fourth, respectively. STMA dominated the mat 34-19, giving its a third consecutive Section 7AAA title.
The Knights won the first seven matches in a row, then closed the match with the final two wins. One of the Bluejackets wins came from the match against two top 10 ranked wrestlers Clayton Jennissen of Cambridge-Isanti and Mitchell Eull of Saint Michael-Albertville. Jennissen, ranked second at 182, defeated Eull, ranked third at 195, in the 195-pound matchup by a major decision of 15-4.
Although team competition has come to an end for the area’s wrestling programs, the individual postseason matches are just about to kick off. The Section 7AAA individual tournament is Feb. 24-25 at Elk River High School. Matches start Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.