What better time to honor Coon Rapids’ storied group of wrestling alumni than a dual match against fellow Class AAA-ranked St. Francis Thursday evening.
A raucous wrestling crowd inside Roger Carlson Fieldhouse was on hand to see No. 5 ranked Coon Rapids and No. 6 St. Francis settle for a 31-31 draw.
The Saints would have won on tie-breaker criteria but because a winner wasn’t needed the match is considered a draw.
Both teams came into the dual with plenty of success.
The Saints won two tournaments, finishing ahead of Anoka at the Turkey Burn at Mound Westonka and ahead of No. 4 Shakopee at the Sabres Invitational.
Coon Rapids was 10-2 and moved up three spots from eighth in the first ranking of the season.
With seven ranked wrestlers between the two teams, it was a bit of a letdown, albeit a fitting way to end the match in a draw.
Each side won seven matches in what could be a preview of things to come at sections ina loaded Section 7AAA.
“We knew it would (live up to the hype). It was a good dual,” said Cardinals coach Bob Adams, who was the first alumni introduced during a ceremony before the wrestling began. He wore his 1979 letterman’s jacket during the program when at least 50 alumni from the program were introduced, many of whom have their picture hanging from the wall in the practice room as a state place-winner or better.
The next generation of Cardinals wrestlers were also on hand to get a perspective of what it means to wrestle at Coon Rapids.
Fourteen current Mat Bandits, the Coon Rapids youth wrestling program, were introduced alongside the varsity wrestler before the match and had a chance to sit mat-side for that wrestler’s match.
St. Francis led 15-3 after four matches and 24-11 after eight matches before Coon Rapids came roaring back to grab its first lead, 26-24, after Alex Calderilla’s pin at 182 pulled the home team within two points, 24-22. Michael Bothwell, ranked sixth at 182 pounds, added an 11-1 major decision over Lucas Sherburne to put the overall score at 26-24.
“The beauty of coaching kids is you never know, sometimes they will amaze you,” Adams said after beating the Saints by six points in what has developed into an intense rivalry on the mat. “Our guys wrestled tough, St. Francis wrestled tough. They’ve got a great club over there… a lot of close matches that could’ve gone either way.”
On paper, a penalty point deduction was enough to end the match in a draw. Cardinals 195-pounder, ranked No. 3 in the state, Tyler Berdahl didn’t immediately get off his opponent after a pin.
“What bothers me is that the referee didn’t call it immediately,” Adams said of the penalty.
St. Francis coach Mike Phillips noted the level of intensity and competition in his second year leading the team.
“It’s a great rivalry,” he said. “Back and fourth and usually it comes down to the winner of that last match. Their kids fought hard, really hard and Coach Adams does a great job with those guys.”
Looking ahead to February and a possible rematch in sections, Phillips said: “It’s going to be a tough road from here on out and its going to come down to who is wrestling well at the end of the season.”
The intensity inside the practice room at St. Francis is one way Phillips hopes the team learns to deal with the pressure.
“We put a lot of pressure on these kids throughout the week … and demand a lot of them and I think they’ll rise to the challenge,” he said.
Saints early success
Saints freshman Tanner Kunshier pinned Aaron Caswell to open the dual.
The youngest of three Wilson brothers dropped a 12-8 decision at 113-pounds to Cardinals senior Mike Jones. Wilson led 8-7 after a take down at the edge of the mat with 1:32 left in the final period. Jones rallied for the three team points.
St. Francis senior Daniel Worthington showed quickness around the mat to pick up a 16-4 major on Coon Rapids sophomore David Wiser at 120.
St. Francis gained a 15-3 edge after sophomore Mason Hall (126) picked up a tech fall (17-2) against freshman Ethan Moser at 5:04.
Coon Rapids picked up five team points at 132 after seventh-ranked Jarod Julkowski added a tech fall against Andrew Wasche. Wasche, a senior, did his best to extend the match and prevent a pin, especially in the third period.
Cardinals junior captain Josh Bryant turned some heads with a 13-11 win at 138 over Saints seventh-ranked wrestler and captain Aaron Wilson.
The crowd roared so loud over the final minute of the match that the referee had to be tapped by a Coon Rapids assistant coach a few seconds after the scoreboard read 0:00. The decision shrunk the Saints lead to 15-11.
The third Wilson brother, Alex, who is ranked 10th at 145, won a 5-1 decision against Justin May to push the visitors lead to 18-11 with seven matches left.
St. Francis gained a 24-11 edge on the scoreboard after sophomore Tony Struntz pinned Cardinals sophomore Joe Bothwell at 152 for his first loss of the season.
“Struntz has been working his butt off all year,” Phillips said. “He never quits. He’s coachable, wants to get out there and get better. He just goes after people.”
Adams added: “It looked like he’s lived in the weight room quite a bit. Gotta give (Struntz) credit. He pulled it off.”
Five of the final six weights included Coon Rapids seniors with three of them ranked.
Cardinals senior captain Kiyanu Baker, No. 6 at 160 pounds turned the tide of the dual with a tech fall of sophomore Tyler Dahlstrom at 5:29 to tighten up the team score to 24-16.
“He’s the real deal and he picked up Joey after the loss,” Adams said. “(Baker) was a little too jacked up at the beginning because we could’ve used a pin there.
“We’re never going to blame one kid because there were different opportunities during the 14 matches and you have capitalize on them and unfortunately you don’t know until the end.”
Coon Rapids senior Alex Calderilla picked up a pin against Cole Kirpach at 182 to bring the home side within two points, 24-22.
Sixth-ranked Michael Bothwell won an 11-1 major decision for the Cardinals against Lucas Sherburne at 182. The four team points were enough to give Coon Rapids its first team lead, 26-24 with three matches left.
Berdahl’s pin pushed the Cardinals lead to 31-24 with two matches left after the one-team-point penalty.
Needing seven points over the final two weights, St. Francis regrouped as junior Bo Blanske scored an 8-3 decision against junior Nick Halseth to set up an intense heavyweight bout between two seniors.
Coon Rapids led 31-27 heading into the final match.
St. Francis’ Blaine Nordin, ranked sixth at 285 pounds, trailed Bailey Ratliff 6-4 after the first period.
Nordin needed a major to tie the dual or at least a tech fall to secure the win for the Saints.
Ratliff did his best to stay off his back and led 6-4 after the first period.
Nordin knew the situation and took a three-point reversal to lead 7-6 early in the second period. He kept the pressure on Ratliff but couldn’t pick up a fall in a hard-fought match to end the dual.