Despite what its record might indicate, the road to state wasn’t easily paved for the Anoka wrestling team. The Tornadoes are 23-2 in duals, with their only losses to Buchanan High School out of California and Apple Valley, the No. 2 team in Minnesota Class AAA.
Anoka cruised through its Northwest Suburban Conference schedule and its first two duals in the Section 7AAA tournament on Feb. 17 in Forest Lake. But the section championship was a meeting the Tornadoes were looking forward to all year.
Anoka, ranked No. 3 in the state, squared off with No. 4 St. Francis in the section championship. With the Fighting Saints making a late rally in the upper weight classes, 220-pounder Ben Lathrop sealed the win for Anoka with a 14-4 decision to make it 33-21. Another decision from Brandon Frankfurth at 285 pounds made the final score 37-21 and the Tornadoes punched their ticket to another state tournament.
“We wrestled with heart all day,” Anoka head coach Todd Springer said. “We stayed focused and driven. I was telling people I don’t think I wanted a section championship more for a team in my 20 years of coaching. Not only with my son on the team, I’m extremely, just so emotional about this team. I don’t think a lot of people know the adversity and challenges that we had to overcome. We’ve had a ton injury-wise. We put all 14 starters back on the mat. That’s incredible, because if you would’ve told me a month ago, I would have told you maybe 10 of them.”
St. Francis made up for a quick 6-0 deficit with an open at 106 pounds when Tanner Kunshier pinned his opponent in the first period to tie it up. A Colby Njos pin and Dylan Droegemueller technical fall gave Anoka a 17-6 lead.
At 132 pounds, Mitchell Wilson got St. Francis back on the scoreboard with a 1-0 battle against Scott Springer. A stalling call with 22 seconds left gave Wilson the go-ahead point.
Anoka and the Fighting Saints exchanged wins from there. The Tornadoes’ Tyler Eischens won at 138 pounds and Calvin Germinaro-Nahring won at 152 pounds. St. Francis’ Teddy Pierce got a win at 145 pounds and Tony Struntz added another at 160 pounds.
“Kind of like the whole year, when a guy goes down, the next guy picks him up,” Springer said. “I’ve talked about how solid we are from 106 to heavyweight. Our big guns all got majors and techs and falls. The different maker was their big guns only got decisions. That was a huge difference for us.”
With a 26-15 lead, Richard Hammonds gave Anoka another three points at 170 pounds. St. Francis stayed in it, though, when Cole Kirpach won at 182 pounds and Tyler Dahlstrom’s takedown right before the third period buzzer at 195 pounds brought the deficit to 29-21.
Anoka needed just one win in the final two weight classes to seal it and Lathrop got the job done right away at 220 pounds.
St. Francis ends its team season 17-2 in duals. The individual Section 7AAA tournament is Feb. 24-25 at Blaine High School. The Fighting Saints look to send several wrestlers to the state tournament with six individuals ranked. Anoka has eight individuals ranked.
“This was their year, too,” Springer said. “We’ve competed all the way from kindergarten up. Luckily we’ve come out on the winning end. I just thank my lucky stars we did this time because they are a very well-coached, talented team. I have a ton of respect for all their wrestlers and coaches.”
State begins on March 2 at the Xcel Energy Center, where Anoka finished in third place last year.