ST. PAUL - Madelia/ Truman/Martin Luther senior Adam Cooling learned on Saturday that earning a state wrestling title is not any easier the second time around.
Cooling entered the individual state wrestling tournament at the Xcel Energy Center with an undefeated record, but he was tested in every one of his four matches, surviving a close final on Saturday to win the Class A championship at 160 pounds.
His final against Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg's Jordon Rothers ended in a 2-1 decision, with Cooling earning a takedown with 25 seconds left in the first period and hanging on the rest of the way.
ESCAPING — Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther wrestler Adam Cooling (front) maneuvers to escape from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg opponent Jordan Rothers during the Class A 160-pound state championship match at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Saturday night. Cooling went on to defeat Rothers to capture his second straight state crown. Photo Courtesy of Steve Muscatello/New Ulm Journal
"It just felt great," Cooling said. "This is what I wanted the whole year and what I worked for the whole year. It wasn't the match that I wanted, it wasn't as high-scoring as I could have had it, but I got it done in the end."
Two other area wrestlers competed in championship matches on Saturday. Fairmont/Martin County West senior Trevor Schultz in the Class AA championship at 106 pounds and Blue Earth Area junior Kysten Zierke in the Class A championship at 195 pounds, but both wrestlers ended up having to settle for second-place finishes.
BEA senior Carter Hanson earned a sixth-place state medal, while FHS/MCW juniors Joe Weber and Kory Brown both fell short of the medal round by losing in the consolation bracket on Saturday morning.
Cooling won the Class A state title at 145 pounds last season, making him the favorite to win a second consecutive state title this year to cap his outstanding career.
Cooling's victory in his final gave him an undefeated senior season and a total of 201 career wins.
Cooling had a tough trip through his bracket on the way to his title, however, thrice winning matches by two points or fewer.
He attributed his close calls throughout the tournament to having a big target on his back being a defending state champion, describing himself as the hunted rather than the hunter.
"It kind of got in my head a little bit. I knew they were coming after me as hard as they could go and it kind of played with my mind at times," Cooling said. "But I knew I had what it took to win and just kind of kept going after it."
In his final against Rothers, Cooling ended up wrestling a cautious match after taking a 2-0 lead with his first-period takedown.
In the second period Cooling assured himself of at least an escape, getting into a standing position and hoisting Rothers' leg into the air, but he ultimately failed to turn the move into a reversal and Rothers regained control.
Cooling later said he got a bit greedy with the move, but he still managed to take a 2-0 lead into the third period.
In the final period Rothers earned an early escape, but Cooling thwarted all of Rothers' attempts to score further points, taking a defensive approach rather than trying to earn any further points himself.
"I knew if I got out there and went after it I could have ran up the score," Cooling said. "I hit that first 2-0 lead and that was huge for me, just for my confidence. I definitely probably could have got more in the last period, but I kind of just sat back. I knew he wasn't a very offensive wrestler, so I just took what I could and tried to stay cautious a little bit."
Cooling's match ended with some confusion, with the referees putting one second back on the clock after Cooling had started his celebration, but the mix up simply delayed his inevitable second straight state title.
Adam Cooling celebrated with assistant coaches Andy Forstner and Bryce Andrews on the bench, with brother Alex Cooling - a former state champion himself - watching from the stands.
"All three of them are huge role models for me and they pushed me throughout the years, and I thank them for that now," Cooling said. "It all paid off in the end."
In the Class A final at 195, Zierke was matched up with reigning 195-pound state champion Nathan Rose of Sibley East.
The pair had met before in their careers, but Zierke said that the last time they wrestled was probably when they were both in fourth grade.
Zierke held Rose to a 2-1 lead after the first period, but Rose then gained some steam and earned two takedowns in each of the final two periods to earn an 11-4 decision for his second state title.
"I just had to wrestle smart, because he can throw me around probably, but you've just got to wrestle smart every match," Rose said. "I felt pretty confident throughout the whole match."
Though Zierke, of course, would have liked to come out on top in the match, he was humble in defeat, focusing on the great accomplishment of placing second in the state.
"I never went against that style of a wrestler this year, so it was kind of a difference to everyone else I wrestled," Zierke said. "He was faster than I expected. I knew I was going to go up against a guy that was really good, of course. I wasn't disappointed after the match, I was happy enough that I just got top two and that I was able to compete at a high enough level to get to the finals. I wasn't too disappointed, but yeah, of course you're going to be a little bit disappointed."
Zierke realized that although he put in the hard work of winning his matches to reach the final, none of his success would have been possible without the support he got from his coaches.
"I'm just glad to have our coaching staff at Blue Earth (Area)," Zierke said. "Without them, nothing like this would have been possible. They've helped us this whole season, they put the work in, and they need just as much gratitude and respect just what I got this state tournament. They're my No. 1 fans."
Hanson had a tough semifinal match, losing to Rothers, and fell in the consolation semifinals to Royalton/Upsala's Mitch Lange. Lange had only two losses on the season entering the match, with both losses coming against Cooling.
Hanson took on Border West's Austin Maanum in the fifth-place match, but ended up losing by a 12-4 major decision.
Schultz had dedicated his entire senior season to winning a state title, having finished second his sophomore season and fourth last year. He got his chance when he met Delano's Tucker Sjomeling in the Class AA final at 106.
Schultz earned a takedown in the first period, but Sjomeling countered with a reversal to make the score 2-2 entering the second period. Neither wrestler could break through in the second period to leave the score at 2-2 entering the third.
Sjomeling took a 3-2 lead with an escape to open the third period. He then earned a takedown against Schultz, which Schultz wasn't able to break free of the rest of the match to leave Sjomeling as the state champion with a 5-2 decision.
The result was a great disappointment for Schultz, who was heavily favored as the No. 1-ranked wrestler in the state.
FHS/MCW's day opened with Weber and Brown being eliminated from the consolation bracket, but things turned around for the Red Bulls when Schultz hit the mat for his semifinal.
Wrestling Glencoe-Lester Prairie's Jacob Jewett, Schultz took control of the match immediately with a takedown.
Jewett tied the score at 2-2 with a reversal, but Schultz countered with a reversal of his own and added a two-point near fall to take a 6-2 lead after the first period.
Jewett wasn't able to cut into Schultz's lead the rest of the way, with Schultz winning in an 11-3 major decision.
"I thought that match was going to be a little closer," Schultz said. "I heard that we had some common opponents that he also beat, so I was thinking it would be a nice close one, but right away in the first period I got that pretty nice two-point near fall and that set the tone for the rest of the match. It made him need to score big points instead of just getting a regular takedown."
With his mind set on nothing else than winning a state title, Schultz left the mat following his semifinal as determined as ever.
"I'm not truly satisfied yet," Schultz said after the match. "You didn't see me do a fist-pump or any other stuff that people do, because I'm not settling for anything less than first."
Cooling was matched up with a tough opponent in his semifinal, competing against Jackson County Central's Keegan Moore. Both wrestlers were looking to add to rich family history in the state tournament, with Cooling and his brother Alex having won state titles in past years and Moore's brother Cooper having won at 170 pounds last year. Moore's brother Paden ended up placing second at 145 pounds on Saturday.
Moore almost got a takedown in the first period, but Cooling was able to wriggle out just in time.
The match was tied at 1-1 after Cooling gave up an escape to Moore to open the third period, but neither wrestler was able to make a scoring move until Cooling produced a takedown with five seconds remaining in the match to earn a 3-1 decision.
Hanson lost in the other semifinal at 160 pounds, falling to Rothers by a 9-0 major decision.
The Bucs had reason to celebrate just a few minutes later, however, when Zierke earned a dramatic 2-1 decision in triple overtime in his semifinal match against Triton's Lucas Etchason.
Etchason took a lead into the third period, but Zierke earned an escape to send the match into overtime.
After a scoreless first overtime period, Zierke was able to hold on to Etchason in the second overtime and prevented him from scoring. When Zierke was given his 30 seconds to escape in the third overtime, he got free and withstood Etchason's desperate attempts to save himself with a takedown.
"I'm just pumped up that I did it," Zierke said. "I knew that all my hard work this whole season led down to that last 30 seconds, so I was just like, 'I'm going to go all out,' and I did."
Despite the close result, Zierke felt that he wasn't ever out of control in the match.
"He was really lanky, he's taller than me by about five inches," Zierke said. "He was strong, but I just knew I had a plan going in and I was going to keep to that plan, and that was just be defensive, and when I got the opportunity, go. I waited, and it came."
Although Zierke ended up falling short of a state title, he was pleased with the gains he made this year after failing to place in his first state tournament appearance last year.
"Last year was more of an experience, just be wowed I guess, like, 'Yeah, I'm here finally, and it's really cool,'" Zierke said. "But this year I'm used to the experience and that it's just another match, you're just going to have to give it everything you've got, and I did."
Though Cooling, Schultz and Hanson are now done with their high school careers, Weber, Brown and Zierke will have a chance to win state titles next year in their senior seasons.
Zierke for one is hoping to go one step better next season.
"Since I've gotten this far, I know what I can work on in the offseason for next year," Zierke said. "Hopefully I can be better prepared, hopefully for a different outcome, but in the same spot, the championship. I'll just work hard in the offseason."
However, with Rose also being a junior this year, Zierke's road to a state title may once again go through the two-time state champion.