Area 12 wrestlers ready for state

STATE QUALIFIERS — Members of the Fairmont/Martin County West Red Bulls qualifying for the Class AA individual state wrestling tournament that starts at 9 a.m. Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and concludes on Saturday include, front row (l-r): Cale Steuber, Mario Maldonado, Jaxson Rohman and Lucas Jagodzinske. Back: Nathan Simmonds, Miles Fitzgerald, Payton Anderson and Connor Simmonds. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Every high school wrestler wants the same thing — to become a state champion.

This year, eight Fairmont/Martin County West Red Bulls and four Blue Earth Area Bucs will have a chance to accomplish that dream.

Their journey to a state title begins 9 a.m. Friday in the Class A and Class AA individual state tournaments at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and concludes on Saturday.

Lucas Jagodzinske, Connor Simmonds, Jaxson Rohman, Cale Steuber, Miles Fitzgerald, Payton Anderson, Nathan Simmonds and Mario Maldonado will represent the Red Bulls, while Davis Sunken, Jaxen Klinkner, Dominic Whitlow and Koby Nagel will represent the Bucs.

For some, this will be there first time with the opportunity for a championship. For others, like Rohman, the Class AA No. 2-ranked 120-pounder, the goal is to repeat what he’s already accomplished.

This will be Rohman’s fourth time at state after placing sixth at 106 pounds in seventh grade, second as an eighth-grader and first at 113 pounds last year.

Red Bulls head coach Adam Williamson said Rohman sets high expectations for himself and plans to get back to the championship match this season.

“That’s the expectation he has for himself and that’s been his goal all year,” Williamson said. “He’s the No. 2 seed in his bracket, which is where he wants to be, but to be a champion again, he’ll have four hard-fought matches and if it works out to be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for the championship, he will have to avenge a loss from the Christmas tournament (against No. 1-seeded Chase DeBlaere of Simley). He’s seen a handful of the guys in his bracket and he’s really been putting in time with film and physically as well.”

Rohman (44-3) begins his tournament run against Totino-Grace’s Michael Loger (23-21).

After placing sixth at 145 pounds last year, Fitzgerald is looking to improve his podium position at 152.

“Miles is extremely happy to be back in the state tournament,” Williamson said. “He had a tough section tournament, but fought his way through to end second. Last year he really built up at the end of the season and had a good run and it looks like he’s doing that again this year. It’s all about peaking at the right time.”

Fitzgerald (25-13) opens the state tournament against Mankato West’s Wyatt Block (31-13).

Though its his second time qualifying, this will be Jagodzinske’s first time wrestling at the individual tournament after getting injured during last year’s team tournament.

“This is a special one for Lucas Jagodzinske after getting hurt in the team tournament and not getting to wrestle as an individual,” Williamson said. “He’s quietly had a really good season and we’re looking forward to him having a good tournament.”

Jagodzinske (38-4) faces Annandale’s Jed Wester (24-8) in the first round.

After placing as the 132-pound state runner-up as a freshman, Anderson had a disappointing meet last year, exiting after the first round. This year, the No. 7-ranked 145-pounder will look to get back to the state podium.

“Payton’s been up there a couple of times and he’s wrestled hard against and beaten a few of the top guys in his bracket,” Williamson said. “He didn’t finish last year the way he wanted, going out in the first round, but he’s really hungry to go out and do well this year.”

Anderson (41-7) faces Foley’s Mark Dierkes (38-5) in the first round of the 145-pound bracket.

Like Anderson, Connor Simmonds’ 2018 individual tournament ended earlier than he would have liked, but the No. 7-ranked 126-pounder will look to improve upon his experience from last year.

“He has high expectations for himself to earn a state medal and he’s just really excited to get back,” said Williamson.

Connor Simmonds (45-4) opens the 2019 tournament against Perham’s Gabe Bellefeuille (32-15).

Nathan Simmonds’ 2018 tournament ended after the first round. The No. 9-ranked 160-pound junior will look to reach the state podium for the first time.

“He’s really pumped to get a few matches and go for a state medal,” Williamson said.

Nathan Simmonds (38-8) starts his bracket against Annandale’s Jack Klug (21-9).

For Steuber and Maldonado, this will be the first time competing in the state individual tournament.

Steuber, the No. 9-ranked 132-pounder junior, will look to make his mark in his debut at the state individual tournament.

“Cale fought really hard through the section tournament to get to his first appearance at state,” Williamson said. “He can compete with anybody in his weight class and anything can happen up there.”

Steuber’s (38-9) opens state against Mora’s Ryan Nosbush (11-1).

For the lone Red Bull senior going to the state meet — No. 8-ranked 170-pound Mario Maldonado — this appearance marks the highlight of his comeback story.

“Last Saturday, we were so happy just to see him competing in the section after coming back from his football injury two falls ago,” Williamson said. “Seeing him get a chance to go up to state, we’re ecstatic, and with where he is in his bracket, things look positive.”

Maldonado (34-12) begins his state debut with a match against Benilde St. Margarets’ George Wolfe (18-7).

The four BEA wrestlers are all making their debut appearances at the state tournament.

BEA head coach Randy Wirtjes said Sunken, the 120-pound junior, neared the state tournament last year.

“Davis was really close to going last year, but lost in tiebreaker overtime,” Wirtjes said. “He’s been a really good captain for us this year and had a really solid year. It was good to see him get there.”

Sunken (34-11) faces New York Mills’ Dane Niemi (29-9) in the preliminaries Friday.

Nagel had to beat friend and former teammate Caden Ochsendorf of Maple River to reach the state tournament at 152 pounds.

“That was a big win for him in the semis,” Wirtjes said. “Ochsendorf is a very good wrestler and they’re good friends, too, but Koby kept it close and was able to come through with a win. You would have liked to see that match in the finals. Koby is really aggressive on the mat and relies on his athletic ability a lot, which has really helped him this year.”

Nagel (32-17) starts his bracket against BOLD’s Anthony Maher (34-8).

After years of wrestling above his weight, Klinkner was able to spend this season in the correct weight class, and the change showed.

“Jaxen was really steady for us all year,” Wirtjes said. “The past couple of years he’s always wrestled way above his weight and this year he was finally able to compete at the weight he should. He’s our big pinner, I think he leads the teams in pins and I know he leads in wins.”

Klinkner (37-8) will face Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa’s Tyler Bents (41-1) in the first round of the 138-pound bracket.

This is only Whitlow’s fourth year as a wrestler, but his hard work has paid off.

“He wrestles on his own in the summer and spends a lot of time in the gym,” Wirtjes said. “He always works hard in practice, he’s one of those guys who says, ‘Hey, I’m your friend, but I’m going to wrestle you as hard as I can.’ I would like to say that it’s a big surprise for him to go to state after only wrestling for four years, but with the amount of work he puts in he’s really earned it. He got a big fall in the finals of the section. He’s always really aggressive out there, which can sometimes hurt you, but it really helped him to get that win.”

Whitlow (32-15) faces Lewiston-Altura/Rushford-Peter’s Noah Herber (25-6) in the first round of the 195-pound bracket.

Williamson said his wrestlers have an advantage this year they didn’t have going in last year.

“A lot of these guys we’re going to be facing will be wrestling tough matches in the team portion on Thursday,” Williamson said. “This year, we have the luxury of coming in fresh on the second day.”

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