Red Bulls take aim at state team finals

STAMPEDE — Members of the Martin County Red Bulls wrestling team qualifying for the Class AA state team meet Thursday, Feb. 27, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul include, front row (l-r): Cooper Steuber, Aden Welcome, Lucas Jagodzinske, Jesse Potts, Blake Jagodzinske, Connor Simmonds, Jaxson Rohman and Kain Sanders. Middle row: Assistant coach Dusty Faber, Carver Rohman, Cale Steuber, Payton Anderson, Joseph Forsberg, Everardo Hernandez, Shayne Steinbrink, assistant coach Derek Sanders and assistant coach Brandon Greiner. Back row: Head coach Adam Williamson, Nathan Simmonds, Jacob Rahn, Miles Fitzgerald, Max Olson, Michael Johnson and assistant coach Mike Steuber. (Photo by Greg Abel)

In 2018, the first time the Martin County Red Bulls went to the team state wrestling tournament, the Red Bulls shocked the Minnesota State High School League with a second-place finish.

After a one-year hiatus, the Red Bulls return to the Class AA state team meet and are looking to reach the finals again.

The No. 2-ranked and No. 2-seeded Red Bulls face Section 5AA champion and No. 7-seeded Orono at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in the quarterfinals.

Martin County head coach Adam Williamson said even though his Red Bulls and Orono haven’t faced each other and don’t share common opponents, he’s excited for the dual.

“It’s a good draw for us,” Williamson said. “We don’t have very many common opponents, but we like the matchup.”

The Red Bulls flattened Section 3 quarterfinal opponent Luverne, 81-0, then beat United (Dawson-Boyd-Lac qui Parle-Montevideo), 61-12, before defeating No. 7-ranked Marshall 41-25 to avenge Martin County’s section championship loss to the Tigers in 2019.

Orono started the Section 5 tournament with a 64-11 win over Minneapolis Patrick Henry, then beat Bloomington Kennedy 41-34 before squeezing by top-seeded Totino-Grace 42-33.

The Spartans hold a 9-12 dual-meet record and come in with three ranked competitors, while the Red Bulls enter the tournament with an 18-2 record. The Red Bulls’ only losses this season came to Class AAA No. 1-ranked Shakopee and Class AA No. 2-ranked Kasson-Mantorville. The Red Bulls enter the tournament with 10 wrestlers ranked in their weight classes.

With much of the Red Bulls’ lineup comprised of juniors and seniors who hit the mats at the Xcel Energy Center during the team tournament in 2018, Williamson said he thinks the Red Bulls have enough experience to give them an edge.

“Our juniors and seniors, they’ve been to the state tournament before with the team and they know what it’s like being in that kind of atmosphere and they wanted to get that taste back after falling a little short last year,” Williamson said. “That’s motivated them even more to get back this year. It’s just great to see that they didn’t give up, they worked even harder and we are where we are because of their perseverence.”

No. 7-ranked 113-pound sophomore Kain Sanders, No. 3-rated 120-pound junior Lucas Jagodzinske, junior and No. 2-ranked 126-pounder Jaxson Rohman, No. 7-rated 132-pound junior Blake Jagodzinske and No. 2-ranked 138-pound junior Connor Simmonds will look to build an early Red Bull lead.

Then No. 2-ranked 152-pound senior Payton Anderson, No. 6-ranked 160-pound senior Miles Fitzgerald, senior and No. 7-ranked 170-pounder Nathan Simmonds and No. 6-ranked 195-pound senior Jacob Rahn will look to extend it.

No. 5-ranked 106-pounder Jesse Potts, Cooper Steuber (106), Aden Welcome (113), Carver Rohman (145), Cale Steuber (145) Joseph Forsberg (152), Michael Johnson (170), Max Olson (182), Shayne Steinbrink (220) and Everardo Hernandez (285) will round out the Red Bulls’ state roster.

Orono’s strength comes in the upper weights. No. 9-ranked 195-pounder David Wilfert, No. 1-ranked 220-pounder Danny Striggow and No. 9-ranked 285-pounder Shea Albrecht enter as ranked competitors. Those three, plus Oliver Stevenson (152), Noah Arneson (170) and Johnny Harstad (182), helped propel Orono to a comeback win in the Section 5AA championship. Totino Grace held a 28-6 lead through the first seven weights, before Stevenson, Arneson, Harstad, Wilfert, Striggow and Albrecht all pinned their opponents to create a 36-6 Orono scoring run.

The Red Bulls will lean on the experience of the nine wrestlers who competed during the 2018 state team meet. Lucas Jagodzinske, Rohman, Connor Simmonds, Cale Steuber, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Nathan Simmonds and Rahn all competed in the 2018 championship dual.

The Red Bulls have seen unprecedented success within the program in the past few years, reaching the section championship four consecutive years, while the co-op had not reached the state meet before 2018 and none of the individual schools had made it since Sherburn-Dunnell in 1978. Williamson said the recent success is due to good kids with a lot of support.

“I think we just have a great group of kids,” Williamson said. “They have found success in just about everything they’ve done. From in the classroom to in their communities and of course in the wrestling room and on the mats. They’ve been a very successful group all around. They know that hard work pays off and that gives us an edge. They understand that the time and effort they put in, they’re going to get the results back out. That’s been a big push for a lot of our kids, to understand that the extra things are going to get you the extra results.

“We’ve set high expectations and we’ve worked extremely hard to reach those goals. Then we set even higher goals as we check them off. The family support has been great, the support from the communities has been awesome. It takes a large group of people to support a program and continue a program and it comes from all the way down to the youth levels, all the way up to the varsity squad and even alumni now continuing to come back and set high standards for our program.”

The Red Bulls’ success in the classroom has shown with an academic all-state spot as a team. Three Red Bulls, Lucas Jagodzinske, Rohman and Anderson earned academic all state spots as individuals, alongside only 25 other competitors. The Red Bulls’ coaching staff received accolades as well. Williamson was named section head coach of the year, while Dusty Fabor was named section assistant coach of the year.

The winner of Martin County and Orono will move on to face the winner of No. 4-ranked and third-seeded Foley and No. 12-ranked and seventh-seeded Hutchinson.

On the other side of the bracket, top-ranked Simley takes on South St. Paul in the opening round while fourth-seeded Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield faces Detroit Lakes.