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Area 16 individual wrestlers gear up for state meet

ST. PAUL — Sixteen area wrestlers are one step closer to their ultimate goal — a state championship.

The Martin County Red Bulls — a cooperative program between Fairmont, Martin County West and Granada-Huntley-East Chain — and the Blue Earth Area Bucs are set for the respective Class AA and Class A portions of the Minnesota State High School League team tournament on Thursday, but nine Red Bulls and seven Bucs also will compete in the individual portion of the state meet Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

For many, this will be their first time entering one of the state individual brackets. Martin County’s Jesse Potts, Blake Jagodzinske and Jacob Rahn are all making their first appearances, while Blue Earth Area’s Max Ehrich, Luke Mertens, Ty Peterson and Caleb Beeler are hitting the mats at the Xcel Energy Center as individuals for their first time.

Blue Earth Area head coach Randy Wirtjes said getting on the Xcel Energy Center mats will be a bit of a change from previous experiences.

“It’s certainly an eye-opener,” Wirtjes said. “You would like to tell them it’s the same thing as any other wrestling, but it’s not. I think them wrestling in the team tournament will help, getting them out there.

“You can say that stuff all you want, but actually getting out there, it will be a big deal, but we told them, there’s a reason you’re in the tournament and it’s because you’re pretty good. You’re in the same boat as everybody else.”

Blue Earth Area’s Jaxen Klinkner, Davis Sunken and Koby Nagel, as well as the Red Bulls’ Cale Steuber, are making their second appearances during the individual tournament.

Martin County head coach Adam Williamson said for those in their first or second appearance, the most important thing will be to focus on each obstacle as it comes up.

“Especially for those guys who are in their first trip there, we’re (coaching staff) just looking to keep them focused on the wrestling side of things,” Williamson said. “Not to worry about the opponent as much, not to worry about where we’re at, just to focus on what they can do. … Just take it one move at a time, like we always do.”

Potts, the Class AA No. 5-ranked 106-pounder enters the state tournament after missing a long stretch of the season due to illness. He returned to the mat during the Section 3AA tournament and finished second.

Potts (14-4) will start his tournament run against Class 7AA champion and No. 1-ranked Tyler Wells (43-0) from Princeton.

Blake Jagodzinske, the No. 7-ranked 132-pounder in Class AA, is making his first trip to the individual tournament after standing atop the Section 3AA podium. Jagodzinske (18-4) will start Friday by facing the Section 8AA champion and No. 10-ranked 132-pounder Cody Wienen (36-12) of Thief River Falls.

Rahn, Class AA’s No. 7-ranked 195-pounder, pinned his way to a gold section medal and is set to face Section 4AA runner-up Sullivan Lucy (21-13) of St. Paul Como Park.

Ehrich (27-1), the Class A No. 3-ranked 160-pounder, finished third in his weight during the section tournament each of the past three years. Now, he will get his first opportunity at the state tournament.

Ehrich will face Section 5A’s runner-up Evan Young (23-20) of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa to begin Friday’s competition.

Mertens (19-14) placed second in the Section 2A tournament and will meet Sean Weckman (30-18) of Norwood Young America, Section 4A’s 195-pound champion, in the opening round.

Peterson (32-8) is set to face Section 3A champion Minneota’s No. 3-ranked 113-pounder Eric Carrasco (37-4) after placing second in the section tournament.

Caleb Beeler (28-13) will lock up with Section 4A champion Alex Nelson (29-6) of Kimball Area in the 132-pound opening round after taking silver during the section competiton.

For BEA’s three wrestlers returning to the state meet, Wirtjes said their experience from last year will give them a slight advantage.

“I think it is (an advantage),” Wirtjes said about having been to the tournament before. “They have had that feeling of being out there. Now they’ve just got to go out and wrestle like they always do.”

Klinkner (29-10), Class A’s No. 7-ranked 138-pounder, will begin his return to the state tournament against Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie’s Jason Koehn (31-11) after earning sectional gold.

Nagel (20-8) saw only one match during the 2019 state tournament. He finished atop the Section 2A podium last Saturday and will begin his second state opportunity facing Eden Valley-Watkins’ Gavin Mathies (25-17).

Sunken (35-6) wrestled twice during last year’s tournament. After taking section gold, he will look to extend his 2020 state experience starting with a match against Drayden Morton (23-3) of Sibley East.

For the remaining Red Bulls, the drive for a state medal and championship is to improve on what they have already done.

In Class AA, the Red Bulls’ Nathan Simmonds, Connor Simmonds, Steuber, Jaxson Rohman, Payton Anderson and Miles Fitzgerald all enter with some individual tournament experience under their belts.

Steuber’s (29-8) first individual tournament ended after only one match in last year’s 138-pound tournament. He will begin his second try during this year’s 145-pound bracket by facing Section 6AA champion and No. 7-ranked 145-pounder Joe Gardas (37-4) of Zimmerman.

Connor Simmonds (42-2), the No. 2-ranked 138-pounder in Class AA, is looking for a longer experience during his third attempt at the tournament this year after falling out of the bracket early the past two years.

Connor Simmonds will get his start when he faces Section 8AA runner-up and No. 8-ranked 138-pounder Brady Kasprick (36-6) of Thief River Falls on Friday.

Nathan Simmonds (40-9), Class AA’s No. 7-ranked 170-pounder, finished his 2019 individual state tournament after four bouts. This year, he will start his journey for a medal when he faces Section 6AA’s runner-up, Adam Neumann (33-4) of Annandale/Maple Lake.

Williamson said his wrestlers who have been to the tournament multiple times before have a bit of an advantage.

“The Xcel center is a different atmosphere, it’s a lot more wide open, there’s a lot of mats involved. Being there before, wrestling in that arena, is good experience although the guys who haven’t been there before, we’ve wrestled in some big tournaments,” Williamson said. “We’ve wrestled up at Fargo and that’s even more open. For those guys to have wrestled at some big arenas and some big stages before, that should help. That experience is pretty important. A lot of our team was on the state qualifying team two years ago and are on it again. All those experiences add up to the guys feeling pretty comfortable.”

Each of the Red Bulls’ three remaining competitors are looking to improve their medaling performances from last season.

Fitzgerald (38-3), the No. 6-ranked 160-pounder, finished fourth in the 152-pound bracket last season after placing sixth at 145 the year before. He will start his drive for a 160-pound championship against Section 6AA runner-up Noah Halonen (29-9) of Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield.

Anderson (38-1), Class AA’s No. 2-ranked 152-pounder, also finished fourth last year, and placed second at 132 pounds as a freshman.

The senior will begin his final chance for a state title against Section 7AA champion and No. 8-ranked 152-pounder Isaiah Fitch (40-9) of Foley.

Rohman (45-0) is the Red Bulls’ most experienced state competitor, entering his fifth individual bracket with medals in each of his previous four tournaments.

Rohman finished fourth at 106 pounds as a seventh-grader, second at the same weight as an eighth-grader, and second at 120 as a junior last year. He reached the ultimate dream at 113 pounds as a freshman when he walked away from the Class AA state tournament with a gold medal.

Rohman will look to repeat that freshman performance starting Friday when he faces Section 8AA runner-up Cade Jackson (25-15) of Detroit Lakes.

Both the Class AA No. 3-ranked Red Bulls and the Class A No. 6-ranked Bucs wrestlers will have extra work on their hands, competing in Thursday’s team tournaments.

Williamson said the team tournament is more exciting for the wrestlers, but the competitors there as individuals will need to focus on keeping themselves well-fueled for the individual tournament.

“The team experience is a lot more exciting for the kids to be able to do it all together. Having them and all our fans all together in one spot and all on one mat is a very exciting, thrilling experience,” Williamson said. “… It is a grind, having to wrestle that whole Thursday for the team. We talked with the guys about fluids and quality nutrition going through their bodies and throughout the day so they can recover between matches.

“And again later that night, for those who have to wrestle the next morning, making sure they’re putting quality fuel in their body to maintain that energy level.”

Thursday, the Bucs begin the Class A team tournament against Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Southland at 9 a.m.

The Red Bulls start Thursday’s Class AA team tournament against Orono at 11 a.m.

Friday’s individual tournament’s opening rounds begin at 9 a.m., with the second session of the day beginning at 4 p.m. Any individuals who make it to Saturday’s rounds will begin competition at 9 a.m.

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