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Red Bulls’ state wrestling champ overcomes torn ACLs

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY — Martin County Red Bulls wrestler Payton Anderson (top) bars the arm of Foley opponent Isaiah Fitch during a Class AA 152-pound individual state preliminary match last Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Despite competing with torn ACLs in both knees, Anderson managed to capture a state individual championship. (Photo by Greg Abel)

SHERBURN — Two torn ACLs couldn’t keep Martin County Red Bulls senior wrestler Payton Anderson from becoming the Class AA 152-pound state champion.

Anderson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Week 3 of the Martin County West Mavericks’ football season and missed multiple weeks. Anderson decided to delay surgery so he could return to the field, and eventually, the wrestling mat.

“I got told I tore my ACL and I said I still wanted to play, but the doctors weren’t going to let me,” Anderson said. “So we had to find a doctor that would give me a brace and let me try. We ended up going to Sioux Falls and finally I got cleared.”

Anderson returned to the football field in the final weeks of the MCW regular season and helped lead the Mavericks to an appearance in the Section 3A championship game.

During the football season and into the wrestling season, Anderson worked with physical therapists twice a week to work around the injury. He wore a large brace that completely covered his left leg during every wrestling match.

“They had me do a lot of non-weighted squats, just getting me used to bending my knees and using them without an ACL,” Anderson said. “Then, we did a lot of side-to-side movements to make it stronger, that’s what the ACL controls, the side-to-side stuff.”

Anderson said he was worried the injury would lead to him not being able to play football or wrestle up to his high standards, or that he would be injured worse. He said once he got into wrestling season, he had to adjust his style on the mat.

“I kind of had to protect that leg more, put emphasis on using my other leg for more stuff,” Anderson said. “People will tend to go after the leg with a big brace like that. It takes a lot of different wrestling to win with a big brace.”

His adjustments worked, leading to a 47-2 record during the wrestling season, culminating in a Minnesota State High School League Class AA 152-pound individual state championship.

Anderson started his journey in the Section 3AA individual tournament on Feb. 22 in Luverne.

He started as the 152-pound bracket’s top seed, beating Morris Area/Hancock/Chokio-Alberta’s Noah Amundson in the quarterfinals via a 10-0 major decision before sticking Redwood Valley’s Matt Zeug’s shoulders to the mat in 2:40 to reach the championship.

Anderson then stuck Marshall’s Noah Jensen to the mat in 3:31 to claim gold and a spot in the state tournament.

After earning a silver medal as a freshman and taking fourth place at 145 pounds last year, in addition to exiting the 2018 individual tournament after one bout, Anderson was going to the state individual tournament for the fourth time.

The Class AA No. 2-ranked 152-pounder started his fourth try at the state tournament against Foley’s No. 8-ranked Isaiah Fitch.

Anderson then worked his way to an 8-0 major decision before facing Rocori’s Austin Moscho in the quarterfinals. Anderson outlasted Moscho for a 6-5 decision, gaining the next day’s semifinals.

He then had to battle Perham’s No. 4-ranked, and eventual third-place finisher, Jack Fudge. The pair tied at 3 during regulation and went into sudden-victory overtime, where Anderson forced a takedown eight seconds into the one-minute segment to take a 5-3 decision and move on to the championship.

Anderson faced Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield’s No. 3-ranked Jude Link. Both attempted multiple takedowns throughout the first two periods, with the other countering and causing multiple stalemates.

The bout was tied at 1-all at the start of the final period, then Anderson’s lunge for Link’s legs worked. Anderson lifted Link into the air and controlled him through a drop to the mat, gaining a 3-1 advantage with 44 seconds left.

Link escaped control with 19 seconds left and made more takedown attempts, but Anderson held on for a 3-2 win and the state championship.

After having his arm raised as the champion and hugging head Red Bulls coach Adam Williamson, Anderson made his way into the crowd, stopping every few rows to hug family and friends.

“They support me through everything, they pick me up when I’m down,” Anderson said. “They mean the world to me.”

That support proved necessary through rough days during the season. Anderson said certain days the injury was more of a problem than others.

“I’d do something weird and I wouldn’t be able to walk really,” Anderson said. “There were different things that would make my knee feel terrible. I had lots of bad days, I could barely move.”

Anderson pushed through the bad days to accomplish his ultimate goal. He said he had planned on having surgery to repair the left ACL on Tuesday, but an update led to another slight delay.

He tweaked his right knee during the team tournament semifinal on Feb. 27, and an MRI proved his fears of another injury correct. Anderson had torn the ACL in his right knee as well, meaning he went through both days of the individual tournament without an intact ACL.

He said the new plan is to have the two surgeries four weeks apart, with the first coming in the next week or two.

Anderson said he wants to get them both done quickly so he can prepare for his freshman wrestling season at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., this fall.

Anderson will continue to go through physical therapy and work to rebuild his strength after the surgeries with the drive that he said led his journey to a championship.

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