Red Bulls, Bucs wrestle their way to state again
For the third time in four years, the Class AA No. 3-ranked Martin County Red Bulls will compete in the state team wrestling meet.
Because of COVID-related changes to the tournament format, instead of an eight-team bracket taking up a full day, the Red Bulls will compete in a final four tournament starting at 9 a.m. Friday at St. Michael Albertville High School.
The Red Bulls (28-1) will vie for a spot in the championship dual against Section 5AA-6AA champion and No. 4-ranked Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield (26-3).
DCL fought its way through Albany, Becker and Totino-Grace to earn a spot in the final four.
Martin County and DCL shared no common opponents this season, but Martin County head coach Adam Williamson said he has kept an eye on the Chargers for much of the year.
“We like what we see with the matchups we can get throughout the dual,” Williamson said. “I think it’s as good a matchup as we can hope for at this point of the year in the final four. So, our kids are fired up for it and ready to give everything they have.”
The Red Bulls go into the matchup with a lot of state experience.
Cooper Steuber, the Red Bulls’ 113-pounder, No. 7-ranked 120-pounder Jesse Potts, No. 1-ranked 126-pounder Jaxson Rohman, No. 8-ranked 132-pounder Kain Sanders, No. 3-ranked 138-pounder Lucas Jagodzinske, No. 2-ranked 145-pounder Connor Simmonds, No. 4-ranked 160-pounder Blake Jagodzinske and 195-pounder Max Olson all wrestled in last year’s state team tournament.
“I think it just gives our guys a little added focus, you know, many of them having been at the state tournament multiple times before,” Williamson said of the Red Bulls’ experience. “They’ve been in that atmosphere and felt that kind of pressure before and and they know how to handle it.”
In the other semifinal of the Class AA team bracket, No. 1-ranked Simley (26-0), which eased its way through the Section 1AA-4AA bracket without giving up more than three points in a dual, battles No. 9-ranked Princeton (20-8) which worked its way through Section 7AA-8AA. Simley beat Princeton 64-10 on Feb. 5.
After the team duals Friday morning, four Red Bulls will hit the mats again looking for a state individual championship during the 2 p.m. session.
The fearsome foursome of Martin County seniors Jaxson Rohman, Simmonds, Lucas Jagodzinske and Blake Jagodzinske will battle for individual titles.
Rohman enters his sixth consecutive state individual tournament looking to repeat what he has accomplished before.
Rohman finished third at 120 pounds last season, second at 120 as a sophomore, second at 106 as an eighth-grader and fourth at 106 as a seventh-grader. Rohman achieved the ultimate goal of a state championship at 113 pounds as a freshman.
“He wants to go out on top, that’s for sure,” Williamson said of Rohman. “That’s been his goal all along. And, you know, since last year, he’s kind of had that bitter taste in his mouth about how he finished last year and he’s worked his tail off ever since to try to go out on top this year and go out with a bang.
“Hopefully the sixth time, it’ll end up with that championship. And, you know, that’s pretty high level status in the state of Minnesota and really in the country. I mean, he is on a different level.”
Rohman (32-0) enters the tournament as the top seed in the elite eight format and will match up with Annandale/Maple Lake’s Zach Pribyl (22-10) in the first round.
Lucas Jagodzinske will be next up, qualifying for his third state individual tournament, but competing in his second. Lucas Jagodzinske missed the individual tournament after qualifying as a freshman because of an injury during the team tournament, then claimed third at 113 pounds as a sophomore. He missed last year’s individual tournament after being scratched from the section tournament.
“He’s been in that, in the big matches before and he seems to thrive off of that, really,” Williamson said. “And it showed (Saturday during the individual super section meet), I mean, he just was pretty much untouchable in that state preliminary tournament. … He’s got, you know, he’s definitely got big goals for himself too, not being able to wrestle last year. Now, he’s got another opportunity to make a run at it, and he’s not going to squander that.”
Lucas Jagodzinske (30-2) will likely face a rematch from his team-dual matchup when he faces DCL’s No. 5-ranked Jerry Simes (24-8) in the opening round of the 138-pound brack.
Simmonds is entering the tournament off his best individual performance last year, placing third. Simmonds exited early from his first two individual tournaments as a freshman and sophomore.
“He ended up third last year and that was a big step forward for him,” Williamson said. “He still feels like that wasn’t his ultimate goal. … He wants to go out with a championship. I mean, that’s all these kids’ goals. And he’s worked extremely hard in the offseason and now in season, too, to get to that point. And he’s got a good shot.”
Simmonds (30-1) comes into the 145-pound bracket as the top seed and will face Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran’s Bryce Burkett (30-4) in the elite eight.
Blake Jagodzinske comes into the individual tournament with the least experience of the Red Bull wrestlers, hitting the mats for just the second time. He finished fourth last season at 138 pounds.
“Being finally a full-time varsity wrestler last year, and making the state tournament, even earning a medal, those were a lot of big steps for him,” Williamson said. “He also really, really shines in the big matches, too. … Even with a little slip up (Saturday), he fought all the way back through for a true-second match and just wasn’t going to take no for an answer. It wasn’t going to be denied. So he’s ready and he’s excited to be back and go on for another state medal.”
Blake Jagdozinske (32-2) matches up with Thief River Falls’ No. 10-ranked Cody Wienen in his opening matchup.
Williamson added that along with the team and multiple individuals headed for the state tournament, he is most proud of the Red Bulls winning the academic all-state championship for Class AA.
“That’s probably one of the coolest accolades,” Williamson said. “That’s one of the hardest things to do as a team.”
After the four Red Bulls hit the mats Friday afternoon and night, three members of the Blue Earth Area Bucs team will fight for individual championships at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Michael Albertville High School.
No. 2-ranked 170-pounder Max Ehrich enters his second individual tournament when he starts the 160-pound bracket against Dover-Eyota’s No. 8-ranked 160-pounder Blake Lehnertz.
“Max is confident,” BEA head coach Randy Wirtjes said. “I mean that in a good way, he’s not overconfident, he just feels good about himself when he goes out there every time and always gives himself a chance to win. … He’s been on the varsity for six years and in the weight room, like Nick and Luke, he’s done all the things to get him ready.”
Ehrich took fourth last season in the 160-pound bracket.
Next up, the Bucs’ No. 10-ranked 195-pounder Nick Frank will fight for a 182-pound championship.
Frank is a first-time individual competitor, but Wirtjes said his team experience will help him Saturday.
“Last year, Nick, I think he led the team in wins, but at a very tough weight at our section tournament, he took third,” Wirtjes said of Frank’s individual section performance last season. “He’s a very determined, kind of a quiet type of guy. He does not complain, he grinds and whatever the result, he lives with it, but I think it drives him to be even better. He’s just a hard worker and a good teammate.”
Frank will match up with Chatfield’s No. 4-ranked 182-pounder Grady Schott in his opening matchup.
Finally, giant slayer Luke Mertens will take on the 285-pound bracket in his second individual tournament.
Mertens earned a spot at the top of the heavyweight bracket and will match up with Joshua Golombowski of Maple River in the opening round.
“He double weighed at 220 and heavyweight all year until the end and then, when he decided he was gonna go heavyweight, he got a little bit bigger,” Wirtjes said of Mertens success. “He’s a product of the weight room, too, he’s gotten really strong, which I think has given him a lot of confidence. He’s really quick for a big guy and he doesn’t lose his cool. If he’s in a tight match, he doesn’t panic. He’s had a couple close matches … I think matches like that helped him down the stretch, but I think strength, quickness and Luke is a very intelligent wrestler.”