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B.E. Area’s wrestling trio medal at state

STATE MEDALIST — Blue Earth Area’s Luke Mertens (top) works to turn Mille Lacs opponent Joshua Golombowski during their Class A individual state quarterfinal heavyweight match Saturday at St. Michael-Albertville High School in St. Michael. Mertens went on to earn a fourth-place medal at the state competition. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Mertens/Faribault County Register)

ST. MICHAEL — The Blue Earth Area senior wrestling trio of Max Ehrich, Luke Mertens and Nick Frank exited St. Michael-Albertville High School’s gymnasium on Saturday with Class A individual state medals draped around their necks.

“We thought we had a pretty good day,” Bucs head coach Randy Wirtjes said in reference to Ehrich’s bronze-medal performance at 160 pounds, Mertens’ fourth-place finish at heavyweight and Frank’s sixth-place showing at 182. “Those three guys are all hard workers and more than that, good kids. I’m proud of their efforts, and we will miss them next season.

“And I think Ty Pete (Peterson) could have medaled up there, too.”

Unfortunately, Peterson, also a senior, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Section 2 individual meet’s 138-pound semifinals.

Ironically, injuries also prevented Ehrich from having the opportunity to display both his wrestling and football skills earlier in his prep athletic career, but not this season.

“Max defined the ‘tough luck’ athlete in previous years, but the huge difference was he always kept a positive attitude,” said Wirtjes. “He put the time in the weight room and worked his way back to place fourth individually at last year’s state (wrestling) meet.

“He’s been a great leader that both his peers and younger kids in our program look up to and respect.”

Ehrich, who was ranked No. 2 in the final 170-pound state poll, dropped to 160 and opened Saturday’s Class A individual elite eight competition by edging Dover-Eyota’s No. 8-ranked Blake Lehnertz by a 4-3 decision.

After a scoreless first period, Lehnertz escaped for the lone point of the second segment. Ehrich started the third period with a reversal before cutting Lehnertz loose for a 2-all tie. Ehrich then recorded the state quarterfinals’ only takedown before allowing a late escape to advance to the semifinals.

Kimball Area’s No. 3-ranked Zack Holtz, however, extended his perfect seasonal record to 22-0 by posting a 15-5 major decision over Ehrich in the semifinal clash.

Ehrich, however, rebounded to post an 8-2 victory over Royalton/Upsala’s No. 5-ranked Gabe Gorecki in the third-place match.

Like Ehrich, Mertens kicked off the heavyweight class’ elite eight bracket by building an 11-5 lead over Mille Lacs’ Joshua Golombowski in their quarterfinal clash before earning the fall in 4:42.

The under-sized Mertens, who tipped the scales at 50 pounds below the division’s 285-pound limit, led Golombowski by a 6-4 margin after one period and 9-5 after 4 minutes on the mat.

Minnewaska Area’s No. 1-ranked Jakob Swalla then squeezed out a 6-4 semifinal decision over Mertens to send the Bucs’ senior to the bronze-medal match.

BOLD senior Tim Peppel, who lost a 7-3 semifinal decision to eventual state heavyweight champion Shane Noyes of Canby earlier Saturday, pinned Mertens for third-place honors in 4:26.

“Hey, Luke had a great season — there’s no doubt about that,” said Wirtjes. “He really turned it up a notch this season and put together a good run to win the section and qualify for state individually.

“He should feel good about his accomplishments, especially considering the fact that he was a true 220-pounder wrestling up. He used his quickness and stayed in good position on the mat to achieve what he did.”

After getting pinned in 43 seconds by Chatfield’s No. 4-ranked 182-pounder Grady Schott in Saturday’s state quarterfinal, Frank displayed his mettle by bouncing back for a win in the consolation semifinals.

Frank, who was ranked No. 10 in the final 195-pound state poll, used his quickness and stamina to outduel Crosby-Ironton’s Michael Fitzpatrick by a 3-0 decision to gain the fifth-place match.

Westfield’s Tyler Archer then captured the fifth-place medal by outpointing Frank by an 8-3 decision.

“After taking third in the section last year, it was good to see Nick qualify for state this year,” said Wirtjes. “He’s tough on himself and his own worst critic, but boy does he work hard in practice everyday.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have had kids who dig in during a tight match and battle to the very end throughout the years, and these three guys definitely fit that definition.”

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