As a reward for their hard work throughout the season, 24 area wrestlers will be competing at the Class A individual state wrestling tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Friday and Saturday.
The majority of those wrestlers won't be content having merely participated in the event. They will be looking to come away with some serious hardware.
River Valley senior Lance Briard is among the many area wrestlers that will be making a return trip to the tournament, and he is on a singular mission.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Cody Hanson advanced to the State Tournament by placing second at 113 pounds in Section 4A. The Class A State Individual Tournament begins Friday at Xcel Energy Center.
"It's all personal this year, I guess," Briard said. "I've got one job to take care of, and I'm looking for a state title. So I've got to keep working for it."
Briard will be making his second state tournament appearance, having battled injuries his freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year he came two seconds away from earning a spot in the semifinals at 285 pounds, but rebounded from that disappointment to come away with the fifth-place medal.
This year Briard is the favorite at 285, entering with No. 1 ranking in the state. However, he knows that rankings will mean little when action begins at 1 p.m. on Thursday.
"At this point of the season I don't think the rankings really mean too much of anything," Briard said. "Everyone's coming into the tournament basically like it's 0-0 for all the records, so it's a new season basically. You've got to go and take care of business."
Briard is the only River Valley wrestler that qualified for the tournament. The other area wrestlers joining him include seven from Sibley East, five from Wabasso/Red Rock Central, four from St. James, four from Lake Crystal Area and three from Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther.
The quartet of St. James wrestlers that will be competing are all seniors. However, that's where their similarities end.
Cody Hanson (113 pounds) has the most state tournament experience of the four, making his fourth appearance. Devin Wolle (182 pounds) is making his second appearance after having also qualified last year and Zach Gleiter (152) and Victor Torres (285) are making their state tournament debuts.
"I think all four of them have got a chance to win a couple matches in the state tournament," St. James head coach Gene Hildebrandt said. "Everybody's goal is if you win two in a row, you place in the state, and that's what they're going to go up there with. It's not going to be just to show up, look at the lights and google around up there... they have the chance, and I think they'll represent our school well."
While Torres says that, "What I'm absolutely hoping for is to get a medal," he admits, "I'll pretty much be happy with whatever I can get." When Torres first began wrestling, he never thought that making the state tournament was within his reach, so he will relish the experience no matter how it turns out.
"It means a lot, because I didn't really expect it," Torres said of qualifying for state. "When I first joined the sport, I didn't expect to be good at it or anything, I expected just to be one of the guys on the team. Making it to state, it's more than I ever thought I could do. So I'm happy."
Wolle's ambitions are similar to many of the wrestlers returning for an encore state tournament appearance.
"My goal this year is to place," Wolle said. "Last year I just wanted to make it, this year I want to place and do something at the state tournament."
Few wrestlers in the field have as much state tournament experience as M/T/ML senior Adam Cooling, who will be competing in his fifth straight tournament.
He won't be looking to improve on his performance from last year, since he is the reigning state champion at 160 pounds. Simply equaling last year's result will suffice for him.
"I feel pretty confident going in right now," Cooling said. "I guess it doesn't really matter what your record is going into state and whatnot, I'm just going out there trying to wrestle my best and trying to prove to everybody that I deserve to get that second state championship."
Cooling currently sits at 197 career victories, so his state tournament campaign could also include his 200th career victory along the way.
Joining Cooling in representing the Jayhawks are senior Bryon Forstner (132) and sophomore Jake Denn (195). Forstner competed at state last year, but Denn will be making his state tournament debut.
Being able to compete at state alongside Cooling will be extra special for Denn.
"It means a lot, because Adam's been my practice partner all year," Denn said. "He's taught me a lot, and I'm thankful for that. It will just be fun to go up there and wrestle with them guys."
The biggest roadblock standing in Denn's way will be Sibley East junior Nathan Rose, who is the defending state champion at 195 pounds.
Rose is currently ranked No. 1 in the state and is working on a second straight undefeated season. He knows as well as anyone what it takes to be successful in the state tournament.
"It starts this weekend now, you've just got to go out there and be ready to wrestle as soon as you get out there on the mat," Rose said. "You've just got to come out there and be ready to wrestle against anybody."
Rose will be joined by five teammates with state tournament experience - senior Aaron Bates (170), senior Miah DuFrane (220), sophomore Jason Meyer (126), sophomore Austin Brockhoff (132) and junior Hunter Retzlaff (138) - and one newcomer in junior Mitch Wentzlaff (145).
The seven Sibley East wrestlers will have a full schedule since they will also be competing in the team portion of the state tournament on Thursday.
"Our team, we worked hard this year and we got healthy at the end of the year and came out on top, and it's just going to be a fun experience being there with the team and as an individual," Brockhoff said.
Sibley East took the spot at the team portion of the tournament that belonged to Lake Crystal Area last year, but the Knights still have four individuals looking to make waves on Friday and Saturday.
The Knights are led by a five-time state entrant in senior Taner Trembley, who won the 132-pound state title last year. This year Trembley will compete at 138 pounds.
Sophomore Louie Sanders (120) is making his second state tournament appearance after having placed fifth last year, senior Davantay Corey (170) is making his third appearance and sophomore Nick Meixell (220) will be making his debut.
Rounding out the list of area wrestlers competing in the tournament are five wrestlers from W/RRC - junior Spencer Jenniges (113), junior TJ Fulton (132), senior Tanner Rohlik (145), sophomore Jordan Schroepfer (182) and junior Alex Schroepfer (285). Jenniges, Rohlik and Alex Schroepfer competed at last year's tournament, with Rohlik placing fifth at 138.
The first round of the Class A individual tournament will take place at 1 p.m. on Friday, with the quarterfinals to be contested at 7 p.m.. All wrestlebacks will immediately follow the quarterfinals.
The championship semifinals will begin at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, with the third and fifth place matches to follow at 5 p.m. The championship matches will be at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.