ST. PAUL - The 24 area wrestlers that qualified for the Class A individual state wrestling tournament included a number of wrestlers poised to contend for some serious hardware.
They didn't disappoint on Friday in the opening rounds of the tournament.
A total of 10 wrestlers won both of their matches to advance to today's championship semifinals. Earlier in the day, 15 of the 24 won their first-round matches.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Zack Gleiter of St. James (top) pinned Nick Staford of Border West at 152 pounds in the opening round of the Class A individual state wrestling tournament at the Xcel Center in St. Paul on March 1.
After taking care of what they needed to on Friday, the 10 wrestlers still in state title contention will now need to regroup to prepare for today's medal rounds.
Included in that number is River Valley senior Lance Briard, who is ranked No. 1 at 285 pounds and has his sights set very firmly on a state championship.
"It felt good, I felt like I took care of the business I needed to take care of," Briard said of his performance on Friday. "I feel good about it, but what's done is done. I've got to get in here for weigh-ins, go back to the hotel, get a good night's sleep and then come back tomorrow and finish the whole thing."
A day after finishing fourth in the team tournament, Sibley East had three of its seven entrants in the individual tournament advance to the semifinals. Wabasso/Red Rock Central also had three wrestlers advance, Lake Crystal Area had two wrestlers and River Valley and Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther each had a single wrestler reach the semifinals.
Some of the 10 semifinalists had a relatively easy time advancing, such as Briard, who earned pins in both his matches. A few had to work a bit harder, including reigning state champion Adam Cooling of M/T/ML.
After an opening round match that finished closer than he would have liked, Cooling faced Royalton/Upsala's Mitch Lange in the quarterfinals at 160 pounds. Lange entered the match with a 38-1 record, with his only loss on the season coming against Cooling.
Cooling held only a 1-0 lead after two periods, with an escape by Lange early in the third period tying the match at 1-1. However, Cooling was able to produce a takedown that proved to be the difference, with the match ending in a 3-2 decision.
"I had some nerves going for me, I knew from last time I wrestled him it was going to be a close match," Cooling said. "I knew I just had to get that one takedown and that would seal the match for me, and luckily I picked that up in the third."
Cooling was also forced to work for a victory in his opening match against BOLD's Alex Hatch. Cooling held only a 3-0 lead until a last-second takedown in the second period gave him some breathing room. He ended up winning the match with a 7-0 decision.
Despite the close calls on Friday, Cooling knows what it will take for him to earn his second state title today.
"Just go out there and don't hold anything back," Cooling said. "I did that today and the matches were a lot closer than I wanted them to be. Now it kind of makes me realize I'm going to have to just go out there and give it all I've got, and hopefully it turns out the best for me."
Briard was close to advancing to the semifinals at last year's state tournament, but was pinned with one second remaining in his quarterfinal match.
This year he made amends in a big way, winning his quarterfinal matchup against Benson's Tyler Jenson with a pin in 3:04.
The match was left scoreless after the first period, but Briard had a plan for the second period and executed it perfectly, throwing Benson to his back for a quick pin.
"I was kind of setting him up for that throw," Briard said. "He had his double overhooks and I just kind of bear-hugged him a little bit, dropped my hips a little bit and he tried throwing it. I just dropped my hips and let go and he fell right to his back."
Briard pinned first-round opponent Wyatt Fitterer of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in 1:47.
Sibley East had a pair of veterans advance to the semifinals in junior Nathan Rose and senior Aaron Bates.
Bates earned a 6-3 decision against Chatfield's Cody Bly in the first round. He then had little trouble in his quarterfinal match against Frazee's Tyler Ziegler, an opponent he defeated in the team tournament on Thursday, pinning Ziegler in just 49 seconds.
Rose - the defending state champion at 195 pounds - was tested in his quarterfinal matchup with Chatfield's Justin Viss.
Rose took a 4-2 lead into the third period and added some breathing room with a reversal in the third period, but Viss earned an escape and produced a takedown with five seconds left in the match. However, Rose's buffer held up as he earned a 6-5 decision.
Rose pinned opening round opponent Travis Johnson of Pierz in 1:59.
Sibley East also had a first-time semifinalist in junior Hunter Retzlaff, who won his quarterfinal at 138 pounds against United South Central's Derek Herman by a 5-3 decision.
"I'm ecstatic right now," Retzlaff said. "The team did well yesterday, I just hope to keep doing well through all my matches. Going 2-0 today just tops it off, hopefully I can keep it up and go 2-0 tomorrow."
Retzlaff won his first round match against Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City's Logan Peterson by a 9-4 decision. Retzlaff defeated Peterson by a 1-0 score on Thursday in the team competition.
Lake Crystal Area's Louie Sanders (120) won his quarterfinal against Pierz's Brandon Sullivan with an 11-2 major decision. Sanders earned a 13-2 major decision in his first-round match.
LCA Teammate Taner Trembley kept on track in his quest for a second straight state title by earning an 18-2 technical fall in the first round against Dylan Boettcher of St. Clair/Mankato Loyola and a much narrower 3-1 decision against Kimball Area's Marcus Hamer in the quarterfinals.
W/RRC's three semifinalists are Spencer Jenniges, TJ Fulton and Tanner Rohlik.
Wrestling at 113 pounds, Jenniges won by a 7-3 decision in the first round against Badger/Greenbush-Middle River's Wyatt Becker and then won his quarterfinal against Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Joey Majerus by a 9-1 decision.
Fulton led throughout his opening round match against Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted's Chris Cox at 132, finishing with a 10-1 major decision. He added a 9-4 decision in his quarterfinal match-up against Border West's Gus McCarthy, who previously had only one loss on the season.
Rohlik pinned West Central Area/Ashby/Evansville's Royal Crow in the first round at 145 and earned a 10-4 decision against Holdingford's Trevor Scott in the quarterfinals.
The five area wrestlers to lose in the quarterfinal round were Jason Meyer and Austin Brockhoff of Sibley East, M/T/ML senior Bryon Forstner, W/RRC senior Alex Schroepfer and St. James senior Zack Gleiter.
Gleiter provided a first-round highlight at 152 pounds by pinning Border West's Nick Stafford in just 1:42 in a match that Stafford was favored to win.
"It feels good," Gleiter said after the win. "I didn't expect it, but I guess I got it, so that's good... I just stayed up on the base and I did a switch and caught him."
Gleiter lost in the quarterfinals by an 8-4 decision against Pine Island's Sam McPhail.
Forstner provided a different kind of drama in his first-round victory, taking his match against Aitkin's Noah Landrus at 132 to the wire before eking out a 4-3 decision.
Forstner trailed 3-2 late in the match before Landrus took a brief medical timeout. With about 30 seconds remaining, Forstner was able to manufacture a take down to take the lead and then rode out the remainder of the match for the dramatic victory.
"I should have wrestled better, but a win's a win," Forstner said. "I was scared at first not to win my match, but then my brother told me to keep going at it, then I picked up the victory, because he motivated me."
Forstner's brother, Andy, is a former state champion and is currently an assistant coach for the Jayhawks.
"He's a state champion, and kind of motivates me, from being the little brother and coming into the state and hopefully placing this year," Bryon Forstner said.
Meyer advanced in the first round at 126 by the narrowest of margins, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period and holding on for a 2-1 decision against United North Central's Jake Malone. Brockhoff earned an 11-2 major decision victory against New York Mills' Tyler Ehnert in his first round match at 132, but lost in the quarterfinals to Chatfield's Harvey Friederichs by a 2-0 decision. Friederichs previously defeated Brockhoff with a pin in the team tournament on Thursday.
Schroepfer had a strong opening to his tournament with a pin of St. James senior Victor Torres in 1:22 in the opening round, but lost his quarterfinal by a 4-2 decision against Blooming Prairie's Jarrod Grunklee.
Area wrestlers that lost in the first round of action were M/T/ML sophomore Jake Denn (195); Cody Hanson (113), Devin Wolle (182) and Torres (285) of St. James; Mitch Wentzlaff (145) and Miah DuFrane (220) of Sibley East; Davantay Corey (170) and Nick Meixell (220) of Lake Crystal Area and W/RRC sophomore Jordan Schroepfer (182).
Hanson, Torres, Corey, Meixell and Jordan Schroepfer weren't fortunate enough to qualify for wrestlebacks, leaving them with one-and-done campaigns.
Eight area wrestlers did compete in wrestlebacks late Friday night. Meyer, Brockhoff and Alex Schroepfer won their wrestlebacks to continue their pursuit for a spot on the podium, but Forstner, Gleiter, Wolle, Denn and DuFrane lost their wrestlebacks and were eliminated.
Today's action begins with consolation quarterfinals at 10 a.m., with the championship semifinals to follow at 11:15 a.m.
While 11 of the 24 area wrestlers that began the day on Friday are done with their tournaments, for the 10 semifinalists and three wrestleback winners, they are done putting themselves in position to earn some hardware - today they will have to go out and get it.
"I'll probably be pretty pumped and excited, and really nervous," Retzlaff said. "I've just got to come out there and wrestle 100 percent and hopefully things go my way. If not, I've just got to keep wrestling my other matches."