25 set their sights on state

ST. PAUL – The 2013-14 wrestling season has all come down to this.

After months of intense practices, strict diets and competitive matches, 25 of the area’s best wrestlers will put their talents to the test at the Minnesota high school state tournament this weekend at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

There are three top-ranked wrestlers from the area that will be competing: Louis Sanders of Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial Area (126 pounds), Nathan Rose of Sibley East (195) and Alex Schroepfer of Wabasso/Red Rock Central (heavyweight). Sanders won the 120-pound title last season, while Rose is a two-time undefeated state champion at 195.

“The first year he went undefeated, he had a lot to prove,” said Sibley East coach Chad Johnson of Rose. “Last year, I think he knew he was pretty dominant. I think this year, he’s kind of stepped up the game a little bit.

“He knows he’s going to be wrestling for the Minnesota Gophers next year and he’s going to be getting good guys every day.”

Unlike the past two seasons, Rose goes into this year’s tournament without an undefeated record. Rose’s lone loss on the season came on Feb. 1 to Lance Benick, a junior from Totino-Grace who is ranked No. 1 in the country at 195 pounds in InterMat’s national poll.

“At the time, Nathan was ranked No. 2 in the country,” Johnson said. “We went to a tournament where we could see [Benick] and he beat Nathan pretty good – I think it was 9-2 maybe.

“Nathan went 120 matches in a row without losing until that match. He pressured himself too much. To be totally honest with you, he looked awful that day.”

Rose and Benick will not meet at state since Totino-Grace is in Class AA.

Sibley East has four other ranked wrestlers who qualified for state – No. 4 Tanner Pasvogel (106 pounds), No. 3 Jason Meyer (132), No. 2 Austin Brockhoff (138) and No. 2 Hunter Retzlaff (145).

Sanders, the other returning state champion, is 35-2 on the season after moving up from 120 pounds to 126.

Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial Area has the most state qualifiers with nine, which ties a school record.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Dalton Elliott, who earned a state berth by winning the Section 4A title at 160 pounds. “We’re going to go up there on a mission. You know it’s a business trip, but I’m just excited to go have fun with all the guys that made it up there.”

LC-WM Area’s success at the section tournament came one week after it was knocked off as the No. 1 seed by Sibley East in the Section 4A dual finals. Sibley East is making its second-straight trip to the state duals, which take place on Thursday before the state tournament Friday and Saturday.

LC-WM Area had two state champions last season – Sanders at 120 pounds and then-senior Taner Trembley at 138 – but Sibley East will try to replicate that and more come Friday and Saturday.

“With all the good wrestlers in the state of Minnesota, I legitimately think we have a chance to get three guys in the finals,” Johnson said. “I think there are five guys that probably have a chance of being there and it’d be nice to get three in the state finals.”

As for Rose, expectations could not be any higher for the University of Minnesota commit. When asked if he expects to have his hand raised in the state finals for a third-straight time, Rose simply said, “Definitely.”

Other highlights from around the area include:

– One season after placing third at sections and missing a trip to state, both Sam Baier and Tim Krueger earned state berths for River Valley.

“It’s always nice to see kids get better,” said River Valley coach Todd Bertram. “This is probably going to be the last time that we have wrestling on our own before we merge into a different kind of co-op, so it’s to be able to go out with a bang, so to speak.”

Bertram said River Valley’s situation in changing co-ops is still in the works.

– Wabasso/Red Rock Central’s Alex Schroepfer is the only No. 1 in the area who is not defending a state title – the heavyweight finished fifth last season.

However, the 280-pound Schroepfer presents a unique challenge to the typically slower pace of heavyweight wrestlings.

“He’s incredibly fast for a heavyweight,” said W/RRC co-head coach Brett Bartholomus in January. “He’s got good agility and his technique has really come a long way. He’s going to be tough.”

The Bobcats’ other qualifiers are No. 2 Spencer Jenniges (120 pounds), No. 4 Jordan Schroepfer (170) and Jared Welch (220).

Jenniges placed second last season at 113 pounds. Welch, a freshman, is making his first state appearance.

– Mario Garcia earned St. James Area’s lone qualifying bid after upsetting LC-WM Area’s Wallace Michels in the semifinals of last weekend’s section tournament in an 8-2 decision. This comes one season after the Saints had three state qualifiers – all of whom were seniors.

– Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther has one state qualifier in junior Jake Denn, who lost to Rose in the 195-pound finals of the Section 4A meet.

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