To be clear, Cambridge-Isanti wrestling coach Neil Jennissen is no fan of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 is a really tough disease that has caused a lot of grief and a lot of misery for a lot of people,” Jennissen said.
It also delayed the start of the high school wrestling season, and it caused the MSHSL to create a condensed regular season as well as a new format to advance to the state tournament.
That format change involved advancing each section’s top four wrestlers in every weight class into a “State Prelim,” which brought two sections together to determine an “Elite Eight” for next week’s state tournament.
Because the Class 3A meet, which was held at Coon Rapids on Saturday, March 20, was called the State Prelims, it meant that technically the Bluejackets advanced 10 wrestlers to the state meet.
“I guess it’s kind of a COVID gift to say 10 of our kids are going to wrestle in the State Prelims,” Jennissen said. “We were not seeded to get 10, so I would say in several cases we ‘wrestled above our seed,’ which is the goal. That means the kids peaked at the right time and wrestled well.”
The Bluejackets will be represented by one wrestler at the state meet, freshman Leo Edblad at 106 pounds. While he was not the top seed at his weight, Edblad posted a 3-0 record in the State Prelims, including a 7-0 victory over Forest Lake’s Parker Lyden in the championship match.
“Leo wrestled a really strong tournament,” Jennissen said. “He beat Parker Lyden for the third time this year, and it’s hard to beat a good wrestlers like Lyden three times in a row. But Leo brought the offense, and he never really allowed Parker to do what he wanted to do.”
Sophomore Treytin Byers came very close to joining Edblad at state. Byers lost his first-round match at 160 by a narrow 7-6 score, then won three straight matches to earn third place. Since he had not wrestled Elijah Madimba, who lost in the championship, Byers faced Madimba in a “true second” match and suffered a narrow 3-2 loss.
“I thought Treytin put together some really strong matches,” Jennissen said. “In the true second match I thought he had a takedown, but he didn’t get it – and lost 3-2. If he gets those points, perhaps his opponent tries to force things and maybe makes a mistake.
“But I thought Treytin really wrestled well in that upper weight class after wrestling at 138 last year. He was an eyelash away from making the final eight, and he put together a good tournament.”
Senior Andrew Stickney ended up fourth at 195 after rebounding from a first-round loss by posting two straight wins before losing in the consolation final by a narrow 3-2 margin.
“Andrew is only in his third year of wrestling, so it was nice to see him prove he belonged up there with the big boys,” Jennissen said. “He’s come a long way in a short amount of time.”
Jennissen also praised senior Wyatt Wothe, who won one of his three matches at 152 and proved to be a team leader on and off the mat.
“His weight class was pretty stacked, and I thought he wrestled well,” Jennissen said of Wothe.
And senior Logan Lindquist wrestled eventual champ Spencer Johnson of Sartell-St. Stephen in a tough match at 120, a result that was Johnson’s closest decision in the tournament.
“Through the second period, he was only down a point or two, and things kind of starting rolling against him in the third period,” Jennissen said of Lindquist. “But he wrestled Johnson as tough as anyone did.”
Seniors Brandon Austin at 138 and Devan Jones at 220 will join Lindquist, Wothe and Stickney as having finished their careers at the state meet, while Edblad, freshmen Braylon Davis at 113 and Maverick Henderson at 126, Byers at 160 and junior Scott Simpson at 285 can use the experience to improve heading into next season.
“We told the kids there would not be any easy matches – they would have to be ready to wrestle,” Jennissen said. “Section 7 has always been very tough to get through, and when you throw in Section 8, that makes it even tougher.
“They needed the experience to learn what wrestling at this level feels like – and to learn the work that it takes to wrestle well.”
North Branch dreams realized, then dashed
North Branch advanced an impressive six wrestlers to the Class 2A State Prelims hosted by Cannon Falls on Saturday, March 20.
“That total of six wrestlers matches the most wrestlers the school has ever qualified in a single season, and they would have qualified [for state] under the previous format as well,” North Branch assistant coach Kyle Kahl said. “That’s a great accomplishment for these young men, especially in such a difficult season.”
But the Vikings were unable to advance any wrestlers to this week’s state tournament, despite coming close at several weight classes.
The most heartbreaking result was for junior Brandt Bombard at 160. He collected a pin in his first match before suffering a 5-2 decision to Cole Glazier of Kasson-Mantourville. Undeterred, he responded with two pins in the consolation bracket to claim third place, as well a true second match for the chance to advance to state.
But in that match he was paired with Cael Berg of Simley, the top-ranked wrestler in the state at his weight class, and Bombard saw his season end with a 5-1 loss.
“Brandt had a tough bracket for sure, but any real competitor wants to face the best and have a chance to beat the best,” Kahl said. “While he came up short, he is already ready to train harder this offseason to prepare for next year.”
Senior Josh Logan won his first match at 145 before losing in the second round, then won his first consolation match before losing his third-place match to place fourth.
“We are proud of Josh and his senior season,” Kahl said. “He has been a great leader and mentor for our wrestling program.”
The other four North Branch wrestlers – eighth grader Evan Pommier at 106, junior Ashton LaBelle at 152, senior Caleb Norwig at 220, and junior Jackson Marcussen at 285 – each won one of the three matches they wrestled at the State Prelim.
Positive finish for Rush City-Braham
The Rush City-Braham wrestling team sent four wrestlers to the Class A State Prelim hosted by Cass Lake-Bena High School on Saturday, March 20.
The best finish was posted by junior Austin Sterling at 285 pounds. Sterling claimed a pin in his first-round match, then lost to drop into the consolation bracket. He rebounded to methodically grind out a pin in 5:02 of his first consolation match before losing his third-place bout to place fourth.
Sophomore Landon Umbreit lost his opening match at 126, but bounced back to record a pin in his next match before losing his consolation semifinal.
Freshman Gavon Schroeder faced a harsh road at 132 pounds, taking on the top seed from Section 8 in his first match and exiting with two losses, while senior Carson Shockman saw his high school career come to a close with two tough losses at 138.`