Last week found the best of the best that Minnesota has to offer under one roof in St. Paul. The XCEL Energy Center is home to the holy grail of high school wrestling in our state and the best teams and individuals left it all on the mat over the 2nd, 3rd and 4th.
During the last decade the West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville Knight program has created a bit of a dynasty. The team now enters each season with a section title and state berth in mind. It has also has a habit of sending around half of the members as individuals to compete in St. Paul. That does not happen by accident or by just showing up to practice on the first day of season. This staff and its wrestlers are incredibly dedicated to their craft and the proverbial proof is in the pudding! This season the Knights repeated as the Section 6A champs and sent 7 individuals.
The team portion of the tournament happens on Thursday. Up first the Knights drew the #1 ranked Jackson County Central Huskies. The Huskies are the returning state champs from a year ago and looked the part this season too as they won 10 out of the 14 matches wrestled and finished with a score of 48-17. There is no shame in losing to a team like the Huskies as they bludgeoned their way to back to back titles. The remarkable part of this is that in each of their duals, they blew all the other teams away while wrestling some of their subs and backups...talk about incredible depth!
This loss put the Knights into the consolation bracket. Next up were the Royalton-Upsala Royals. The Royals entered the tournament ranked the #4 team in the state and are studded with great wrestlers, they had beaten the Knights several weeks prior. The dual started out strong with Evan Dingwall and Owen Gruchow gathering wins. R/U answered back with a pair of wins of their own. In fact, the entire dual was exactly that, a strategic showdown of chess that gave each team a back and forth advantage. Adam Lohse, Solomon Wales, Hunter Gruchow, Anthony Sykora and Beau Robinson all gathered victories which set the stage at heavyweight as follows...the Knights were down 28-29. Coach Brandon Gruchow had made a switch at the top two weights in order to get a little height leverage in the final match. Will Rustan was thrust onto the mat, his mission was to gain a victory over the #6 ranked heavyweight in the state. Rustan wrestled brilliantly and kept his larger opponent at bay with Russian arm ties and circling movement on the mat. When regulation time ran out the score was tied up at 1-1. The big man for the Royals was running out of air and it appeared Rustan had some left in the tank as he gained an overtime victory and win for his team by way of a 2-1 decision. The monkey that followed the Knights all season of beating a top 10 team was lifted as they moved past the Royals by a score of 31-29.
The previous win put the Knights into the consolation finals. They would wrestle the Medford Tigers for 5 and 6th place. Medford is a team the Knights have little history with. They have a very solid lower and middle lineup but less power up top. Dingwall started off the Knights with a first period fall but it unraveled from that point on. The Tigers gathered 8 wins out of the next 9 matches with 6 of them earning bonus points. The damage following the 170 lb match had been done as Medford had stretched the score out 37-12 and there was just not enough available points left to do the deed. Sitting in the stands next to Anthony Sykora's father Lee, we agreed to sit back and enjoy watching our big guys finish out the dual, 3 of whom were seniors wrestling the final match with their team. Anthony, Beau Robinson and Will Rustan all won by fall. The final match gave the Knight fans a bit more time to enjoy the season as Justin Blascyk gruelled out the regular time, the first, second and third overtimes and finally put his opponent away with an ultimate overtime decision. The Knights had entered the tournament ranked 7th. They finished with a 6th place finish. This may not be everything they wanted but reaching the state tournament and wrestling in one of the medal rounds is a legit season and all of us in Knight Nation are beaming with pride.
Photo credit: Tammie Olson
Photo credit: Tammie Olson
Photo credit: Tammie Olson
Photo credit: Tammie Olson
A pair of Knight wrestlers made the Wells Fargo All-Tournament Team. Hunter Gruchow and Anthony Sykora were awarded the honors.
Individuals began on Friday morning. The Knights had 7 grapplers competing including Owen Gruchow, Solomon Wales, Hunter Gruchow, Anthony Sykora, Beau Robinson, Will Rustan and Justin Blascyk. Fortunately for wrestling fans the Grand Daddy of venues has awesome wrestling to watch. This means great wrestlers and that means when there are 16 man brackets, not everyone will finish in the top 6. By the end of day one the tournament had claimed a pair of Knights. Rustan and Blascyk were eliminated. This meant 5 of the wrestlers were still alive on day two, with a pair of them still in the championship bracket! The blood round is what the sport calls the final qualifying matches to see who medals. Beau Robinson ended his career at this point. A quartet of Knights were still in action and having reached this point all four were going home with hardware. Owen Gruchow was in the 5th place match, Solomon Wales in the 3rd place match and Hunter Gruchow and Anthony Sykora were is competing for a state title! Unfortunately, the ball did not bounce WCAABE’s way. All four final bouts ended in defeat. However, by no means does this take away from any of the men who competed on either Friday or Saturday. You are all 7 fantastic wrestlers, you proved that by getting to the X. You all provided an excellent season and in three cases career. From each of your coaches, all the fans and your families, we thank you for all that you provided us. For the 4 medalists, you each had your own visions and goals. Some were and some were not met. To reach the podium is in itself a major accomplishment. The state tournament is a brutal affair and taxing on every level an athlete has. For Owen, Solomon and Hunter, you each now have a taste of something you didn’t have before, use that and grow from it. Anthony, your career is unrivaled in your school and blows away most of the history in this great state of wrestling. Congratulations to you all, thank you for your time in this sport and the moments you provided us.
Milestones reached at the state tournament include: Owen Gruchow earning his 50th career fall, Beau Robinson gathering his 75th career victory, and Hunter Gruchow earning his 75th career pin. Anthony Sykora picked up the ‘Fastest Fall of the Week’ when he put his R/U opponent to the mat in 11 seconds. Knight Nation itself has earned ‘Wrestler of the Week’. The athletes, coaches, families and fans are second to none. It is a well deserved honor to all of you.
Other Section 6A place winners include: 113: Cole Sykora (Border West) 3rd place, 126: Eli Larson (Border West) 2nd place, 145: David Revering (Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie) 5th place, 160: Simon Snyder (New York Mills) 4th place, 138 Girls: Abby Ervasti (BHVPP) Champion.
Coach Gruchow will close out the season with a few thoughts, “The calm after the storm, Sunday morning after the MN State Wrestling Tournament has a much different feel to it than the prior few days. The hype and excitement are not there but instead a ton of emotions and feelings are swarming me. It was a great state tournament. Of course there were great moments and like every state tournament some not so great moments. Team competition was fun and the guys fought hard to get to the top 6 in the state. Pulling together and getting the win vs Royalton was very rewarding. The individual competition was tough but we earned 4 medals and the individuals all fought hard to earn them. Bringing home 4 medals is pretty darn good! The state tournament is full of great wrestlers, its tough to win matches let alone a title but the toughness is what makes it fun! Sure, we all want to bring home the gold but unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. I feel extremely grateful to work with such an awesome group of wrestlers and coaches. Blessed to have such a supportive wife and family that lives the sport right along with me. I have been feeling happy for all we accomplished and feeling sad for all the goals that were not met. Feeling proud to be a Knight and as always look forward to another season! Thank you to all of you that have supported the Knights Wrestling Team throughout the season!”