Get the oars ready because Minneota is bringing a boatload of wrestlers to the individual state tournament.
Peyton Gillund was the champion at 120 pounds, Zack Fier won the 145-pound title, Jonah Gruenes claimed the 170-pound title, and Jackson Esping was the 285-pound champ at the Section 5A individual tournament Saturday at Minnewaska Area High School outside of Glenwood.
Adam DeVlaeminck at 106 pounds and Troy Van Keulen at 126 both finished second to qualify for the state tournament.
The Vikings had four Section 5A champions, the most of any team in the tournament, and also had two runners-up. The Class A state individual tournament will be held March 3-5 at Xcel Energy Center.
"We feel that our guys went out and competed at a very high level on Saturday," said Minneota coach Matt Myrik. "We had a great day.
"You always go in feeling like you have a chance to get guys through to the state tournament. We really felt we have been having good practices and had a good shot at getting a decent amount through. Things just really went our way on Saturday."
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, the top-ranked team in Class A, and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City also qualified six wrestlers each to state. BBE had three champions and three runners-up, while ACGC had one champion and five runners-up.
"Things just really went our way on Saturday," Myrvik said. "Crowning four section champions and two runner-ups in this section is a great day."
DeVlaeminck (26-11), an eighth-grader, was 9-8 on varsity last season. He has improved greatly throughout the season and earned his first trip to state.
"I'm just competing harder and not giving up when I'm behind," he said.
DeVlaeminck reached the finals with a pair of easy wins, but Trey Gunderson (44-1) of KMS in the championship. Gunderson has been ranked No. 1 all season at 106 pounds.
"Adam has had a great regular season where he has competed against some very quality opponents," Myrvik said. "He is a wrestler that will compete until the end, no matter the score. He is relentless."
Gunderson took a 4-1 lead into the final period. He then scored a reversal for a 6-1 advantage before DeVlaeminck narrowed the gap to 6-3 with a reversal. Gunderson closed out with an escape and a takedown for a 9-3 win.
"I faced him once early in the season and he tech-falled me," DeVlaeminck said. "I competed harder against him this time."
Gillund (32-7), a junior, was considered a state entrant last year after qualifying through the Super Section, although he didn't get to wrestle at the Xcel Center.
"Peyton is a competitor that will really give you everything he has," said Myrvik. "He continues to improve on his feet and is very dominant in the top position with his cradles. We are excited for him to get an opportunity at the Xcel."
He reached the championship with a pin and a 7-0 decision. In the final, Gillund faced Bradey Kiecker of BOLD for the first time in his career.
Gillund had Kiecker on his back in the opening period and led 5-0. Kiecker fought back to tie the match 5-5. Gillund then got a reversal before Kiecker got an escape point.
Leading 7-6 entering the final period, Gillund started down and got a reversal with 1:35 left and eventually won 9-6.
"I felt pretty confident that I could advance to state," Gillund said. "My key was to not get nervous and just wrestle."
Gillund credits his continued improvement to being more confident on the mat.
"My goal at state is to come home with a medal," he stated.
Van Keulen (26-11), a senior, continues to improve and nearly knocked off heavily favored Ryan Jensen (41-3) of BBE in the 126-pound championship, losing only 3-0.
"I knew I had a shot at making (state) and I knew I had to wrestle my best," he said. "My biggest concern was wrestling my hardest and believing in myself."
Myrvik said Van Keulen is the team's most improved wrestler.
"Troy has improved so much on his feet and in the bottom position," said Myrvik. "He had a great tournament and gave himself a chance in the finals, was in on some great shots and we really feel he outwrestled Jensen."
This will be Van Keulen's first state tournament appearance.
"I give credit to my coaches for pushing me to work hard and give my best effort," said Van Keulen about his steady improvement. "At state, I want to wrestle to my ability and do the best I can do. I am hoping to place, but if that doesn't happen, I know I gave it my all."
Fier avenged several previous losses to Brady Holien of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City and came away with a 7-6 victory in his championship match. Tied 6-6 in the third period after Holien scored a reversal with 1:11 left, Fier earned an escape point with 30 seconds remaining and hung on for the win.
"I've wrestled Holien probably seven or eight times in my life," Fier noted. "This was the first time beating him, so it felt really good."
Fier (17-5), a junior who went to state last year and finished fourth at 145 pounds, has endured a tough season, fighting back from a torn meniscus that he suffered in the second tournament of the season.
"I feel like two months out of surgery, nobody will be back to 100 percent, but it feels better and better every day," Fier said. "I was prepared for the matches. The coaches stayed after practice and worked with me to get in better shape and work on my technique. My goal is to stand pretty high on the podium this year."
Myrvik said two words stand out when describing Fier.
"Determined and tough," the coach said. "He is still battling an injury, but he never makes excuses. He just gets it done."
Gruenes (37-1), a senior, is coming off a third-place finish at 160 pounds a year ago. This will be his third straight state appearance.
In the section tournament, he dominated all three of his opponents, winning his first two matches by technical fall, and then routing Jake Mortenson (32-12) of ACGC 8-1 in the championship.
Gruenes scored a takedown in the opening period, an escape in the second, and then put Mortenson on his back with a cradle for nearfall points on his way to the win.
"I went into sections confident in myself that I would perform well and win my bracket," he said. "I had already beaten Mortenson once before this season, so I just had to stick to what I'm good at and wrestle with confidence."
Gruenes now had his eye on the big prize in his final year wrestling for Minneota, saying "My goal at state is now to end the season right and win a state championship."
"Jonah wrestles a style that is hard for his opponents to figure out and he works extremely hard to improve each week," said Myrvik. "He is very good at looking at his opponents and studying them before he wrestles them."
Esping (10-0), a senior who had wrestled only seven matches this season entering the section tournament due to injuries, pinned his first two section opponents in the first period and then was pitted against Terrell Renne (32-12) of ACGC in the final. After a scoreless first period, Esping notched an escape and takedown in the second period for a 3-0 lead and went on to a 3-1 victory.
"I stayed focused, making sure I stuck to my bread and butter and not letting him throw me," said Esping, "and just listening to my coaches and being smart on the mat."
“My keys to win in the finals was focusing in, making sure I stick to my bread and butter, not letting him throw me, just listening to my coaches and being smart on the mat.”
Esping, who was fifth in the state at 220 pounds a season ago, has had to deal with a pair of injuries that kept him out of the lineup most of the season.
"I tore my meniscus in my right knee during football season, but we decided to play and wrestle through it," Esping explained. "During my third match this year, I hyperextended my toe, causing a bone to break in my foot. After that, my family and I made a decision to get knee surgery and let the foot heal. I would I am not 100 percent, but I am as healthy as I can be until after wrestling season."
Esping admitted to being nervous heading into the section tournament.
"But I knew if I just wrestled smart, I could win it," he said. "My biggest concern was making a bad decision during a match and getting caught on my back."
His goal at state is simple.
"My goal is to cherish every moment of my last high school matches and to win a state championship," he revealed.
Esping has worked hard to return to the mat and return to the state tournament.
"Since his return, he has looked really good and has wrestled some smart matches," Myrvik acknowledged. "Jackson is a very hard worker and willing to push himself through adversity."
And now these six young men have earned the right to compete at the highest level in the state.
"Right now, our focus is on what we have in front of us with the state tournament," Myrvik stated. "But we believe that success in the section tam or individuals will help lead others to work harder or realize that they, too, can have that opportunity if they put in the effort. Wrestling is a very tough sport and very unforgiving. Hard work and effort will carry you a long way."
ADAM DEVLAEMINCK ... Quarterfinals: Won by 10-0 major decision over Cody Klepel, Ortonville ... Semifinals: Won by 8-2 decision over Eli Greenman, Canby ... Championship: lost 9-3 decision to Trey Gunderson, KMS ... State qualifiers: (1) Trey Gunderson, KMS (2) Adam DeVlaeminck, Minneota
QUINTON ANDERSON ... Quarterfinals: lost by 17-1 technical fall to Tanner Kautz, BOLD ... Wrestlebacks: was pinned by Trey Schmidt, ACGC, :49 ... State qualifiers: (1) Chase Smith, Minnewaska Area (2) Issac Guzman, Canby
PEYTON GILLUND - Quarterfinals: pinned Preston Welling, Paynesville Area, :29 ... Semifinals: won by 7-0 decision over Noah Johnson, KMS ... Championship: won by 12-6 decision over Brady Kiecker, BOLD ... State qualifiers: (1) Peyton Gillund, Minneota (2) Brady Kiecker, BOLD
TROY VAN KEULEN - Quarterfinals: pinned Taytan Nielsen, KMS, 1:31 ... Semifinals: won by 8-0 major decision over Edwyn Gonzalez, ACGC, 8-0 ... Championship: lost 3-0 decision to Ryan Jensen, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa ... State qualifiers: (1) Ryan Jensen, BBE (2) Troy Van Keulen, Minneota
CHASE JOHNSON - Quarterfinals: was pinned by Cole Holien, ACGC, :40 ... Wrestlebacks: pinned Jacob Hartman, Ortonville, :35 ... lost 11-0 major decision to Sam Drietz, Canby ... State qualifiers: (1) Walker Bents, BBE (2) Cole Holien, ACGC
KADE LOZINSKI - Quarterfinals: was pinned by Lane Fink, Canby, 3:41 .... Wrestlebacks: pinned Alex Whitcup, Benson, 2:26 ... lost 5-4 decision to Tyler Jensen, BBE ... 5th place: pinned Mason Schiffler, Minnewaska Area, 2:58 ... State qualifiers: (1) Austin Kiecker, BOLD (2) Lane Fink, Canby
ZACK FIER - Quarterfinals: pinned Trent Eastman, Ortonville, :34 ... Semifinals: pinned Jeff Olson, KMS, 4:36 ... Championship: won 7-6 decision over Brady Holien, ACGC ... State qualifiers: (1) Zack Fier, Minneota (2) Brady Holien, ACGC
ELI GRUENES - Quarterfinals: lost 4-3 decision to Ely Johnson, KMS ... Wrestlebacks: pinned Sawyer Verhelst, Canby, 2:38 ... lost 12-2 major decision to Mason Studeman, ACGC ... 5th place: won 11-3 major decision over Trenton LeClaire, Paynesville Area ... State qualifiers: (1) Blaine Fischer, BBE (2) Jacob Blair, Minnewaska Area
NO ENTRY ... State Qualifiers: (1) Coy Gunderson, KMS (2) Maximus Hanson, BBE
JONAH GRUENES - Quarterfinals: won 17-1 technical fall over Aaron Jones, KMS ... Semifinals: won 16-1 technical fall over Aaron Mages, Paynesville ... Championship: won 8-1 decision over Jake Mortenson, ACGC ... State qualifiers: (1) Jonah Gruenes, Minneota (2) Jake Mortenson, ACGC
ALEX DEPESTEL - Quarterfinals: lost 7-4 decision to Nathan Bolduc, Benson ... Wrestlebacks: lost 6-0 decision to Logan Straumann, ACGC ... 5th place: won 7-4 decision over Chase Boelke, MInnewaska Area ... State qualifiers: (1) Peyton Hemmesch, Paynesville Area (2) Carson Gilbert, BBE
KYLER LOZINSKI - Quarterfinals: was pinned by Nathan Rankin, Minnewaska Area, 3:02 ... Wrestlebacks: was pinned by Masyn Olson, KMS, :29 ... 7th place: Bye ... State qualifiers: (1) Thomas Dineen, Benson (2) Isaiah Renne, ACGC
HUDSON SCHOLTEN - Quarterfinals: pinned Noah Jensen, Minnewaska Area, :45 ... Semifinals: lost 8-0 major decision to Jason Behm, ACGC ... Wrestlebacks: pinned Collin Johnson, KMS, :54 ... 3rd place: lost 3-1 decision to Spencer Eisenbraun, Paynesville Area ... State qualifiers: (1) Jaxon Behm, ACGC (2) Ethan Spanier, BBE
JACKSON ESPING - Quarterfinals: pinned James Conrad, Ortonville, :41 ... Semifinals: pinned Bryce Feuerhake, BBE, 1:56 ... Championship: won 3-0 decision over Terrell Renne, ACGC ... State qualifiers: (1) Jackson Esping, Minneota (2) Terrell Renne, ACGC