March 11, 2010 at 10:43 a.m.

Morrison and Kostik fall just short of individual state titles for North Branch

Both Vikings knocked out by eventual state champions
Morrison and Kostik fall just short of individual state titles for North Branch
Morrison and Kostik fall just short of individual state titles for North Branch

Their only senior on North Branch's roster, John Morrison, led a contingent of four Viking wrestlers to this year's state tournament, held last week at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Morrison made it all the way to the 285-pound Class AA championship match, losing 8-6 to sophomore Austin Goergen of Caledonia/Houston to take home a second place trophy. Junior Jake Kostik came in third place at 119, with his only loss coming to sophomore Joey Munos of South St. Paul, the eventual state champion. Juniors Pat Mork (140) and Justin Bergerson (215) both participated in the tournament and had very close matches, but did not place.

Morrison opened up his run at the championship with a dominating performance against senior Jacob Barker of Monticello. He forced Barker to play defense for much of the first period and got a takedown with 35 seconds left. Morrison started to pin Barker with about 20 seconds left and accomplished his goal with just seven seconds remaining in the period to secure an opening round victory.

Next up for Morrison was Casey Johnson of Kasson-Mantorville, who was ranked number one earlier in the year. Morrison had lost to Johnson in four overtimes in last year's state tournament. It once again became a war of attrition, and the two big grapplers were tied 1-1 at the end of regulation. Neither one scored in the first overtime. Morrison, starting on the bottom in the second overtime, managed an escape to take a 2-1 lead. "With a lead," said Aho, "we had talked to John about riding in overtime. John rode Johnson for all 30 seconds in overtime for the big win. I thought this was the toughest match in the whole tourney for John and he really held it together well mentally."

Morrison showed some uncharacteristic aggressiveness in his semifinal match against sophomore Jesse Hein of Perham. 20 seconds into the first period, he ran at Hein and took him down with something that looked like a football tackle for a 2-0 lead. Morrison rode Hein for the rest of the period. He chose down at the beginning of the second period and escaped immediately to increase his lead to 3-0. There was a lot of hugging and stalling for most of the rest of the match. Hein was awarded a penalty point early in the third period. Still trailing Morrison 3-1 with half a minute left in the match, Hein tried a desperation takedown move. But Morrison was ready for it and turned it into a takedown of his own, coming away with a 5-1 win and a shot at the championship.

Morrison began his championship match against Goergen with the same aggressiveness he showed against Hein. It paid off early for Morrison, as he got a takedown just 30 seconds into the match for a 2-0 lead. Morrison, clearly the stronger wrestler, rode Goergen for most of the period. Goergen escaped late in the first period to cut Morrison's lead to 2-1 after one.

Morrison started on the bottom in the second period and scored a reversal 27 seconds into the period to increase his lead to 4-1. He looked to be in control, even after Goergen's escape just ten seconds later made it 4-2. Morrison took Goergen down again just 30 seconds later to go up 6-2. He was seemingly comfortably ahead and still dominating the match. But Morrison started to look a little tired after the takedown. Goergen scored a reversal with 41 seconds left in the second period to cut Morrison's lead to 6-4. Morrison nearly escaped with a few seconds left in the period, but didn't quite come free.

Goergen got a takedown early in the third period to tie the score 6-6. Morrison looked spent. Goergen rode him for much of the period. With little time remaining, Goergen tried a pin move and was awarded two points for a near-fall, giving him an 8-6 lead. Morrison stayed on the bottom for the last few seconds of the match. Goergen claimed the championship and Morrison ended up with a well-earned second place finish.

"John was feeling pretty good before the match," said Aho. "He came out well. The other kid moved well on the bottom and that seemed to wear John out. But that's the way it goes. As a coach, I always wonder if I could have done a little more to help him out. I still think John was the better wrestler. If he wrestled this guy ten times, I think John would win nine of the matches. Unfortunately, this was the tenth one."

Aho talked more about his graduating heavyweight. John was the only senior on the team," said Aho. "He's going to be hard to replace. He's the kind of guy you like to have closing off duals. He showed a lot of leadership. Years from now he's going to be able to say he was in the state final match, and that's nothing to be ashamed of. He had a great career and a great tourney."

Kostik's first-round opponent, junior Matt Fuller of Annandale/Maple Lake, was very aggressive at the start of the match and took an early lead. Fuller was strong on his feet as he and Kostik battled back and forth throughout the match. Fuller took a 9-7 lead late in the third period. Annandale fans were screaming "let him go, let him go!", figuring that letting Kostik escape would still leave Fuller with a 9-8 that he could hang on to for the rest of the match since he was wrestling well on his feet. But Fuller's coach told him to ride Kostik. Kostik took advantage of the situation for a reversal to tie the match with a few seconds left and send it into overtime. Very early in overtime, Kostik used a fireman's carry for a takedown and an 11-9 win.

Senior Donovan Sullivan of Kasson-Mantorville, Kostik's next opponent, was highly-ranked at the beginning of the season. Kostik wrestled very aggressively on his feet. With just under a minute left in the second period, Kostik caught Sullivan in a nearside cradle and put him on his back. Sullivan missed a chance to get to his base and get away, and Kostik pinned him with 40 seconds left in the period and moved on to the semifinals.

Kostik grabbed a leg early in the semifinal match against Munos, but Munos thwarted that attempt and responded with a takedown at 0:37. Munos shook off an apparent head injury and went back to work. Late in the period, Kostik escaped to cut the deficit to one. The defining moment of the match came right before the period ended. Munos tried an aggressive move and wound up with a takedown and a near fall, stretching his lead to 7-1. After another takedown by Munos early in the third period, Kostik used an escape and a takedown to cut Munos' lead to 9-4 after two periods. But Munos did the only scoring of the third period, with a reversal and near-fall making the final score 14-4 and sending Kostik into the wrestlebacks.

Kostik dominated his next opponent, senior Dylan Wright of Simley, with a dazzling array of takedowns and back points. He won 13-6 to set up a third-place match with senior Jon Ebert of Totino Grace. Ebert put Kostik down on his back right away for a takedown and near-fall and a 5-0 lead. Kostik battled back and cut Wright's lead to 6-5 late in the match. Aho describes the rest of the action. "With about 15 seconds left in the match, Jake peeked up at us," said Aho. "We nodded at him to try whatever he was planning and he did a classic throw that got him five points and an exciting 10-6 win."

Aho continued "Jake's usually not a thrower. He mostly shoots on the legs. But he has a huge heart. I would hate to wrestle him with a lot at stake. This was his third time at state. He was disappointed the last two years because he wrestled only one match. This year, he told us 'I'm going to come back and win this tournament.' We'd like to see him wrestle the Munos kid from South St. Paul again. If Jake makes it to the tournament next year, he will be the first four-time state entrant in North Branch history. And he's got a great shot at it. He's one of the most intense, mentally prepared wrestlers we've ever had here."

Mork had a close, intense match with senior Kody Dolezal of New Prague. Dolezal worked hard to get a takedown 42 seconds into the first period. He rode Mork for over a minute, but Mork got a reversal with 19 seconds left in the period to tie the match at 2-2 after one. Mork started on the bottom in the second period. Dolezal got a near fall halfway through the period for a 4-2 lead. Dolezal was penalized one point for a neck grab, cutting his lead to 4-3. Mork tried a reversal near the end of the period and was just one or two seconds away from completing it when the whistle sounded.

Mork started on top in the third period and allowed Dolezal a free escape so he could wrestle from his feet. Dolezal got a takedown with 1:30 left in the match to increase his lead to 7-3. Mork nearly had a reversal with 45 seconds left, but didn't quite complete it. He managed to complete a reversal with 11 seconds left for two points, but time ran out and he lost 7-5. Dolezal lost his quarterfinal match, so Mork did not get a chance to take part in the wrestlebacks.

"Pat was upset after the loss," said Aho. "He had cut a lot of weight to get down to 140 this year. Our goal was to get him to the state tournament this year, and he's already thinking about next year. Patrick will work his tail off to get back here. He's a well-rounded kid, too. He's a great student, a musician and a magician. We know he'll likely get back down here next year, and if he does he will definitely make a lot of noise."

Bergerson went down 2-0 early in his opening match with senior Tyler Lewandowski of Foley. But he escaped less than a minute later, and the first period ended with Bergerson down 2-1. Lewandowski chose to be on top to open the second period and that proved to be a mistake as Bergerson escaped just five seconds into the period to tie the match at 2-2. Lewandowski was awarded a penalty point with just under a minute left in the period and led 3-2 after two.

Bergerson chose to be on top to start the third period. 41 seconds into the period, Bergerson let Lewandowski escape Bergerson could get a shot at a takedown. Now trailing 4-2, Bergerson tried a takedown with 35 seconds left. But Lewandowski turned the tables on him and ended up with a takedown of his own to increase his lead to 6-2. Bergerson managed a late escape, but ran out of time and lost 6-3.

Lewandowski's win in his next match gave Bergerson a chance to face senior Jake Schmidt of New Ulm in the wrestlebacks. But Bergerson lost 4-3 to Schmidt to end his state tournament appearance. "Justin wrestled two highly ranked kids in the tourney," said Aho. "This season, his only losses came to ranked kids. This was his third trip to the tourney and he got some more good experience. He's got a good attitude and has done some great work as a part of our program. If he wrestles at 215 again next year, I like his chances to make the finals."

Aho said, "We've sent nine kids down to the tournament in the last two years. That helps us to get more kids down here to watch the tournament. In order to improve, we we've talked to the kids about going to camps and weight training. It helps, too, that we have a nice new facility that attracts the kids. Some of the kids spend so much time there, my wife calls them addicts. I like our team for next year. I don't think many teams will look forward to wrestling us. Replacing John is going to be tough, but we have a group that could make some noise. We've retained kids pretty well recently. If we all come back ready to go and, as coaches, we don't burn the kids out, we have our best chance in many years to make a run as a team. We haven't made it in 23 years, but we are getting closer. We had two kids place at state, we've got great assistants, a supportive crowd and a strong booster club. Add that to a talented group of wrestlers and we are headed in the right direction."


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