February 26, 2015 at 1:39 p.m.
Three CL grapplers heading to state tournament
Pierce, Connell and Shoenecker all making return appearances for the 'Cats
And for the first time in recent memory, the North Branch Vikings did not qualify any wrestlers for the state tournament. The section championships were held at Virginia High School Friday and Saturday, February 20 and 21.
The opening round of the state tournament for Class AA will be Friday, Feb 27 at 1 p.m. Sophomore Pierce will open against fellow sophomore Jefferson Paladines of Columbia Heights. Connell, a senior, will go up against seventh-grader Patrick Kennedy of Kasson-Mantorville. And junior Schoenecker will face senior Basil Muhammed of Columbia Heights. Wildcat head coach Shawn Frederixon is confident his wrestlers will do well. He said, “All the guys have been pretty good this week, pretty levelheaded about it. They all have set their goals pretty high. I can’t blame them. None of them are new to the tourney. They’re not pushovers. If they are going to get beat, they are going to get beat by someone who is just flat out better than them. Right now, they have a lot of confidence in what they can do.”
Pierce, ranked fourth in the state in Class 7AA, also went to the state tournament last year. This year, he won his first match by pinning sophomore Dylan Kisia of Grand Rapids in 59 seconds. In his semifinal match, against Ethan Prachar of Mora, Pierce built a 9-0 lead before pinning Prachar at 3:39. In the championship match, Pierce, ranked fourth in the state in Class AA, faced off against freshman AJ Bethea of Hibbing, ranked seventh. After a scoreless first period, Pierce started on the bottom in the second period. He scored an immediate reversal to go up 2-0. With just over 30 seconds left in the period, Bethea stood up. But Pierce kept a firm grip on Bethea and slammed him back down to the mat. Bethea escaped shortly afterwards to cut Pierce’s lead to 2-1. Pierce started on the top in the third period. Bethea scored a reversal at 4:58 and Pierce trailed 3-2. But Pierce reversed Bethea just a little over 20 seconds later to go up 4-3 and rode him out to emerge as the Section 7AA champion.
“After I fell behind in the third period,” said Pierce, “I knew that I needed to do something to get back into the match and win it.” When asked if he was excited to be a first time section champion, Pierce said “It’s always nice to go back to the Xcel Energy Center. Last year was my first time at state. This year, I am going to try to push out all of the lights and cameras and focus on the match.” Pierce will do what he always does before matches – warm up with Dylan Connell. The only other thing Pierce makes sure to do is to wear his Mental Aerobics t shirt as a pre match ritual.
Pierce’s goal is to finish in the top three at this year’s state tournament. Frederixon said “Teddy’s a tough one. He just frustrates opponents. He keeps working and, just when they think they’ve got something on him, he turns it around on them. He should set his goals that high.”
Connell, ranked third in the state, will be making fourth appearance at the state tournament. He medaled each of the last two seasons, finishing sixth in 2013 and fifth last year. He opened his quest for the section title by pinning freshman Hunter Fredrickson of Mora at 2:41. In the quarterfinals, it took Connell just 38 seconds to pin freshman Aaron Robillard of North Branch. And Connell kept up the parade of pins by pinning junior Kyle Starr of Milaca at 3:08 in the semifinals. In the championship match, Connell faced junior David Brenden of Grand Rapids, who is ranked sixth in the state. Connell drew first blood with a takedown early in the first period. Connell started on the bottom in the second period and escaped almost right away. He took down Brenden just a few seconds later to go up 5-0. Connell worked hard to try to pin Brenden and it paid off when he was awarded a three point near fall with 15 seconds left in the period. Brenden escaped a few seconds later and Connell led 8-1 after two periods. The wrestlers started in the “up” position to begin the third period and Connell showed some quickness when he dove for Brenden’s ankles, grabbed him and took him down in one motion midway through the third period. Connell rode out Brenden for the rest of the period and came away with a 10-1 win and another section championship.
When Connell walked by after winning the section championship, he appeared to already be focusing on his next task. “I expected to win the section, no problem,” said Connell. “It’s another step into the state tournament. I am looking to win it all this year. I am approaching it with a lot more confidence, watching my weight better and focusing all the time.” Frederixon said “I think it’s been his goal all year to win the state tournament. This will be his fourth year there. He’s taken positive steps along the way, placing twice. We’ve seen the progression in him, in his attitude. When he was younger he didn’t quite know how to handle in and he definitely has his sights set higher this year.”
To get ready for his opening match, Connell will follow his usual routine: get in a good warm up, drink a Spark energy drink, put on his headphones and listen to music for about 15 minutes and then put on his headgear and stand with the coaches to wait for the start of the match.
Schoenecker is ranked sixth in the state. He will be appearing at the state tournament for an amazing fifth time. At sections, he opened with an 18-1 technical fall win over sophomore Jacob Lindgren of Rush City/Braham. He then followed with a 17-2 technical fall win over senior Parker Davis of Virginia. The amazing thing about the win over Parker is that Schoenecker scored all 17 points in the first period as he completely dominated Parker. Schoenecker’s toughest match was his semifinal match against senior Arik Steele of North Branch. They were tied 2-2 at the end of two periods. Schoenecker started on the bottom in the third period and scored a reversal at 4:50. He worked Steele hard the rest of the period and was awarded a three point near fall at the end to make the final score 7-2. Schoenecker faced senior Aaron Moscho of Milaca in the championship match and was in control throughout. He had a takedown in the first period and a reversal and a two point near fall to lead 6-1 at the end of two periods. Moscho started on the bottom in the third period and Schoenecker rode him out to claim the championship.
Schoenecker’s win over Steele was the 150th of his career. He hasn’t placed at the state tournament in his previous four appearances, but is looking to change that this year. He said “I have a good chance to make it to the semifinals and, hopefully, to get to a top four finish. In past years, I’ve cut more weight. This year, I feel good wrestling at a more natural weight.” Frederixon said “Kyle has a great skill set and all the ability in the world. For him to succeed at state it’s a matter of putting it all together in a match. He can’t start out with a bang and fade later in the period. We’ve been starting to see it lately. At sections, he faced some tough kids but kept the pace going. If he keeps the pace he sets and keeps his intensity, there are not a lot of wrestlers who can match what he can do.”
Other than warm-ups, Schoenecker doesn’t have a special routine before a match. He said “I try not to think about the match. I just go out there to wrestle, to have fun and to do what I have been taught by my coaches. I don’t over think things.
Two Wildcats finished third at sections, just missing a trip to state. Junior Aaron Sistrunk (145), who went to state last year, lost his semifinal match 7-5 to sophomore Conner Denman of Cloquet. After beating sophomore Reece Sandberg of Milaca 3-0, Sistrunk beat senior Ethan Smart of Princeton 7-0 to claim third place. But since Denman ended up losing the championship match, there was no True Second match and Sistrunk has to settle for third. Frederixon said “Aaron is pretty disappointed, having gone to state last year and coming real close this year. I have no doubt that he will work harder in offseason to get himself back in state next year. He’s the kind of kid who can get himself back there and place because of how hard he’s going to work.”
Wildcat sophomore Nathan Greave (170) lost his semifinal match 6-1 to senior Jake Pramann of Princeton, who is ranked third in the state. He went on to pin sophomore Jordan Casper of Grand Rapids. In the third place match against junior David Ballek of Hibbing, Greave trailed 4-2 after two periods. He started on the bottom in the third period. As it got late in the period, it looked like Graeve might end up losing 4-2. But with eight seconds left, he got a reversal and stuck Ballek in a position that should have given Graeve a two point near fall and the win as time expired. But the referee apparently didn’t see what several hundred other people in the gym saw and refused to award Greave two points. Right after the beginning of overtime, Ballek put Greave in an illegal head scissors and the referee awarded a penalty point to Graeve, giving him a 5-4 win. The win gave Graeve a chance to wrestle senior Josh Otten of Milaca for True Second. But Otten pinned Graeve 44 seconds into the first period and Graeve had to settle for third. Frederixon said “Nate is very, very talented. At times we need to get him to focus and stay focused. He wrestled very tough in the semis against the highly ranked kid from Princeton. Next year Nate has a great shot of going to state.”
After losing to Schoenecker in the semifinals, Viking Steele pinned senior Cole Rybachek of Hibbing to advance to the match for third place. But Steele was pinned by Tyler Tober of Mora late in the second period, ending his quest for a trip to state. Viking junior Bailey Adams wrestled well against eventual section champion Brady Beier in the semifinals, but lost 9-4. He pinned sophomore Devin Reynolds of Cloquet in his next match, but was pinned by senior Jake Merten of Milaca in the third period of the third place match and had to settle for fourth place.
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