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Injuries dampen St. Croix Central wrestlers' hopes at New Richmond Invitational

St. Croix Central freshman Cole Refsnider pins Osceola’s Aiden Hansen in the opening round of the New Richmond Invitational on Saturday.

Injuries to the team’s two most experienced wrestlers shot down many of the goals the St. Croix Central Panthers had for Saturday’s New Richmond Invitational.

Shoulder injuries to Brian Gibb and Ryan Gulich knocked both Panthers out in the middle rounds of the tournament. The Panthers did manage to get three wrestlers to the finals, junior Decker Grass, sophomore Trent Smith and freshman Jake Nyhagen.

Smith has been sidelined all season by an injury and this was his first week back in the lineup. Smith took second place to Unity’s Tevin Anderson in the 160-pound class at the NRI. Anderson, who is 26-5 this year, beat Smith twice in the tournament and both matches were dramatic. In the final round of pool matches they met and Anderson won in overtime 4-2. They both won in the semifinals, setting up the rematch in the finals. It went to overtime again, with Anderson winning in the ultimate tie-breaker 4-3.

Grass won his first four matches of the day, including beating Spooner’s Zach Shutt in the final round of pool matches, 13-11. Grass and Shutt met again in the finals and this time Shutt was able to win on a third period pin.

Panther coach Brad Holzer said Grass took advantage of his quickness to beat Shutt in their first meeting. He said Grass got drawn into a more physical match in the finals, which didn’t suit his strengths as well.

Nyhagen breezed through his first four matches in the 113-pound bracket, including scoring pins in 16 and 25 seconds. In the finals Nyhagen ran up against Clear Lake’s Zach Elmer, who has already beaten Nyhagen once this season. Elmer was able to get the better of Nyhagen again, winning 7-4.

Gibb was part of a highly talented 182-pound class in the tournament. Gibb was leading in his pool match against Spooner’s Lucas Hagberg when Gibb was thrown to his back and pinned in the final 20 seconds of the match. Gibb hurt his shoulder in the process and couldn’t wrestle his final two matches of the day.

Gulich was in another talented weight class at 145 pounds. After winning his first two matches, Gulich lost in overtime to Clear Lake’s Mitch Paulson 2-1. Gulich hurt his shoulder in his 6-4 semifinal loss to New Richmond’s Derek Dowd, leaving Gulich unable to wrestle in the third place match.

Holzer said he hopes Gibb and Gulich will be healthy in time for this Friday’s home Panther meet.

The Panthers got third place finishes from Drew Malecek and Josh VanBeek in the tournament.

A number of young Panthers picked up valuable experience in the meet. Six Panthers were able to compete in a junior varsity portion of the meet.

“I thought we wrestled, for the most part, up to our ability,” Holzer said of the tournament.

Holzer said the performance on Saturday was a big improvement over the Panthers’ showing in their 42-36 dual meet loss to Mondovi last Thursday. He said the Panthers were much more aggressive from their feet on Saturday. In Thursday’s dual, the Panthers had the initial takedown in just three of the 11 matches that were wrestled. The Panthers are a team that prides itself on initiating the action and that was a clear sign that Mondovi was the more aggressive team, according to Holzer.

Scoring wins on the mat for the Panthers against Mondovi were Cole Refsnider, Grass, Gulich and Smith.

The Panthers will be competing at home this Friday, hosting a triple-dual meet that will also be Central’s Hall of Fame Night. Wrestling begins at 6 p.m. when Baldwin-Woodville and St. Croix Falls square off. The Panthers will tangle with St. Croix Falls in the second match, with the night ending on a match between the Panthers and Blackhawks.

Before the third match of the night, former Panther wrestler Mike Kappers will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.