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St. Croix Central's Ryan Larson defeats top-ranked wrestler to win sectional title

St. Croix Central's Ryan Larson (right) gets set to toss his opening opponent from Neillsville for back points during the Division 2 sectional tournament at Amery on Saturday. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

As tough as the opposition was for St. Croix Central's Ryan Larson at the WIAA Division 2 sectional tournament on Saturday, his biggest challenge may have come from his own injured back.

Battling through the pain of a back injury that has dogged him for most of the year, Larson still managed to win the Division 2 sectional championship at 195 pounds. And he beat the state's top-ranked wrestler in the finals to earn his sectional title.

Larson was one of three Panther wrestlers competing at the Division 2 sectional tournament at Amery on Saturday. Senior Frank Holter and freshman Tadan Holzer were defeated in their opening matches, but weren't able to advance to state.

Larson has battled a bad back throughout the football and wrestling seasons. He has built up a 17-2 record after missing most of the 2017 side of the wrestling schedule. There were several times Saturday when Larson was visibly in pain, but continued to compete.

"People don't understand how bad his back hurts," said St. Croix Central coach Brad Holzer. "In my 20 years of coaching I've never had the level of competitiveness in this kid's heart."

Larson wrestled a smart, guarded match in his opener, defeating Ellsworth's Logan Peterson 9-1. Larson stunned the crowd in the semifinals, where he faced Neillsville's Lucas Ingold, who came in with a 40-5 record. Larson was on the attack from the start, winning by a 19-4 technical fall 3:24 into the match.

Holzer asked Larson why he wrestled with such ferocity in that match. Larson told him that he didn't think his back could handle many more matches and he didn't want to have to go through the wrestlebacks.

That win put Larson into the finals against Prescott's Ty Sanford, the top-ranked Division 2 wrestler in the state. Both wrestlers took extremely defensive approaches, leading to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation. Larson needed an injury timeout at that point. Holzer asked how he was doing.

"He had one more shot left in him," Holzer said.

And he did. The two wrestlers locked up in a flurry, and Larson was able to come out with the winning takedown.

The sectional championship has an extra benefit for Larson. It gives him a bye in the opening round of the state tournament, meaning he won't wrestle until Friday morning. His first opponent will be either Matt Hanke of Lomira or Austin Leroy of Luxemburg-Casco. Both are seniors with reputations for being top quality wrestlers. Holzer said he likes Larson's chances at state.

"As long as his back holds up, he can wrestle with anybody. Nobody, when they come up against Ryan, knows the power and force he has," Holzer said.

Holter wrestled in a 138-pound sectional bracket that was incredibly talented. He drew defending state champion Charlie Stuhl of Ellsworth and was pinned. Stuhl went on to win the sectional title. In the wrestlebacks, Holter drew another state qualifier, Colin Kirkpatrick of Northwestern, and was pinned. Holter finished the season with a 19-14 record.

Tadan Holzer finished his freshman season with a 21-19 record. In the opening round in the 126-pound sectional bracket Holzer drew Ashland senior Mack George. Holzer went in aggressively, trying a couple moves, before George caught him for the pin. George went on to qualify for state with a third place finish.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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