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Ryan Larson works overtime for state championship

A jubilant Ryan Larson raises up to celebrate after pinning Prairie du Chien's Stephen Ronnfeldt to win the WIAA Division 2 195-pound state championship on Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison. Katie Davidson / RiverTown Multimedia

Ryan Larson is the ninth state wrestling champion in St. Croix Central High School history, and he had to work overtime to get this honor.

Larson and Prairie du Chien senior Stephen Ronnfeldt were tied 6-6 at the end of regulation in the WIAA Division 2 state championship match at the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday night. Larson was able to get the pin with six seconds remaining in the first overtime to win one of the most dramatic finishes in this year's state championships.

In the overtime there were a couple good flurries. Ronnfeldt charged at Larson, but Larson was able to counter, tossing Ronnfeldt to his back. Larson and the Central coaches thought Larson had won the match, but the officials ruled the wrestlers out of bounds with 17 seconds remaining. Both wrestlers were bleeding, so they got a brief rest as they were being treated.

"Ryan had his arms on my shoulders. He could barely stand up," St. Croix Central coach Brad Holzer recalled. "But he said he had one more in him."

On the restart, he went right into Ronnfeldt, picking him up and taking him straight to his back. Ronnfeldt crumpled, realizing the match was lost, and Larson was able to score the pin with six seconds left in the overtime.

Larson was the second Middle Border Conference wrestler of the night to win a state championship. Earlier, Ellsworth's Sam Stuhl became the 16th wrestler in WIAA history to win four individual state titles.

Larson joins an illustrious group of state champions in the Panther wrestling program. Previous state champions include Mark Neumann (1973), Kevin Bloom (1988), Tim Myer (1989), Tom Myer (1989), Jeff Ross (1995 and 1996), and Adam Delander (2002 and 2004).

The 195-pound state championship was a calculated gamble that paid off in a big way. Larson and coaches decided to have him wrestle at 195, because of his style and his possible competition.

"We moved up to 195 because we thought we could win it," Holzer said. "Ryan is a big guy wrestler."

Holzer and Larson agreed that they wanted to avoid Neillsville's Stephen Buchanan, who also wrestled in the Amery Division 2 sectional and was the 182-pound state champion. The state champions in the top four weight classes in Division 2 all came through the Amery sectional meet.

There were few wrestlers in the tournament who were more impressive in how they reached the state finals than Larson (20-2). By virtue of his sectional championship, he had an opening round bye Thursday night. In the quarterfinals Friday morning, he pinned Lomira senior Matt Hanke (43-8) in 56 seconds. In the semifinals, Larson pinned Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau's Bryce Burns (35-9) in 72 seconds.

The quick pins were planned. Larson's back has been so painful that the coaches wanted to get him off the mat as quickly as possible. The same move worked on both wrestlers.

"It was total Ryan style," Holzer said. "He picked them up and put them right to their backs. He locked up their far pin elbow and secured the pin shoulder."

The finals match was far different. Larson needed a comeback just to get to the overtime. Larson got the first takedown and led 2-1 after the opening period. Ronnfeldt opened the second period with an escape. He then got a quick takedown and two back points, meaning Larson was facing a 6-2 deficit.

Larson didn't panic. He got an escape to end the second period down 6-3.

Larson got an escape early in the third period. Ronnfeldt was blocking Larson's wrists, making it tough for Larson to hit his favorite moves. With 25 seconds left Larson was able to get the tying takedown. Ronnfeldt did his best to escape, but Larson was able to hang onto his ankles until time ran out.

"That was the longest 25 seconds of my life," Holzer said.

Larson also wrestled at the state meet last year, losing in the opening round at 195 pounds. Holzer said the previous state experience was critical.

"He dealt with his nerves pretty good. He wrestled his best six matches in a row, between sectionals and state," Holzer said.

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.

(715) 426-1051
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