Division 2 Wrestling: Panthers advance four, Spartans two
Saturday’s Division 2 regional wrestling meet at Amery was filled with highs and lows for both the Somerset and St. Croix Central wrestling teams.
Central advanced four wrestlers and Somerset advanced two, but both teams also saw seniors who had high hopes for the postseason whose high school careers came to an end.
Central is advancing Ryan Larson, Tadan Holzer and Devin Wasley as regional champions and David Olson as a second place finisher. Both of Somerset’s sectional qualifiers did so as second place finishers, Tyler Hantsbarger and Sawyer Wilson.
St. Croix Central
Larson is hoping to repeat as a state champion for the Panthers. He went unchallenged at the regional, but that will change at Saturday’s sectional meet. Larson pinned his opening opponent Saturday in 52 seconds. He followed that with a pin in 1:05 over Osceola’s Gabe Lowney in the 220-pound championship match.
Larson (16-2) is part of one of the strongest sectional brackets, possibly in the state. Larson’s opening opponent will be Regis-Altoona junior Garret Steffen (23-12). Two undefeated wrestlers are also in the bracket, Jake Rau of Medford and Joshua Carroll of Spooner. So is Prescott’s Joe Schulte (25-3), who defeated Larson in the Middle Border Conference finals.
Central coach Brad Holzer said the coaching staff is working on building up Larson’s endurance after he missed the opening half of the season recovering from a knee injury suffered in the WIAA Division 4 state football championship game.
Tadan Holzer moved up a weight class for the tournament series to compete at 138. He opened up with a quick pin, then went against Somerset senior Jared Grahovac, the top seed, in the semifinals. Grahovac was coming off a rib injury. Holzer pushed the action throughout the match, drawing a pair of stalling calls against Grahovac. With the score tied 6-6, Holzer was able to escape in the final 10 seconds to pull off the 7-6 upset.
Coach Holzer said the intent in the match was to go as hard as possible, knowing Grahovac’s durability might be down after missing much of the past few weeks.
“Tadan can go a full six minutes wind-wise with anybody. Our goal was to wear him out and win it in the third,” Coach Holzer said.
That moved Holzer into the finals against Osceola’s John Hove. Holzer again pushed the intensity, scoring a 5-3 win to earn the regional title.
Holzer (28-15) will face Stanley-Boyd sophomore Russell Dorn (25-10) in the opening round of the sectional meet at Neillsville on Saturday.
There were several impressive freshmen competing in the regional meet at Amery and Wasley was one of them. Wasley was the top seed at 145 pounds and he looked like it. He pinned Amery’s Austin Schleusner 1:55 into the semifinals. In the finals, Wasley was in complete control in a 13-2 win over Osceola’s Aaron Schmidt.
Wasley (32-8) will open the sectional meet by facing Baldwin-Woodville sophomore Sam Crowley (21-17).
Olson is another freshman who has come on strongly. He was seeded fourth on Saturday. He opened with a technical fall win, before getting pinned by top seed Mason Tylee of Amery. Olson (21-14) went to the wrestlebacks and outwrestled two opponents. First, he pinned Chetek’s Justin Fowler in 5:32. In the match for second place, Olson showed some savvy in defeating Osceola’s Lucas Sedivy 2-0.
“His record doesn’t show it, but in the last month he’s really turned the corner,” Coach Holzer said. “He’s doing the things needed to wrestle well.”
Olson opens the 120-pound class at sectionals by facing Spencer junior Ashton Ackman (37-5).
Coach Holzer said the three younger Panthers have improved to the point where they are solid contenders to advance through the sectional meet.
“They’ve been progressively getting better. Cutting down on their mental mistakes is a big thing,” he said.
The tough part for the Panthers is the fact they won’t be taking senior heavyweight Nate Berends to the sectional meet. Berends was upset by Somerset’s Sawyer Wilson in the semifinals. Berends came back to earn a pin in the wrestlebacks, but when Wilson lost in the finals, Berends was locked into third place. He finished the season with a 31-11 record.
“You hate seeing seniors go out like that,” Coach Holzer said. “I’d take 14 of that kid any time.”
Hantsbarger and Wilson, both juniors, will be Somerset’s competitors at the sectional meet. Saturday’s regional meet was another chapter in the emotional wringer the Spartans have gone through this season.
Hantsbarger was the top seed at 126 pounds. In the semifinals, he pinned Central’s Garrett Hafele in 2:45. That put Hantsbarger into the finals against Amery’s Walker Ingham. It seems these two have wrestled every week over the past month and every time, the result was close. Hantsbarger got the opening takedown. Ingham countered with a quick escape and takedown. He then countered every one of Hantsbarger’s scoring attempts to win 6-2.
Hantsbarger then faced a wrestleback, but pinned Osceola’s Dan Nelson in 55 seconds.
Hantsbarger (34-6) will open the sectional by facing Baldwin-Woodville’s Jordan Bonte (35-2). They are two of the four Middle Border Conference wrestlers in this bracket. Ingham will face Ellsworth’s Jon Cain in another quarterfinal match at the sectional meet.
Wilson (8-11) is in his first year of high school wrestling, but he’s amazed everyone with his natural skills in the sport. He received an opening bye, so he faced Central’s Berends in the semifinals. Wilson had beaten Berends at the Middle Border Conference meet, so Central was already wary of Wilson. Berends led 6-1 early in the third period when Berends dropped his head to the side while trying to ride Wilson. Wilson reached back, grabbed Berends’ head, and flipped him to his back. The only question was whether Wilson would get the pin. Berends held on for over a minute, with Wilson getting the pin with seven seconds left in the match.
“He continues to find ways to do some amazing things,” Somerset coach Ali Peterson said of Wilson.
In the finals Wilson faced Chetek standout Jacob Konvicka. Konvicka overpowered Wilson to the mat, getting a pin in 1:38.
Wilson’s opening draw at the sectional meet is Spooner senior Brett Jepson (33-5).
The Spartans were hoping to get senior Jared Grahovac to the sectionals too. Grahovac (26-5) has battled a rib injury the past few weeks. He pulled out of the MBC tournament after the opening round, trying to protect the injury from further damage. He opened Saturday’s action in the semifinals against Central’s Holzer and Central had a clear plan to test Grahovac’s endurance.
The match came down to the final seconds. Holzer was able to get an escape for a 7-6 win.
“The stamina just wasn’t there,” Peterson said. “You could see Jared had nothing left.”
Grahovac moved to the wrestleback against Luck’s Hunter Sellent. Grahovac had Sellent on his back at the end of the first period, but couldn’t get a pin called. Sellent came back for a pin in the third period.
It was a star-crossed season for the Spartan seniors. Grahovac reached 100 wins, but wasn’t able to earn his third straight regional championship. Nick Bushinger had an incredibly bad streak of injuries that cut short his season. Dylan Kammerud battled through a tough season at 132 pounds. He finished 12-24, but he did end his career with a win, getting a pin in the fifth place match.