Chisago Lakes 33, Perham 30
It’s an overused cliché, but it’s appropriate in this case: if you look up the word “tough” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Chisago Lakes sophomore wrestler Joe Virga next to it. In the first round of the 170 pound match in the Class AA team consolation finals against Perham at the state tournament, Virga went tumbling out of bounds and dislocated his kneecap. At the end of the 90 seconds allotted for an injury timeout, Virga indicated he could continue and limped back to the center of the mat, barely able to put any weight on his injured right knee.
He continued to dominate his opponent, Perham’s Cole Schmitz, for the rest of the match and pinned him midway through the second period. By staying in the match, Virga avoided giving up six team points to Perham. By pinning his opponent, he picked up six team points – a twelve point swing. Virga’s gritty, inspiring match was an important key in the Wildcats’ thrilling 33-30 win over Perham, which meant that the Wildcats’ first state tournament appearance since 1984 ended with a championship in the consolation bracket.
The team portion of the state tournament took place last Thursday, February 28 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. In the opening round, the Wildcats lost to Simley 45-25. Simley eventually finished second at the state tournament. In the consolation semifinals, the Wildcats avenged a loss in the regular season by rolling over Totino Grace 41-19 to earn the right to face Perham.
Virga was far from the only hero against Perham. Several wrestlers came up with big performances that contributed to the Wildcats’ win. Aaron Sistrunk (106) dominated his opponent, Perham’s Gage Paurus, from the beginning of the match. Sistrunk took down Paurus right away to go up by two. Two near falls put Sistrunk up 7-0 after the first period. A reversal and a two point near fall in the second period pushed the lead to 11-0. A three point near fall midway through the third period made the score 14-0 and another three point near fall at 5:36 put Sistrunk up 17-0 for a technical fall, giving the Wildcats a 5-0 lead.
Kyle Schoenecker (113) had a tough match with Perham’s Sam Pirrotta. The first period ended 0-0. Schoenecker started on the bottom in the second period and worked a reversal at 2:47 to go up 2-0. Pirrotta stood up at 3:06, but the Schoenecker hung on as the wrestlers ran out of bounds, and the score stayed at 2-0. At the beginning of the third period, Schoenecker let Pirrotta escape. And with less than a minute to go in the match, Schoenecker grabbed Pirrotta’s right ankle and his left hip and shoved him to the ground for a takedown and a 4-1 lead. Schoenecker rode out Pirrotta for the win and the Wildcats led 8-0.
Dylan Connell (120) dominated his match Chase Curtis of Perham, starting with a takedown at 48 seconds. Connell let Curtis escape at 1:08. Late in the period, Connell grabbed Curtis’ leg, stood him up and shoved him to the ground for another takedown and a 4-1 lead. Starting on the bottom in the second period, Connell immediately reversed Curtis to take a 6-1 lead and led 6-2 after two. Midway through the third period, Connell nearly pinned a yelling Curtis and a three point near fall gave him a 9-2 lead. Connell let Curtis escape and then took him down again with ten seconds left in the match to make the score 11-3 for a major decision and a 12-0 Wildcat lead.
A.J. Harrington (126) and Mike Bliskowski (132) were pinned in the first period of each of their matches, tying the team score at 12-12.
Quade Zupko (138) took an early lead and then methodically took apart his opponent, Perham’s Josh Werner. Zupko came out aggressively and scored a takedown just nine seconds into the match. He let Werner escape at 1:08 and then shot Werner’s left leg and completed another takedown at 1:23 to lead 4-1 at the end of the first period. Zupko started on the bottom in the second period and escaped at 2:22. He took Werner down at 2:57 to make the lead 7-1. He let Werner escape at 3:12 to make it 7-2. Werner started on the bottom in the third period and Zupko let him escape to make the score 7-3. That was all the scoring in the match, and the decision allowed the Wildcats to regain the lead at 15-12. But the lead was short-lived as Kyle Merry (145) was pinned in the first period of his match and the Wildcats trailed 18-15.
Carson Velaski’s 152 pound match with Colin Neitzke of Perham wasn’t decided till the last seconds of the third period. At 1:15, Velaski took down Neitzke to go up 2-0. Neitzke escaped five seconds later and scored a takedown at 1:40 to go up 3-2. Velaski started down in the second period and got a reversal at 2:20 to take a 4-3 lead. Neitzke tried to get up several times before the end of the period, but each time Velaski slammed him back down to the mat. The wrestlers started up in the third period. At 4:15, Neitzke grabbed Velaski’s leg and tried to pull him down, but the wrestlers ended up in a stalemate. Neitzke completed a takedown at 5:27 to take a 5-4 lead. Velaski escaped at 5:40 to tie things at 5-5 and it looked like the match would go into overtime. But Neitzke took down Velaski with about ten seconds left in regulation to go up 7-5. He had Velaski in a compromising position, but Velaski warded off the pin, losing 7-5 but saving three team points. The Wildcats now trailed 21-15.
Mark Sontag got behind early in his match against Brady Sazama of Perham. Sazama’s aggressive moves netted a takedown and a three point near fall at 1:25 and he led 5-0 after one period. Sontag, starting on the bottom, escaped 17 seconds into the second period to cut Sazama’s lead to 5-1. Sontag executed a quick, aggressive take down at 3:15 and was awarded a two point near fall twenty seconds later, tying the score at 5-5. Sazama started on the bottom in the third period and escaped at 4:14 to take a 6-5 lead. Sazama completed a takedown move at 4:27, but after the referees discussed it they ruled the wrestlers were out of bounds before the takedown was complete and the score stayed at 6-5. Just 17 seconds later, Sontag finished off his own takedown for two points and a 7-6 lead. He worked Sazama hard and was awarded a three point near fall at 5:16 for a 10-6 lead. Sazama escaped at 5:48 but Sontag kept him from doing anything offensively in the last 12 seconds of the match and Sontag had a hard fought 10-7 win, cutting the Perham lead to 21-18.
Next came Virga’s gutsy performance at 170, which almost had to be seen to be believed. Virga attacked his opponent, Perham’s Cole Schmitz, early in the first period. Virga took Schmitz down and was awarded a two point near fall for a 4-0 lead at 26 seconds. But as the wrestlers tumbled out of bounds, Virga instantly appeared to be in great pain. The trainer came over to look at his knee. It didn’t appear there was any way Virga could continue.
“I said ‘Joe, I think we’re going to have to call this one,’” said Wildcat head coach Shawn Frederixon. “But he said ‘no, coach, I’m going to do this’ and found a way to go back out there. I’m not sure how he did it. He wanted to go out there and win for the team.” Despite the injury, Virga continued to wrestle aggressively. He used a rollover move to pick up a three point near fall at 1:14 and picked up another three pointer at 1:42. He let Schmitz escape with ten seconds left in the period and led 10-1 after one. Schmidt started on the bottom in the second period and Virga worked him for a three point near fall and a 13-1 lead at 2:30. Halfway through the period, it looked like Virga would pick up another near fall and win by technical fall, but the referee slapped the mat for the pin at 3:08, giving the Wildcats a 24-21 lead.
Coaches had to help Virga, who was in obvious pain, off the mat and into the locker room area after the match.
At 182, Mike Sampson trailed just 2-1 to Perham’s William Parks at the end of the first period. But Park escaped at 2:30 and pinned Sampson at 3:12, and Perham was back on top at 27-24.
Eric Brown (195) had a tight match with Jess Klatt of Perham. Brown scored a takedown early in the first period and let Klatt escape for a 2-1 lead after one. Starting on the bottom in the second period, Brown grabbed Klatt’s leg, stood him up and flung him to the ground for a reversal and a 4-1 lead at 2:17. Klatt escaped a few seconds later to cut the lead to 4-2. He nearly completed a takedown at 2:54, but the wrestlers slid out of bounds and Brown maintained his slim lead. Midway through the third period, Klatt, on the bottom, was penalized a point for stalling and Brown led 5-2. Klatt escaped at 5:38 to cut the lead to 5-3. Brown completed a takedown at the final buzzer and won 7-3. The teams were now tied at 27-27.
Next up was Dan Sargeant, wrestling just his fifth varsity match. His opponent, Perham’s Cody Nylander, scored the only non-penalty points of the match with a takedown at 1:49 and led 2-0 at the end of the first period. At 2:46, Nylander was penalized for an illegal move and Sargeant trailed 2-1. Sargeant nearly reversed Nylander with 30 seconds left in the period, but Nylander fought it off. Nylander also thwarted an attempted escape with 13 seconds left and maintained his lead. The wrestlers started up in the third period, and it became a war of attrition.
Sargeant was penalized for stalling half way through the period and trailed 3-1. He was penalized again at 5:32. At that point, Sargeant got more aggressive. But the referee was in stalling mode and inexplicably penalized Sargeant two points with ten seconds left. Sargeant lost 6-1.
The Wildcats now trailed 30-27, but Sargeant had accomplished the goal of keeping the Wildcats within striking distance. Jonah Westbury’s performance in the 285 pound match against Perham’s Jess Bucholz was dominating…and quick. Westbury took down Bucholz at 13 seconds and worked him hard. He flipped Bucholz over at the one minute mark and pinned him at 1:12, giving the Wildcats a 33-30 win.
The Wildcat section of the crowd roared as the team celebrated on the mat. The Wildcats were the 2013 Minnesota state consolation champions for Class AA. Frederixon said, “Everybody stepped it up in this match. Everybody wanted to keep wrestling harder for the next guy and that was just fun.”
Wrestlers gave Simley best shot, dominated Totino
Consolation Semifinal: Chisago Lakes 41, Totino Grace 19
The Wildcats lost to conference foe Totino Grace 39-29 in early January. But in the consolation semifinal at the state tournament, a healthy, spirited Wildcat squad de-feathered the Eagles 41-19. The win sent the Wildcats to the state consolation finals against Perham and the loss sent Totino Grace back to Fridley. Wildcat head coach Shawn Frederixon said “Somewhere in there we made a decision we were going to outwrestle Totino and it was contagious. I was almost in shock at how well we wrestled against Totino. We put it out of reach. I expected it to come down to last match. I just couldn’t believe we beat them that badly.”
Aaron Sistrunk lost 8-5 at 106, and the Wildcats were down 3-0. But Kyle Schoenecker eventually turned his second takedown into a pin with one second left in the first period to put the Wildcats on top 6-3. A. J. Harrington dominated his opponent throughout their match. He led 6-0 at the end of two and finished with an 11-2 major decision. His angry opponent lashed out at the end of the match. The Wildcats now led 10-3.
Dylan Connell (126) trailed early in his match after his opponent turned Connell’s opening move back on him. But Connell righted the ship after that and ended up leading 8-3 at the end of one. Connell continued to dominate his opponent and won 14-3. His major decision coincidentally put the Wildcats up by the same team score, 14-3. Mike Bliskowski lost by major decision, 11-3, cutting the Wildcat lead to 14-7. A relentless Quade Zupko pinned his opponent in just 21 seconds, pushing the Wildcat lead to 20-7. The Eagles had moved Jared Florell up to 145 to stay away from Zupko, thinking Florell would have an easier time with Carson Velaski. But Velaski turned that strategy on its ear, taking Florell down with a headlock just six seconds into the match and pinning him at 39 seconds to increase the Wildcat lead to 26-7.
Mark Sontag had an intense match with Walker Thiele at 152. Sontag appeared to score on a double under and throw takedown midway through the first period, but the referee ruled the wrestlers out of bounds. Neither wrestler scored until Thiele’s reversal with two seconds left in the second period. With Sontag down 2-0, the wrestlers started on their feet in the third period. Sontag worked hard for a takedown, but Thiele was elusive, getting warned for stalling. With 17 seconds left in the period, Sontag scored a takedown to tie it up a 2-2 and send it into overtime. Sontag appeared to have a takedown in the first overtime, but the referee had already blown his whistle, questionable ruling the wrestlers out of bounds. In the second overtime, Thiele started on the bottom and got a reversal to lead 4-2. Sontag let him escape at the beginning of the third overtime and took him down almost right away, now trailing 5-4. But Thiele hung on for the overtime win to cut the Wildcat lead to 26-10.
Sean Hoyt led 3-2 midway through the first period of his 160 pound match and trailed 4-3 at the end of the period. His opponent, Bobby Schuler, let Hoyt escape at the beginning of the second period to tie the match at 4-4. Schuler had two takedowns and led 8-5 at the end of two. He escaped early in the third period and hung on to beat Hoyt 9-5. The Wildcats now led 26-13. Joe Virga and his opponent, both state entrants at 160, moved up to 170 for the team competition. Virga jumped ahead 4-0 in the first period, but Flomo got a reverse late in the period to cut Virga’s lead to 4-2. Flomo let Virga escape at the beginning of the second period. Virga grabbed Flomo’s leg and took him down at 2:58 and Flomo engineered a reversal at 3:35 to make the score 7-4 after two. Virga thwarted a reversal attempt by Flomo early in the third period. Virga was penalized a point for an illegal move midway through the period, but there was no more scoring as Virga rode Flomo out for a 7-5 win and a 29-13 Wildcat lead.
At 182, Eric Brown was matched up against Isaac Florell, who eventually finished fourth in the state. Brown took down Florell early in the period and Florell later escaped to make the score 2-1 after one. Florell started down in the second period and escaped at 2:17 to tie the match at 2-2. Florell nearly had a takedown at 2:48, but Brown reversed it into a takedown of his own for two points and a 4-2 lead. He let Florell escape ten seconds later, cutting his lead to 4-3. At 3:12, Florell completed a takedown of his own to go up 5-4. Brown started on the bottom in the third period and finally escaped at 5:12 to tie the match at 5-5. Florell nearly won it with a late takedown, but the wrestlers slid out of bounds and the match went into overtime.
Brown made short work of Florell in the overtime, scoring a takedown at 14 seconds to win the match in sudden death. Florell reacted angrily, probably realizing that the win gave the Wildcats an insurmountable 32-13 lead and a berth in the consolation final. Bill Mechelke was pinned early in the 195 pound match.
Dan Sargeant has last wrestled his opponent, John Pugh, in eighth grade. Sargeant took Pugh down midway through the first period and completed his first and only varsity pin with seven seconds left in the period as the Wildcat student section chanted “He plays hockey!” And Jonah Westbury finished a great day for the Wildcats by beating Joe Schiller, who won the state at 220 last year and finished fifth this year, by beating Schiller for the second time this season. The pair was tied 4-4 late in the third period, headed for overtime, when Westbury got a takedown at 5:40. His 6-4 win made the final score Chisago Lakes 41, Totino Grace 19.
Opening Round – Simley 45, Chisago Lakes 25
The Wildcats built a 13-0 lead early in the match, but Simley came storming back and beat the Wildcats 45-25 in the opening round of the state tournament. The loss sent the Wildcats into a consolation bracket semifinal match with Totino Grace. The day started off with a forfeit win for Aaron Sistrunk (106), as Simley’s 106 pounder did not make weight. A forfeit in one match forces the team to forfeit a match in any subsequent matches at the state tournament. Simley ended up losing the state championship by three points, so the forfeit cost them dearly.
At 113, a reversal by Kyle Schoenecker midway through the third period broke a 4-4 tie and gave Schoenecker a 6-4 win. Dylan Connell (120) used the same shooting move twice for takedowns and was awarded three near fall points on a near pin to go up 7-0 after two periods, on his way to a 10-0 major decision. The Wildcats now led 13-0.
Nathan Graeve (126) and Mike Bliskowski (132) were pinned, cutting the Wildcat lead to 13-12. Simley moved Kyle Gliva, who ended up being the state champion at 132, up to face Quade Zupko at 138. Gliva beat Zupko 7-1 and the Wildcats now trailed 15-13. Carson Velaski (145) was pinned by Mac Short, ranked number one at 145 and Mark Sontag (152) was pinned by Jake Short, the Pioneer Press Wrestler of the Year. Simley now led 27-13.
Joe Virga (160) pinned Hector Rabelo to cut the gap to 27-19. But Shawn Hoyt (170) and Mike Sampson (182) were also pinned, pushing the Simley lead to an insurmountable 39-19. Eric Brown (195) won by decision, Kevin Schmidt (220) was pinned and Jonah Westbury (285) won by decision to make the final score Simley 45, Chisago Lakes 25.
Wildcat head coach Shawn Frederixon said “Since that was the first time for Chisago Lakes to be in the team competition at state in so long, a lot of the guys didn’t have any experience stepping out onto the mat at that level. We definitely gave Simley a good match. We won six matches and didn’t back off from them. I was proud of the way the guys went out and fought.”