Rockford and Delano qualify total of 5 to state
BY DAVID PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Delano and Rockford qualified some usual suspects to this weekend’s State Class AA wrestling tournament and then some.
Defending state champ Ty Griffin from Rockford captured the 126-pound title at the Section 5AA tournament in Fridley Saturday.
Griffin, a junior who won the title at 120 pounds last year, will take an 18-5 record to the state meet starting at 9 a.m. Friday, March 1 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The quarterfinals are at 5 p.m. Friday, semifinals at 11:15 p.m. Saturday, March 2 and finals at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Also advancing from Rockford as expected is junior Brad Johnson, who was second at sections at 132 pounds to be 32-4 overall. He won the first three matches by pins, lost in the finals 3-2 and got another pin in the match to determine a true second.
Johnson has a tough draw at state, opening against Brody Berge of Kasson-Mantorville, who is 41-1. Rockford’s Sasha Galka almost got to state, placing third at 145 pounds. Jacob Clouse was fourth at 195 and Kato Cano was fifth at 182.
Returning to state as expected from Delano is senior Miles Hammerlund, winning the section crown at 170. He is 30-1 this season, ranked No. 2 in the state after placing second at state last season.
“Miles had a very tough match in the finals against the No. 8-ranked wrestler and won 4-3,” said Delano coach Jeff Olson. “His goal is to win a state title and he is capable of doing just that. The focus will be to be ready for each and every match. There’s nobody that you can look past.”
The road back to the title match could be rough for Hammerlund. The weight class includes two undefeated wrestlers who return to state. Nick Wanzek of Simley, who won the title at 152 pounds last year, is 41-0. Codie LaFromboise from Mora is 32-0.
Delano will send two other wrestlers to state that may have been considered two young and inexperienced to make it.
Eighth-grader Tucker Sjomeling placed second in the section at 106 pounds and will take a 32-8 record to his first state meet.
Sjomeling won by a pin and by a 6-1 score before upsetting Jackson Sweeney of Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran 9-5 in the semifinals. Sweeney is a returning state entrant who is ranked No. 9 in the state.
Down by a point going into the final period in the finals to No. 4-ranked Jacob Jewett of Glencoe-Silver Lake/Lester Prairie, Sjomeling got turned for a near fall and lost 6-2. Three of his loses were against Jewett.
The other surprise state entrant is ninth-grader Kevin Kneisl, who lost in the finals at heavyweight, but won the true second match to advance to state with a not so spectacular 16-11 record.
The season started by Kneisl losing some close matches to highly-ranked wrestlers. Then he missed a month of the season. Upon return the ninth-grader started to post more wins against favored wrestlers. Prior to the section meet he lost the conference title match in overtime.
“The conference meet was a confidence booster,” says Kneisl about beating wrestlers who he would see at sections. “I seem to do better against people the second time around.”
Kneisl lived in Rockford’s district until second grade when his family moved to Delano. Last year he won the state title for the combined grades of seventh, eighth and ninth.
“I didn’t think I would get to state this year until I saw the heavyweight bracket,” said Kneisl. “The 220-pound bracket was stacked, so I moved up to where I thought I had a better chance.”
Often wrestling against much heavier opponents over the years, Kneisl learned he could not muscle people around and had to execute his moves correctly.
“If I don’t win by a pin my match is usually close,” adds Kneisl. “I wait for things to happen more than I should. At state, I know I have to work on making things happen.”
Senior Connor Dalbec finished fourth for Delano at 126, having three other standout wrestlers in his class. He finished the season at 26-10.
“In a lot of other sections, Connor would likely be a state entrant,” said Olson. “But our section is so tough, especially at his weight class.”
Contact Dave Pedersen at firstname.lastname@example.org