BY DAVID PEDERSEN
When Delano goes to Rockford for a clash of local wrestling teams, 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, two state champions will be in action.
Rockford’s Ty Griffin captured the state title at 120 pounds as a sophomore two seasons ago and Delano’s Tucker Sjomeling rose up last season to become the school’s first state champ as an eighth-grader.
Both teams have more than one state entrant returning and both have many young newcomers in the programs. One new face is Rockford head coach Larry Hunter, who replaces Nick Peterson.
Hunter wrestled for Little Falls from 1985-88 and this is his first job as a head wrestling coach. He currently is the head varsity lacrosse coach at Buffalo.
“I hope to build a strong program by creating an atmosphere of fun combined with a lot of winning,” said Hunter. “We have 21 wrestlers and are still growing. Right now we have enough wrestlers to fill the varsity squad. However, some are too green to throw out on the varsity mat.”
Griffin returned to state last year at 126 pounds before losing in the semifinals and finished fifth. The senior was slowed by injury early in the season, taking an 18-5 record to state as the section champion.
Senior Brad Johnson will seek a return trip to state after advancing for the first time at 132 pounds. He had a tough draw in the first round by facing Brody Berge of Kasson-Mantorville, who was 41-1 at the time. Johnson did not get to enter the wrestle backs. Johnson won three tournament titles last year and cleared the 100-win milestone for his career.
Both Griffin (138) and Johnson (145) placed second at last week’s Melrose Invitational to start the season. Senior Dylan Graunke placed third at 152 pounds.
“I plan on Ty and Brad returning and placing in the state tournament,” adds Hunter. “The team is raw and needs plenty of extra-curricular work. I will rely heavily on Ty and Brad to set the mood and establish a standard of excellence.”
Other varsity leaders are expected to be eighth-grader Lucas Klonne (106); ninth-grader Colton Weber (126); sophomores Austin Johnson (220), Griffin Ekberg (132), Fordy Thorson (152) and Nick Selly (195); junior Duqueiro Cano and seniors Eric Dahl (170) and Max Gulsvig (285).
Rockford will enter the Maple Grove Invitational, 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, before hosting a dual meet against Watertown-Mayer Dec. 12.
Delano coach Jeff Olson returns two state entrants in Sjomeling and sophomore Kevin Kneisl, who was a surprise qualifier at 220 pounds. Kneisl lost the first round to Preston Woods of South St. Paul, who ended up in second place. He next pinned Colton Hines, ranked third in the state, before losing to the fifth-place finisher.
“We had an exciting finish to last season with a lot of guys putting out great performances at the end,” notes Olson. “Our focus will remain on what we can control, our attitude and our effort, both in the practice room and in competition.”
Sjomeling won four straight matches at 106 pounds at his first state tournament, defeating No. 1 rated Trevor Schultz of Fairmont/Martin County West 5-2 in the title match. Sjomeling finished with a 36-8 record, three defeats coming against Jacob Jewett of league and section rival Glencoe-Silver Lake/Lester Prairie.
Olson called the state title by Sjomeling “an unbelievable accomplishment. He keeps his head in matches and does not get rattled. Nobody out-works Tucker, who has a great work ethic and is a quick learner.”
Others returning to varsity for Delano are eighth-grader Camden Tschudi (106); ninth-grader Walker Russek (285); juniors Cole Paskach (120) and Aaron Wagner (195) and senior captain Zack Linden (152).
Key additions include sophomores Colton Christiansen, Kameron Anderson, Zach Knight, Sam Oeffling and Marty Soderberg. The new juniors are Sawyer Nelson, Jack Schweiss and Seth Streachek.
Olson said prospects to keep an eye on include sophomores Harrison Bolzer and Carl Schaefbauer; eighth-graders Steven Hajas, Jacob McDonald, Matthew Snidarich, Derek Spencer and Judah McNeilly, plus seventh-graders Tanner Kroells, Ethan Quast, Reier Sjomeling and Samson Streachek.