BY DAVID PEDERSEN
The local foursome of state tournament bound wrestlers will have one thing going for them all, proven ability.
Two from Rockford and two from Delano earned return trips to the state wrestling meet Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Two already have been crowned as state champions.
Rockford returns seniors Ty Griffin and Brad Johnson from Section 5AA and Delano is again sending ninth-grader Tucker Sjomeling and sophomore Kevin Kneisl from Section 2AA.
Griffin won his state crown as a sophomore two years ago and Sjomeling became the first Tiger wrestler to win state last year.
The Class 2A tourney starts Friday with the first round at 11 a.m. and second round at 5:30 p.m. Semifinals start at 10:45 a.m. Saturday with finals set for 7 p.m. Matches for third and fifth places begin at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Griffin and Johnson represent Rockford
This is the fourth state meet for Griffin, who won the section crown at 132 pounds. He is currently ranked No. 2 in the state in his class.
“Ty is going to be tough to beat as he methodically performs with extraordinary dexterity and flexibility,” said coach Larry Hunter. “He is a student of wrestling and is an inspiration to us all.”
Griffin says he is both getting pretty excited about his last state tournament and also feeling sad about giving it one more go. Last year he missed half the season with a knee injury and was not at full strength at state. This year he is performing like he did when claiming the state title two years ago.
Not only will Griffin go to state with Johnson as his training partner for many years, but both their fathers are assistant coaches.
“Brad and I have been wrestling since the third grade,” adds Griffin. “It also is great having our dads at practice every day. It is cool to have that connection.”
Johnson pinned his way to the finals at 138 before losing to the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the state. For the second straight season Johnson will face the wrestler rated No. 1 in his class in the first round.
“Recently suffering what would otherwise be a season-ending injury to a tendon in his arm, Johnson is likely to have a tough weekend in store for him,” notes Hunter about Johnson. “Brad will need to inoculate himself with a generous dose of mental toughness. Regardless of his injury or opponent, Brad will be exciting to watch.”
Rockford senior Dylan Graunke and sophomore Kado Cano both just missed going to state, taking third place at sections. Graunke lost the match to determine a true second at 152. Cano lost 7-5 to the eventual runner up at 195.
Delano’s Sjomeling and Kneisl claim section titles
The two Delano state entrants both dominated when claiming section titles. Sjomeling did not allow one point in his four section wins and will take a 39-0 record to state at 106.
Kneisl won all three of his heavyweight matches by pin, improving to 27-6.
“They both did an excellent job of preparing and wrestling to their style and pace,” said coach Jeff Olson. “Tucker dominated every position throughout the tournament. Kevin was also in control of every match. His bracket was the deepest in the tournament with no easy match-ups.”
Olson says how Kneisl’s semifinal match was tied 1-1 with 30 seconds left when he was able to lift the opponent up and take him straight to his back for the pin.
“Kevin opted to wrestle in the postseason at heavyweight, up a class from his normal 220,” adds Olson. “He will be a smaller heavyweight, but his strength matches up fine and he has more quickness and agility than most of them. He’s a good pinner because of both strength and technique.”
The Tiger coach also claims how Sjomeling has improved quite a bit. “He was really good last year and is even better this year,” adds Olson about being little bit stronger, more mature and Sjomeling has improved some techniques.
Sjomeling says the difference when entering his second state tournament is not being the underdog. The defending state champ is ranked No. 1 after staying undefeated.
“Being more confident really helps,” said Sjomeling. “I know I still need to wrestle my best and it is not a given I will win again. I am going to try to do the same thing as last year and hope for the same result.”
Sjomeling says a key factor this year was how he has taken it one match at a time, not to worry about the future.
“There are great wrestlers throughout the bracket and you can never look past any opponent,” notes Olson about his state champ. “It doesn’t matter who they are, where they’re from or what their ranking is. You have to be completely focused on that one match. When that match is finished, you put it behind you and focus on the next match.”