There wasn’t much Carter Coauette could do.
The eighth-grader had just lost his championship match at 106 pounds to Fertile-Beltrami’s Daunte Yost. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River’s Jaxon Janousek then won the third-place match, and since Coauette hadn’t previously beaten Janousek in the tournament, he would have to face him in a true second match: two wrestlers step onto the mat, one wins and qualifies to state, and one’s season comes to an end.
While the rest of the championship matches and award ceremonies took place outside, Coauette sat in the locker room and chatted with his teammates, trying to pass as much time as possible.
“I was anxious,” he said. “I just wanted to out and wrestle.”
After nearly three hours, a relieved Coauette got his wish. Six minutes later, after closing out an 11-2 decision over Janousek, he got his next wish.
The referee held up Coauette’s arm. He was going to state.
“In a typical situation, that’s stress-free, but when it’s a true second match anything can happen,” said Crookston coach Wes Hanson. “There’s nothing like it. I was really proud of the way Carter battled back.”
Coauette became the fifth and final Pirate to qualify for the state tournament, set to be held in St. Paul on Feb. 28 and Feb. 29, by virtue of finishing in the top two at the Section 8A Individual Tournament in Crookston on Friday and Saturday. Ethan Boll (Fr.), Ethan Bowman (Fr.), Zach Brown (Jr.) and Hunter Knutson (Fr.) made up the rest of the Crookston state contingent — the largest it’s sent to St. Paul since 2011, when six Pirates made it.
“It’s awesome sending a lot of guys down,” Brown said. “That just shows how hard everybody works.”
Each Pirate had a different story this weekend, and Brown’s was perhaps the most straightforward. Having qualified for state in 2018 and 2019, he earned the No. 1 seed in the section tournament and a quarterfinal bye, just as he did last season. The championship at 120 pounds was his to lose.
“Going into it, he was the guy that’s been there, done that,” Hanson said. “We needed him to be our fearless leader.”
Brown was matched up against the two wrestlers he had faced last year — Seth Lavalier of Fertile-Beltrami in the semis, and Christian Carlson of Frazee for the title. Neither posed much of a threat, as Brown ran up an early lead to take control of both matches and closed out 14-4 and 7-4 decisions, respectively.
“I feel like my technique was very well done,” Brown said. “I feel like if I keep using my technique the way I have been, I can definitely go far down there.”
Bowman was the first Pirate to clinch his spot in the state tournament on Saturday, but the highlight for him actually took place the night before. In the semifinals, he drew the second seed: Keegan Senger of Fosston-Bagley — who had beaten him in overtime on Feb. 11 to help end Crookston’s dual season.
This time, Bowman got his revenge. He scored a takedown and a near-fall in the first period, and with a solid lead in hand, stayed in good position as Senger picked up the pace in an attempt to rally. Bowman shut down Senger completely on his way to an 11-1 win.
“Ethan, he’s pretty smooth,” Hanson said. “When guys are pressuring forward on him, he’s very effective, and that’s what we saw.”
Bowman fell to Ethan Hendrickson of United North Central, 17-6, in the championship at 113 pounds, but by virtue of Senger’s third-place win, made it to state without needing a true second.
“It was one of my goals this year,” he said. “Now it’s time to grind and go above and beyond.”
Out of the five, Knutson was the relative underdog, coming in as the third seed at 145 pounds with a 19-20 record on the season. But he recorded quarterfinal and semifinal pins on Friday, and by the time of Saturday’s championship against UNC’s Hank Tellers, his confidence resembled a runaway train.
Tellers led 5-1 midway through the second period, but Knutson cut his lead in half with a big takedown going into the third. An escape and another takedown with 82 seconds left brought him a 6-5 lead, and he finished off the win with a last-second rideout to punch his ticket to St. Paul — his first varsity tournament title, period.
“He just wrestled really well in all positions,” Hanson said. “It was pretty cool to see him gain confidence as the tournament went on and as the season went on, but really, it came down to staying in position, being physical, and he’s a tough guy to wrestle when he puts together six good minutes.”
At 182 pounds, Boll and Brett Graham of Frazee, ranked third in the state, seemed destined for a championship clash all weekend, the two having combined for a 74-9 record on the season. The bout lived up to the hype.
Down 4-2 in the second, Boll took Graham to the mat and had the No. 1 seed on the ropes, but would settle for a 7-4 lead. Graham came back to tie it at 8-8, though, and with 10 seconds left in sudden-death overtime scored a takedown to claim the section title. Boll would not need a true second to advance to state.
“Hats off to Brett Graham, he kept fighting back,” Hanson said. “It’s a good match for (Boll), losing in overtime to the third-ranked kid in the state should give Ethan confidence moving forward.”
Even the Pirates who won’t be moving forward this season stood out on the day. Braxton Volker (Fr.) placed third at 138 pounds, Nolan Dans (Jr.) placed fourth at 126 pounds and Cameron Weiland (Jr.) placed fifth at 132 pounds, making it an impressive eight podium finishes for Crookston.
“Just proud of everybody’s effort overall,” Hanson said. “Even the guys who won’t be competing with us next week, it’s a tough tournament but they gave it their best effort and I respect and appreciate that.”
At the state tournament, Brown will be looking to improve on a fourth-place finish. But for Boll, Bowman, Coauette and Knutson, St. Paul is uncharted territory.
Hanson knows that he’s bringing a lot of fresh faces. But the sheer number of fresh faces only encourages him.
“The camaraderie of being with your teammates is huge so you’re not doing it alone, you can go through and get a good warmup as a group and then build off each other,” Hanson said. “They’re young, but they’re also seasoned. They’ve wrestled in a pile of tournaments throughout their careers, so they’ll be ready.”
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