Pirates' run ends in state preliminaries against Royalton-Upsala
CASS LAKE — As time passes by and the events of Saturday afternoon drift further into the past, Wes Hanson is confident his athletes will be able to recognize what matters most to them.
In the moment, they couldn't allow it to fully sink in just yet. The Crookston wrestling team, less than an hour after winning its first section championship since 1988, had to regroup and get ready to wrestle again.
Due to COVID-19, the Minnesota State High School League altered this season's wrestling state tournament format. Instead of the eight section champions in each class converging upon the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the MSHSL limited it to four teams in each class and changed the venue to St. Michael-Albertville High School.
Finalists in two different sections would meet at the same venue on the same day and simultaneously wrestle for their respective section crown. Promptly afterwards, those section champions would turn around and wrestle each other for the right to be among the four headed to St. Michael.
It was here where the Pirates saw their dual season come to an end. Royalton-Upsala, which had won its second straight Section 7A title earlier Saturday, defeated Crookston, 49-26, in the state preliminary round Saturday afternoon.
"It was a bittersweet day," Hanson, the Pirates' coach, said. "But I would say that the section victory is feeling good right now. At the end of the day, with each hour and minute, you're able to reflect a little bit more and realize the accomplishment that these guys did."
After all, winning the Section 8A title was the Pirates' primary goal entering the season, according to Hanson. That's not to say they were just "happy to be there" against the eighth-ranked Royals. But to put it one way: a win would have made Crookston's Saturday even better, while a loss wouldn't have made it worse.
So after the Pirates wrapped up their win over Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, they disappeared into the locker room and focused on how to ensure their Saturday would go down as a perfect day, rather than a bittersweet one.
"We had to rally them back in, but it was something that we were preaching the whole way through," Hanson said. "Every conversation we had was about winning two matches as a team."
Crookston gave itself a chance to do so at first. Nolan Dans and Carter Coauette got Crookston going strong with pins at 113 and 120 pounds, and Zach Brown defeated No. 10 Will Gorecki by 3-0 decision at 126.
In a dramatic match at 132 pounds, Cameron Weiland executed a swift reversal to get himself out of a near-fall position and tie the score at six, sending his match against Brock Costanzo to overtime. There, Weiland pinned Costanzo to give the Pirates a 21-4 lead.
But it was all Royalton-Upsala from there. At 138 pounds, Sawyer Simmons handed Ethan Bowman his first loss of the season with a 14-9 decision. The Royals then won the next six matches by either forfeit or pin.
"They have depth and those were some strong, physical kids that have good technique," Hanson said. "You combine those elements and it makes for a good team."
Ethan Boll kept Crookston alive with a technical fall over Austin Wensmann at 195 pounds, cutting the Royals' lead to 37-26. But a pin at 220 pounds put the match out of reach and punched Royalton-Upsala's ticket to St. Michael.
"We had a good opportunity to go out and win that second match, and unfortunately it didn't happen," Hanson said. "But at the same time, I thought the performance our guys put out there in that first round to win the section was tremendous. That's kind of what we're going with today."
In a non-COVID world, the Pirates wouldn't have to make the choice of what to remember. They'd be able to celebrate their section win and prepare for their state quarterfinal match over the span of a week or more, instead of having to compress all of those emotions into a 30-minute span.
Would it have changed the result if Crookston had gotten that chance? It's impossible to answer, and of course, Royalton-Upsala was in the same boat.
But maybe it's the fact that the Pirates didn't get that chance; didn't get a quote-unquote "normal" season, that made what they achieved Saturday so special.
Crookston beat the odds to get to the state preliminaries. It was the second-lowest seeded team out of the 16 teams across Class A that wrestled Saturday. It had to knock off both Frazee and Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, teams that had combined to win the last 22 Section 8A championships, to break its 33-year drought.
Ultimately, that's what Hanson hopes, and thinks, his team will take away from Saturday.
"It's been a great run, but on some levels, we didn't get the typical experience," Hanson said. "... But at the same time, there's been a lot of things about this season that have been very unique. To avoid anything that could have potentially taken our season away and push all the way through and win the section title was just an awesome accomplishment."
UP NEXT: The Pirates will compete at the Section 8A Individual Championships Tuesday, March 16 in Crookston.
ROYALTON-UPSALA 49, CROOKSTON 26
- 106 pounds: Lane Olson (Royalton-Upsala) over Evin Trudeau (major dec. 11-0)
- 113 pounds: Nolan Dans (Crookston) over Brady Yourczek (fall 2:54)
- 120 pounds: Carter Coauette (Crookston) over Michael Zimmerman (fall 4:45)
- 126 pounds: Zach Brown (Crookston) over Will Gorecki (dec. 3-0)
- 132 pounds: Cameron Weiland (Crookston) over Brock Costanzo (fall 6:24 OT)
- 138 pounds: Sawyer Simmons (Royalton-Upsala) over Ethan Bowman (dec. 14-9)
- 145 pounds: Jacob Leibold (Royalton-Upsala) over Braxton Volker (fall 4:34)
- 152 pounds: Nicholas Leibold (Royalton-Upsala) over Spencer Ness (fall 4:33)
- 160 pounds: Sam Tschida (Royalton-Upsala) win by forfeit
- 170 pounds: Gabe Gorecki (Royalton-Upsala) over Hunter Knutson (fall 3:17)
- 182 pounds: Aidan Olson (Royalton-Upsala) over Cade DeLeon (fall 2:19)
- 195 pounds: Ethan Boll (Crookston) over Austin Wensmann (tech. fall 23-8 at 5:30)
- 220 pounds: Tyson Leners (Royalton-Upsala) over Hunter Kresl (fall 1:13)
- 285 pounds: Mason Novitzki (Royalton-Upsala) over Greg Gonzalez (fall 1:06)
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