Only 16 wrestlers are still standing at each weight class in the State of Minnesota, and Central senior Grant Mueller is one of them at 145 pounds.
Mueller was the only Central individual to emerge from the grueling two-day individual section tournament and qualify for state by winning a true second match on Saturday, Feb. 23.
“It’s obviously a big deal for Grant to make it to the state tournament. That’s something he’s been working toward for a long time,” said Raiders head coach Darrin Fox.
“He’s had a career that’s been really steady. He’s been really hard-nosed all the way through since he started varsity. He’s not a prototypical agile, speedy, really offensive, explosive kid, but he stays in position a lot, he’ll control other kids a lot. He’s just kind of a grinder. He just grinds on kids and wears them down and it gets to the point where his experience takes over a little bit. That’s really what has given him the chance to wrestle in St. Paul.”
Though he was seeded No. 1 in his bracket, Mueller took a roundabout path to the state qualifying round. After receiving a first-round bye, Mueller lost his first match on Saturday to Mitch Wentzlaff of Sibley East on a 5-2 decision.
He then rallied, beating Kody Curry of St. James 5-0 and Jon Whitney of Madelia-Truman 9-0 to secure third place and give himself a chance to wrestle in the true second match.
In that round he met Dietrich Balsbaugh of Trinity, the No. 2 seed, and dominated in a 9-2 win.
“He really wrestled like he was capable of in the third place and true second matches,” said Fox. “He was on a roll.”
Mueller will wrestle at the state tournament this Friday at 1 p.m. His first match will be against Trevor Scott of Holdingford, the No. 4 rated wrestler in the state at that weight.
“It will be good competition for us. I don’t know anything about the kid. We’ve never seen him wrestle. We’ve never seen Holdingford,” said Fox. “This time of year it boils down to what you do. What are you good at, how do you execute it, do you put yourself in a position to win? If you get yourself in a bad position do you only give up a few points rather than many? I think that fits Grant’s style well. We’ll just have to see if we’re able to wrestle a smart match, get some points. Getting a lead is huge. If we can get a lead and let that style start to take over, that will help.”
While Mueller was the only individual to advance to state, there was plenty for Central wrestling fans to like about the individual tournament.
Ten out of 14 Central wrestlers earned a place by finishing in the top six in their brackets, including no fewer than six third-place finishes. Those numbers had Fox pleased with the overall results despite a bad start to the day, when all five Raiders in semifinal matches lost.
“Things were looking a little bleak. After that, I think we went on probably the best 2.5 hour run I’ve seen since I’ve been here as a coach,” said Fox. “We just couldn’t lose.”
Zeke Dodge (106), Josh Hendel (113), Davis Colley (132), Jared Wickenhauser (138), Matt Ditsch (195) and Jordan Stevens (285) all won matches to take third place.
Dodge was seeded fifth entering the tournament, and Wickenhauser might have been the surprise of the day after finishing third despite his seventh seed.
“He was seeded 7th, but ended up taking third. That’s pretty special. And he was down 12-6 in one match halfway through the second period, and ended up winning 16-15,” said Fox. “He just kept going. He didn’t quit wrestling.”
Other placewinners included Cody Wigfield (fifth at 170 pounds), Steeven Smith (fifth at 220 pounds) and Ben Barth (sixth at 120 pounds).
“Considering where we started earlier in the day, we’re very, very happy with where we ended up,” said Fox. “It was quite a run. It was really fun to be a part of. It was interesting how you could see the kids start to gain momentum after watching the guy ahead of them go out and win. One guy goes and wins and the next guy says, ‘I can do that.’ They started believing in themselves and kept going. It was just fantastic. And the fans were great. We had people listening on the radio who said they could pick out our fans right off the bat.”
With many of those placewinners set to return next season, Fox said it will be interesting to see how their experience at individual sections helps them develop. Having previous success to build on going into a new year will be a real positive for the program.
“It was a great finish for our kids,” Fox said. “We were the team we typically were all year. We showed up and were really good in one round, the next round we were terrible, and the next round we’d come right back. They were a resilient bunch.”