Wrestling: Willmar Cardinals lookin' good in 8AAA

Feb. 6—The path to the state wrestling tournament in Section 8AAA runs through Willmar. The Cardinals hope that is both a literal and figurative statement.

The wrestling postseason is about to get underway. It'll be ladies first when the section girls tournaments kickoff this weekend. Sections 5/7 and 6/8 compete in Bemidji while Sections 1/3 and 2/4 are at Redwood Falls.

Next week, the guys begin the postseason with team sections, followed by individuals the following week. The season culminates with the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center. The team tournament takes place Thursday, Feb. 29, followed by the two-day individual tournament on March 1-2.

The Section 8AAA team tournament begins next Wednesday, Feb. 14 at the high seeds. The semifinals and finals are set for Friday, Feb. 16 at the Big Red Gym at Willmar High School. The individual tournament is Feb. 24 at Moorhead.

Will the Cardinals win the section for the fourth straight season? Here's a look at the section tournaments around the area. Records and rankings are as of Monday night.

Willmar all but locked up the top seed in Section 8AAA after going 2-0 at its home triangular on Jan. 26. The Cardinals beat Bemidji 29-28, followed by a win over the St. Cloud Crush, 51-8.

There's a new team atop the Central Lakes Conference, with Rocori winning the CLC. It's the first time a team other than Willmar won the conference since 2012-13.

However, the Cardinals' aspirations are the state tournament, and they appear in great shape to get back to St. Paul. They are 5-0 against 8AAA opponents and 14-10 overall. Willmar faces Moorhead on Tuesday night to complete the section schedule. In the Jan. 25 state polls from The Guillotine, Willmar is 10th in the team rankings and has four top-10 wrestlers in Conlan Carlson (third, 145 pounds), Steven Cruze (fifth, 172), Cavin Carlson (fifth, 133) and Sully Anez (ninth, 152).

The number two seed in the section is up for debate. A seventh straight 8AAA championship dual between Willmar and Bemidji isn't a certainty thanks to Brainerd.

The Lumberjacks have two section losses: the aforementioned match against Willmar and a 31-26 loss to Brainerd on Dec. 21. That puts Bemidji at 5-2 against 8AAA opponents. The Warriors are 5-1 against the section, with the loss coming against Willmar, 42-26 on Jan. 16.

Bemidji is in the Class AAA lean and mean rankings and has three ranked wrestlers in Nick Strand (third, 139), Parker Orvik (third, 285) and Gabe Morin (ninth, 121). Brainerd has two ranked wrestlers with Easton Dircks (fifth, 139) and Shane Carlson (eighth, 189).

Defending Section 3AA champion Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley/Montevideo does not have an easy path back to state. Marshall and New London-Spicer will make the United's road a bumpy one.

United has built an impressive dual meet resume with a 20-2 record. Its two losses have been in tight matches against Willmar (29-27) and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove (29-26). In the section, United is 5-0, including a 35-28 win over Marshall. A matchup between United and NLS on Jan. 9 was canceled.

Marshall's only section loss is to United. Beyond that, the Tigers are 8-0 against 3AA squads and are 23-3 in duals.

Then there's NLS sneaking in as a dark-horse candidate with a 13-4 duals record and a 1-0 mark against the section, beating Hutchinson/Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart 35-22.

All three field strong resumes. United is seventh as a team and has four ranked individuals: Brady Rhode (second, 285); Dan Gunlogson (third, 139); Kameron Sather (fifth, 145) and Ben Gunlogson (seventh, 127). Marshall is eighth and boasts a pair of top 10 wrestlers in Dylan Louwagie (first, 133) and Tate Condezo (fifth, 160). NLS is 11th and also has a pair in the top 10 in Isaiah Nelson (eighth, 133) and Marshel Johnson (10th, 285).

Marshall last made state in 2019. NLS is looking for its first trip as a team.

The 3AA team tournament starts Thursday, Feb. 15 at the high seeds and concludes with the semifinals and finals on Saturday, Feb. 17 at New London. The individual tournament follows on Feb. 24 at Windom.

Elsewhere in Class AA:

* Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield competes in the Section 6AA tournament. The team portion gets underway Thursday, Feb. 15 at the high seeds and finishes up on Friday, Feb. 16 at Foley. The individual tournament is Feb. 23-24 at Princeton. Top teams to watch in 6AA are defending section champ Becker (ranked sixth), Annandale/Maple Lake (12th), Rocori (lean and mean) and Foley (lean and mean).

* Minnewaska jumped up a Class and is in Section 8AA. The team portion begins Thursday, Feb. 15 and the final four is Friday, Feb. 16 at Glenwood. The individual tournament is Feb. 23-24 at Glyndon. The Lakersl try to compete with section front-runner Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (ranked 10th) and defending section champ Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus (lean and mean).

Section 5A has belonged to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa the past three seasons. But 5A has a deep collection of teams ready to knock the Jaguars off the top of the mountain.

For its part, BBE has built a strong dual record, going 15-2. The second-ranked team in Class A has section wins against Paynesville (42-19), Benson (42-6), Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (40-21), Minneota (34-26), Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (62-10) and Quad County (69-0). The Jaguars also sport five ranked wrestlers with defending state champ Maximus Hanson (first, 172) along with Ryan Jensen (second, 139), Carson Gilbert (fifth, 215), Brett DeRoo (eighth, 152) and Tanner Viessman (ninth, 145).

One of BBE's losses came against 5A foe Canby, which jumped out to a 32-6 lead through seven matches en route to a 38-29 win on Jan. 26.

Minneota (10th) and Paynesville (11th) are also ranked in the top 12. The Vikings are 14-8 in duals (5-2 vs. 5A) and have Kaden Lasnetski (seventh, 107) and Adam Devlaeminck (seventh, 127) in the top 10. The Bulldogs are 16-6 (4-3 vs. 5A) and a duo in the top 10 in Peyton Hemmesch (third, 189) and Roman Roberg (fifth, 114).

KMS (9-7, 7-2 vs. 5A) and ACGC (20-11, 2-3 vs. 5A) are lean and mean. Led by former state champ Trey Gunderson, the Fighting Saints have four ranked wrestlers. Gunderson is first at 133, followed by Jett Olson (seventh, 160), Colton Noble (ninth, 114) and Aaron Jones (10th, 172). The Falcons have a trio in the top 10: Jevon Williams (first, 160); Edwyn Gonzalez (fifth, 133); and Isaiah Renne (sixth, 215).

While unranked, don't count out Canby. The Lancers are 10-3 in duals and 4-0 against 5A teams, with wins over BBE and Minneota (30-21). Eli Greenman (fourth, 121) and Nick Wagner (fifth, 189) are ranked for Canby.

The 5A team tournament begins Thursday, Feb. 15 at the high seeds and concludes Saturday, Feb. 17 at Minneota. The individual tournament is Feb. 24 at Canby.