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Wrestling: Knights set their sights on state after dominating in section opener

West Central Area-A-B-E senior Mason Nibbe brings Barnesville's Jackson Poepping to the mat during their match at 220 pounds on Tuesday. Nibbe got a late pin in the third period to help the Knights to a 66-9 win in the section tournament opener. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)1 / 7
WCA-A-B-E's Anthony Sykora (right) drops John Roller for a takedown during their match at 106 pounds on Tuesday. Sykora won the match by fall in 44 seconds. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 7
The Knights' Kaleb Getz pins Wyatt Roller of Barnesville in just 47 seconds at 126 pounds. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)3 / 7
Chris Onstad of the Knights grabs the leg of Brandt Thorson from Barnesville. Onstad pinned Thorson in 1 minute, 52 seconds during their match at 138 pounds. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)4 / 7
Hunter Mickelsen (front) of WCA-A-B-E locks up with Hunter Anderson of Barnesville at 145 pounds. Mickelsen won the match by fall in 3:54. (Eric Morken / Echo Press) 5 / 7
Alex Butcher takes control of Brady Kroll at 160 pounds on Tuesday. Butcher won the match by a 6-2 decision. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)6 / 7
Knights' senior Levi Larkin gets in position for the pin in Alex Jenison of Barnesville in just 38 seconds during their match at 182 pounds. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)7 / 7

The opening match of the Section 6, Class A wrestling tournament for West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville had long since been decided on Tuesday by the time Mason Nibbe stepped on the mat.

The Knights are the top seed in the field and took care of business in a 66-9 win over Barnesville. Nibbe showed the kind of killer instinct this group has when he worked deep into the third period at 220 pounds. The team score was already 60-6, and he could have just coasted through the final few seconds for a decision win. Instead, Nibbe finally worked Jackson Poepping to his back and pinned him with five seconds left in the match.

“Our coach always wants us to get the pin,” Nibbe said. “We always say win by the pin if you can. That’s always what goes through my mind no matter what the score is for the team. For me, I always want that pin.”

The Knights got seven of them against Barnesville. West Central Area-A-B-E won the first seven matches of the night and never looked back.

Fans were waiting to chat with the wrestlers after the match ended, but head coach Brandon Gruchow rushed them into the wrestling room off the side of the gym for a talk. He was happy with their effort, but he also had a message he wanted to get across right away.

“I said enjoy the night, but don’t be satisfied,” Gruchow said. “Let’s make sure we come in Friday and be ready to go. We need to step up one notch in our first match from where we wrestled tonight. If we do that, we should be OK in that one. Then we got to take it up two notches (in the championship). That was the message I gave them. Be happy with what you accomplished but know the job isn’t done.”

Two more wins would allow the Knights to punch their ticket to a fourth straight team state tournament. They will wrestle the winner of fourth-seeded Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie and fifth-seeded Staples-Motley on Friday at 6 p.m. in Bertha.

The Knights took a business-like approach on Tuesday after Barnesville won the right to face them by taking down Pelican Rapids earlier in the night. West Central Area-A-B-E got pins from Anthony Sykora (106), Kaleb Getz (126), Chris Onstad (138), Hunter Mickelsen (145), Kaden Spindler (170), Levi Larkin (182) and Nibbe to set the tone.

“We approached this coming into today that we were going to come out here and pretty much dominate,” Onstad said. “We were going to show the state that we’re number one in the section, one of the top teams in the state. Hopefully, we can keep doing that through the rest of this week.”

Onstad was confident in this group’s ability to do that. Ottertail Central is the second seed in the section and New York Mills is third. The Knights beat OTC 36-25 on Dec. 5 and NYM 42-24 on Jan. 4, but they know anyone they face from here on out can pose a challenge.

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Gruchow said. “We’re going to take it one match at a time. Make sure we’re doing what we need to do and control what we can.”

The Knights have worked all season to get to this point with a talented lineup. They honored more accolades on Tuesday as Nibbe recently secured his 50th career pin and Spindler surpassed 175 wins in his career. Then with a forfeit win at 195 pounds, junior Wyatt Olson got his 50th career win.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Nibbe said of this program’s success the last few years. “All the hours training. We all just push each other as hard as we can. It doesn’t come easy. We have a bunch of natural talent here, but we have to work hard to get what we get.”

The Knights will likely have plenty of individuals make their way to the state tournament again this season, but this team tournament is what’s on their minds right now.

“This means a lot to them,” Gruchow said. “They usually always find a way to step up during team competition versus individual competition. I wish they got as fired up about the individuals. I’m happy that they care about each other enough and care about the program enough and the tradition and the little kids watching them.”

One down, two more wins to go in this section tournament. If the Knights can get them on Friday, they will add to an already impressive run to the state tournament for this program.    

“What it does is it gives the next group of guys some hope,” Gruchow said. “I think if you went back two years ago and asked if last year’s team would have made it, a lot of people questioned it. Come back and a lot of people questioned it again this year. Now it’s the same thing for next year. Hopefully these guys get it in their heads and want it in their hearts and can keep doing it.”


106 - Anthony Sykora (WCA) def. John Roller by fall, 0:44; 113 - Reubens Swanson (WCA) won by forfeit; 120 - Jordan Lohse (WCA) def. Chase Brenner, 1-0; 126 - Kaleb Getz (WCA) def. Wyatt Roller by fall, 0:47; 132 - Kade Olson (WCA) won by forfeit; 138 - Chris Onstad (WCA) def. Brandt Thorson by fall, 1:52; 145 - Hunter Mickelsen (WCA) def. Hunter Anderson by fall, 3:54; 152 - Brady Tweeton (B) def. John Barber by fall, 1:55; 160 - Alex Butcher (WCA) def. Brady Kroll, 6-2; 170 - Kaden Spindler (WCA) def. Cole Swenson by fall, 0:38; 195 - Wyatt Olson (WCA) won by forfeit; 220 - Mason Nibbe (WCA) def. Jackson Poepping by fall, 5:55; 285 - Tyler Stage (B) def. Devin Stone, 2-1

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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