Wrestling: Determination leads to a state title for B-H-V-PP's Abby Ervasti
Grit and work ethic leads Bertha-Hewitt-Verdnale-Parkers Prairie's Abby Ervasti to win the girls state title at 138 pounds, while West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville, Alexandria, Osakis, Minnewaska, and B-H-V-PP all had at least one wrestler take home a medal from the 2023 state tournament.
ST. PAUL - Abby Ervasti has been a pillar in the Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie wrestling program for years.
She started wrestling in sixth grade for the Verndale junior high team. She's been in the B-H-V-PP varsity lineup since eighth grade and has grown in her skill set.
And now, Ervasti is state champion after winning the 138-pound bracket at the second MSHSL Girls State Tournament on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center.
"This shows that all this hard work, all this time in the gym, and time on the mat was 150 percent worth it," She said. "At the beginning of the season, I took a couple of really rough losses, and I didn't think I was going get there; but all the effort paid off."
Ervasti battled GMLOS junior Diann Smith in the finals and won by a 3-1 decision.
Ervasti jumped ahead early with a key first period takedown.
"I knew she was going to try to throw me because that's what she likes to do," Ervasti said. "So I stayed away from her arms. And then when she would reach me, I would throw by and try to get a two-on-one or a russian, and I knew it was there."
That takedown ended up being the difference-maker in the match.
Smith had been dominant in her matches up to that point, as she earned a 16-2 major decision in the first round and a 25-second pin in the semifinals.
Ervasti was in the 2022 state tournament finals at 145 pounds.
She made the finals last season but lost by a pin to Apple Valley's Grace Alagbo in the second period.
That loss flipped a switch for Ervasti.
"Before this year, I didn't wrestle a ton in the summer," Ervasti said. "I didn't get in the gym that much because I was afraid if I got bulky that I wouldn't be pretty. But when I lost last year (in the finals), it was because she was in the gym more than me. That was the difference; she was way stronger. So this summer, I lifted a lot, wrestled a lot, wrestled in Fargo, went to junior nationals, stuff in the fall, and a ton of things."
Immediately after winning the title, she celebrated with coaches and family onsight.
"My family is 150 percent behind me," Ervasti said. "All the time last year, with my brother, Gideon, being a running runner up (220) alongside me to this year where they were in the stands watching me from the second row was super special."
Ervasti got to the finals with an 8-6 decision over Kelsey Cruz Rojas of Bloomington Kennedy in the first round and a 7-2 decision over Luverne's Cece Rock.
Ervasti had a dominant season, finishing 22-4 overall.
"My coaches are the best; I don't think they're are any better ones in this building," Ervasti said after her finals win.
The girls state tournament saw big growth from year one to year two.
In year one, the girls tournament featured four wrestlers each in 12 weight classes, but this year's tournament featured eight wrestlers in those same 12 weight classes.
Ervasti is happy and excited about the growth of the sport locally and statewide.
"It's been amazing," Ervasti said. "When I started in the room as a sixth grader, I was the only girl, and I would never wrestle a girl. I think until I was a freshman, I probably only wrestled three girls. Then for the sport to get sanctioned was amazing. I think the big issue was people said the sport wasn't going to grow. But if you look at every state where it got sanctioned, as soon as girls were told that they could, the sport grew exponentially, and that's why it's in like the top five girls' sports in the United States. 'I would tell other girls, don't think that you can't do it just because you're in a room full of guys.'"
On the boys side, B-H-V-PP junior David Revering earned fifth place in Class A at 145 pounds after beating Crookston's Ethan Bowman, 5-2, in the fifth place match. Revering (40-9) earned a 6-1 decision against William Pilarski (Holdingford) in his first match on Saturday but lost by a 5-3 decision to Canby's Lincoln Fink in the next round to get to the fifth place match that he won.
Senior Braden Shamp (285) also wrestled on the second day of the tournament. Shamp fell to Brandon Mugg of Royalton-Upsala by a 7-4 decision. Shamp finishes the season with a 29-19 record.
Ervasti and Revering's top finishes were a couple of the many that area wrestlers had at the 2023 state tournament.
WCA-A-B-E's Anthony Sykora wraps up standout career
West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville senior Anthony Sykora had a stellar career for the Knights wrestling program (Class A).
He finished his career with a 226-47 varsity record, a six-time state qualifier, a three-time all-state wrestler, a state champion (2022 - 170), and, with the results of this year's state tournament, a two-time state finalist.
"He has meant a lot; he's been with us since he was a little guy," WCA-A-B-E head coach Brandon Gruchow said of Sykora. "I remember watching him as a youth wrestler; he was so aggressive and so powerful. We could see it coming; we knew he was a great wrestler, and he turned out to be one."
Sykora wrestled Chatfield's Kail Schott (38-4) in the finals in Class A at 182 on Saturday. Schott won the match with a takedown in sudden-victory period one, 8-6.
"He's a big boy; he's tall and all of 182," Gruchow said of Schott. "We knew he was going to have to work some angles, more to the outside, and beat him with speed. We took a couple of shots where we were underneath. Anthony was wrestling hard, getting aggressive, and getting after it. It just didn't fall our way."
Sykora (48-2) earned a pin in the semifinals (3:11) over Paynesville Area's Peyton Hemmesch to get to the finals.
Sykora, who signed to play college football and to wrestle at Minnesota State University-Moorhead in the fall, was a big part of the Knights' back-to-back Section 6A Team titles and top-six finishes at the Class A team tournament (3rd in 2022, 6th in 2023).
"When he steps out there on the mat, the confidence he has to go out there and wrestle is fantastic," Gruchow said. "And I think that just and besides his pure athleticism is just something that's pretty cool and special."
Joining Sykora in the finals for the Knights was sophomore Hunter Gruchow at 145 pounds. Gruchow finished sixth place last season at 132 last season and built on that outing this season.
Hunter Gruchow (45-7) battled tooth-and-nail Caledonia-Houston's Tucker Ginther (37-2) in the finals match, but Ginther won the match 3-1 after a takedown in the second period and an escape in the third period. After going 2-0 on Friday, Gruchow beat Canby's Lincoln Fink by an 11-4 decision in the semifinals to get to the finals match.
8th-grader Owen Gruchow (106) started his day with a pin (1:25) over Parker Holn (Central Public Schools) to seal his spot on the awards stand. Gruchow fell by pin to Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial Area's Ryder Antony by a 7-3 decision. Gruchow finished with an 8-6 loss to Minnewaska's Miles Wildman in the fifth place match and placed sixth overall in Class A.
Junior Solomon Wales (138) got to the third place match in Class A with a 7-0 decision of Bailey Peichel (Frazee) and a 4-2 win over Caledonia-Houston's Cory Scanlan after picking up two wins on Friday.
Wales (39-13) placed fourth after Kenyon-Wanimingo's Gavin Johnson won the third place match by 6-0 decision.
After pushing through the competition needed on Friday, senior Beau Robinson (195) had a wrestle-back on Saturday. Jackson County Central's Matthew Haley beat Robinson by an 8-2 decision. He finished his season at 31-14.
"I'm super proud of all my guys," Coach Gruchow said. "The last few days have been phenomenal; it was a great tournament. Is it where we absolutely want to be with everybody? No, but it could be worse, and I've proud of all they accomplished."
Alexandria's Blaze Nelson finishes senior season in the top six
Senior Blaze Nelson (145) wrapped up his Cardinal career by finishing as one of the best wrestlers in the state.
Nelson's two first period pins on Friday got him into the semifinals. Nelson began his day facing the defending state champion, and No. 1 ranked 145-pounder in the state and country, New Prague's Koy Buesngens.
Nelson attacked Buesngens legs from the get-go, but Buesngens countered well.
Buesngens pinned Nelson (1:49) and went on to win the state title.
Nelson was pinned by Scott West's Landon Church in a consolation match (0:45) and lost by injury default to Detroit Lakes' Tyson Ullyott in the fifth place match.
Nelson finishes his successful senior campaign with a 37-10 record. Nelson finished his career as a five-time state qualifier and ended his campaign with a sixth place finish in 2023.
Freshman Nolan Fettig (106) also had a wrestle-back on Saturday after earning two wins on Friday but fell to Ben Gunlogson (DB-LQP-MU) in the second period.
Fettig finishes his impressive season with a 44-4 record, which is something to build on going forward.
Alexandria had a successful season not only on the mat but off of it as well.
Alexandria finished the season as the Class AA State champion with a team GPA of 3.88.
Big pin gives Osakis' Joy Kral a medal
Trailing 2-0 in the second period of a consolation round match in the 185-pound girls bracket against St. Michael-Albertville's Maggie Steele, Osakis sophomore Joy Kral needed a big takedown to tie the match.
Not only did she get the takedown with the move she had been trying to hit all match, but that front headlock put Steele on her back, and Kral held on for the pin (3:44) to move on to the fifth place match.
Kral (7-6) came close to winning her fifth place match, but Fillmore C/Lanesboro/M-C's Katie Wheelan pulled out the 7-6 win.
Kral finished the season as an all-state wrestler by finishing in the top six.
Juniors Jacon Taplin (132) and Gaven Cimbura (160) both qualified for the second day of the tournament for the Silverstreaks (Class A).
Taplin was eliminated from the tournament with a 4-0 loss to Belgrade-Brooten-Elorsa's Ryan Jensen. Taplin finished the season with a 42-5 record.
Cimbura was eliminated from the tournament after Luverne's DJ Rock pinned him in the second period (3:00). Cimbura finished with a 35-13 record this season.
Young Minnewaska duo crack top six
The Minnewaska wrestling program (Class A) had two wrestlers qualify for the state meet, and both of them made the awards stand.
A three-point near fall in the third period for 8th-grader Miles Wildman (106) helped him earn the bronze medal at 106. Before his match against Owen Gruchow, Wildman lost to Chatfield's Javier Berg by pinfall (5:39) in the semifinals and by a 7-5 decision to WEM-JWP's Brady Murphy.
Wildman finished with a 40-4 record this season.
Sophomore Chase Smith (113) got to the awards stand by earning wins on Friday and beating Tracy-Milroy-Balaton-Westbrook-Walnut-Grove's David Schuh with an early second period pin (2:13) in a wrestle-back match.
Sibley East's Benitz Ortiz pinned Smith in the first period of the fifth place match (1:34), and Smith placed sixth at 113 in Class AA. Smith had a 36-6 record this season.