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Wrestling: Knights take home Section 6A team title in dominant fashion as Raiders finish second

West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville qualifies for team state tournament following Section 6A title win Saturday.

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WCA-A-B-E's Anthony Sykora pins B-H-V-PP's Cayden Kimber in a match on Feb. 19, 2022. WCA-A-B-E defeated B-H-V-PP in the Section 6A Team Duals Tournament 48-21.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

NEW YORK MILLS - The West Central Area-Ashby-Brandon-Evansville Knights dominated the mat Saturday en route to the team’s first Section 6A team title in five years.

“It feels good,” WCA-A-B-E head coach Brandon Gruchow said. “It’s good to get back to the (Xcel Energy Center). We're just excited to have that opportunity and give the community that opportunity.”

The Knights won the semifinal dual against the New York Mills Eagles 66-12 and toppled the Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers Prairie Raiders 48-21 in the finals.

The Knights won 22 out of their 28 matches Saturday.

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The WCA-A-B-E wrestling program poses for a team photo following the team's Section 6A Championship win on Feb. 19, 2022.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

“It’s an unreal feeling,” junior co-captain Anthony Sykora said. “We haven’t been in the state tournament [team duals] since my 6th-grade year. I think it's a big jump for our program.”

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With the section title win, the Knights will wrestle at the MSHSL Class A Team State Tournament on March 3, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Knights finished fourth in their 2017 appearance.

The Knights, who are ranked No. 7 in Class A by the Guillotine, are now gunning for a state title.

“I said to them (the team), ‘Hey, this is great, this is awesome, but remember what we really, really wanted right?’” Brandon Gruchow said. “We took a couple of lumps [this season] and got beat by some teams. And maybe they're thinking we can't do that. But we can still do it if we really, really want it. This was a good booster in getting them in the right direction for that.”

That belief that they can win a state team title is shared amongst the Knight wrestlers.

“It’ll take all 14 guys, obviously,” Sykora said. “If you put it all together, I think we're state champs.”

Seeding for the Class A Team State Tournament will be announced on Tuesday, according to the MSHSL website .

The Knights had an all-around good team performance, with them winning at least one match at all 14 weight classes Saturday.

Through six matches against the Raiders, the Knights led by just three, 15-12. Starting with sophomore Solomon Wales at 145, the Knights earned seven straight victories for 36 team points and locked up the win.

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Wales’ pin in the finals dual was his second of the night. He pinned Joe Mann (2:43) in the New York Mills dual and crossed the 75 career win threshold in the process.

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WCA-A-B-E sophomore Solomon Wales earned his 75th career victory with a pin in a dual against New York Mills on Feb. 19, 2022.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

“He's so calm when he wrestles, but yet he's tenacious, and it's fun,” Gruchow said. “It really fuels the fire for the guys that follow him.”

In both duals, the Knights created momentum early that carried throughout. The Knights jumped out to a 9-0 lead through three matches against the Raiders. This start was a bit like the start to the semifinal dual against the Eagles, where the Knights led 33-0 through six matches.

Against the Raiders, the Knights rattled off three straight close wins to open the dual, starting with 7th-grader Owen Gruchow’s 7-4 decision over Justin Olson at 106 pounds.

“He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself,” Brandon Gruchow said. “I just said, ‘Hey, let's go wrestle for fun, just enjoy it, and good things will happen.’ I think getting that win was huge to just give that momentum for those other guys.”

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WCA-A-B-E 7th-grader Owen Gruchow finishes a double leg takedown in the Section 6A Dual Finals on Feb. 19, 2022.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

Carter and Adam Lohse got close wins of their own, with Carter (113) winning 8-5 over 8th-grader Preston Captain and Adam (120) winning 4-2 over junior Bennet Arceneau.

“Going 1, 2, 3 (winning the first three matches) was definitely huge for us,” Brandon Gruchow said.

The Raiders got their first win in the finals dual with a pin (1:26) by sophomore David Revering (126) over sophomore Mason Richter.

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The Knights responded to Revering’s pin with a pin by freshman Hunter Gruchow (138) over junior Deagan Captain (2:45).

“He started off a little rocky there, so we were a little nervous,” Brandon Gruchow said. “He got taken down a couple of times in the match but found a way to come back and he started to dominate. He got a big turn and found a way to get a pin. I think whenever you can do that to a good kid like Deagan Captain, it can definitely get the momentum going again for the team.”

At 138 pounds, Raider senior Reese Thompson pinned Knight sophomore Kolby Peters (1:11) in what would be the Raiders’ last win for a while.

Following the seven straight bouts won by the Knights, the Raiders took the final two.

Senior Gideon Ervasti (ranked No. 2 at 220 in Class A) won 7-4 over senior Colton Lindquist (ranked No. 5 at 220 in Class A).

Freshman Hunter Strom (285) capped off the finals dual with a pin over junior Tyler Stone (3:59) to give the Raiders their fourth win over the dual.

To get to the section finals, the Raiders needed heroics from Strom.

Tied at 32 with the Border West Buccaneers, it was a due-or-die situation with just one match left. That’s when Strom came through clutch.

Strom took down sophomore Noah Adelman early in the first period, rode him out in the second period before pinning him in the third to advance the Raiders to the section finals with a 38-32 win.

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B-H-V-PP's Hunter Strom tries to turn Border West's Noah Adelman in the Section 6A Dual semifinals on Feb. 19, 2022.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

“Hunter has been wrestling for quite a while and like most heavyweights, he's a smart kid who doesn't want to get underneath. So he rode him out, the kid overextended and Hunter took advantage of it,” B-H-V-PP head coach Bill Wagner said. “Hunter does a nice job with that.”

Wagner said the team had an up and down year but wrestled well at the right time.

“We've been kind of beat up, but we're all here now at the end just like we needed to be,” Wagner said. “We went out with our best effort. West Central is a heck of a team and I hope they do well down at the state tournament.”

The Section 6A Individual Tournament is set for Feb. 26 at Wadena-Deer Creek High School.

“It's a little bit different wrestling. You're not going to need to pin to win, but you still wrestle for yourself,” WCA-A-B-E senior co-captain Ashton Danner said.

Gruchow also said the individual tournament allows the wrestlers to wrestle their own style.

“It’ll be a different feel, obviously,” Gruchow said. “But I think the confidence they gained (on Saturday) will pay off.”

B-H-V-PP and WCA-A-B-E are two of the eight teams competing in Section 6A.

Wrestling on Feb. 26 in Wadena begins at 9 a.m.

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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