The Alexandria wrestling team lost to Sartell-St. Stephen in a 52-15 final last season and to St. Cloud Tech by a 46-23 score. Both those programs lost some talent from those teams, but so did Alexandria with the losses of Ryan Borris and Cody Richardson.
That’s why the Cardinals were encouraged coming away from their home triangular on Tuesday with a split. Alexandria beat St. Cloud Tech in the nightcap by a 34-33 score after closing the gap with Sartell to 42-37.
“It was exciting,” head coach Aldon Struchen said. “We push the team atmosphere as much as we can. To have a chance in both of these duals, we needed some guys to bump up a weight class, which ultimately bumped out one of our younger guys at 195 in (eighth-grader) Jackson Saffert. It gave us some match-ups where they were close.”
The Cardinals did not win every one of those match-ups that they tried to position the lineup for. Talented sophomore Kelly Johnson lost in a 9-4 final at 152 pounds against St. Cloud Tech, and senior Tate Runge fell 7-3 at 160.
“Are they capable of beating those kids? Absolutely,” Struchen said. “I probably would run that lineup 99 out of 100 times. It was the best situation for us to win it. It’s been fun. These guys rally around each other, and they’re working extremely hard. This is something to build off of.”
Alexandria trailed 21-16 after that loss at 160, but senior JP Rodel (170), junior Mason Teaser (182) and sophomore Gavryn Fernholz (195) all won by fall to completely flip the match.
“That was neat that they were able to seal the deal for us,” Struchen said. “Going into the 220 and heavyweight, we’ve got young, inexperienced guys trying to find their way. We kind of expected to win a couple matches that we didn’t, and they rallied around each other and stepped up and got some wins where we weren’t necessarily expecting it.”
The three late pins secured the win for the Cardinals with the final two weight classes left.
Alexandria went 11-17 a year ago as a team with a young roster. It’s still relatively young with AJ Sparr, Runge and Rodel being the three seniors in the varsity lineup Tuesday. That’s why a split in the triangular and moving to 3-1 overall through two competitions was a step in the right direction for this team.
“We still got to keep working, but it feels good,” sophomore Blaze Nelson said after going 1-1 on the day at 126 pounds. “It’s a confidence boost, but we need to keep working so we can keep coming out on top.”
Nelson had a 2-0 win over Class AAA’s seventh-ranked Jaxon Kenning of St. Cloud Tech. Ranked fifth in the Class AA polls at 126 pounds, Nelson is part of a talented start of the lineup for Alexandria in the lower weights that also features Mason McGrane -- a freshman who is ranked 10th at 106 pounds.
McGrane got two wins on Tuesday with an 11-2 major decision wrestling at 113 pounds against Zac Anderson of Sartell. He then pinned the Tigers’ Noah Neuman at 106 pounds in the first period. It’s part of a 4-0 start to the season for McGrane.
“He’s physically matured from last year to this year,” Struchen said of McGrane’s progress. “He was 91 pounds and barely making the minimum as a 106-pounder last year. He had a great section tournament and finished fourth, so we knew what we had with him. It was just giving up that size. At the varsity level, he only had five or six wins, so he’s making that transition. He’s taking the mat with more confidence, and that’s a big part of it in wrestling.”
The growth in confidence can be said about a lot of the guys on this team right now. Struchen said before the season that he believes the Cardinals can be a top four or five team in the 11-team Section 8AA field. It’s just four matches in, but with three wins under its belt, Alexandria is off to a good start.
“I think Sartell and Tech are in the mix for the top half of our conference,” Struchen said. “Brainerd and Willmar are going to be really good in our conference too, and we get to see everybody twice. It was fun to show we can compete with them...There’s a number of guys in the lineup who don’t have a lot of experience. The more they take the mat at this varsity level, it’s just going to help that.”
(See Friday's issue of the Echo Press Newspaper for more on Alexandria's fifth-ranked sophomore Blaze Nelson and how he hopes to take another step this season after making back-to-back state tournaments)
ALEXANDRIA 34, ST. CLOUD TECH 33
106 - Mason McGrane (A) def. Noah Neuman by fall, 1:23; 113 - Jesus Ruis (Tech) def. Hunter Meyers by fall, 1:05; 120 - Tanner Hugg (Tech) def. Brenden Bryce by fall, 4:41; 126 - Blaze Nelson (A) def. Jaxon Kenning, 2-0; 132 - Mahamat Hissein (Tech) def. AJ Sparr, 7-4; 138 - Cole Vatnsdal (A) def. Nick Hamak by major decision, 11-2; 145 - Cody Vatnsdal (A) def. Sam Long, 4-0; 152 - Aidan Orth (Tech) def. Kelly Johnson, 9-4; 160 - Andy Johnson (Tech) def. Tate Runge, 7-3; 170 - JP Rodel (A) def. Logan Lunceford by fall, 0:44; 182 - Mason Teaser (A) def. Koda Nelson by fall, 0:21; 195 - Gavryn Fernholz (A) def. Patrick Njoya by fall, 2:59; 220 - Tucker Hugg won by forfeit; 285 - Spencer Gustin (Tech) def. Luke Maanum by fall, 0:41
SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN 42, ALEXANDRIA 37
106 - Mason Evjen (A) won by forfeit; 113 - Mason McGrane (A) won by major decision, 11-2; 120 - Spencer Johnson (S) def. Brenden Bryce by fall, 0:40; 126 - Dylan Enriguez (S) def. Blaze Nelson by fall, 3:05; 132 - AJ Sparr (A) def. Dutch Nordby by fall, 5:34; 138 - Cole Vatnsdal (A) def. Ryan Joyce by fall, 1:38; 145 - Ashton Lipinski (S) def. Cody Vatnsdal by fall, 3:53; 152 - Kelly Johnson (A) def. Avery Kouba, 9-7; 160 - Tate Runge (A) def. Dagan LaSart by fall, 0:44; 170 - JP Rodel (A) def. Larkin Lang by fall, 1:24; 182 - William Budge (S) def. Mason Teaser by fall, 1:12; 195 - Dylan Welle (S) def. Gavryn Fernholz by fall, 4:29; 220 - Ethan Torgrimson (S) def. Luke Maanum by fall, 4:56; 285 - Bret Thayer (S) def. David Rauscher by fall, 1:10