Alexandria sophomore wrestler Blaze Nelson has become a guy with a target on his back.

He knows that coming into this season after back-to-back trips to the state tournament, and he was reminded of it on Tuesday night in the Cardinals home triangular.

Nelson, ranked fifth in the Class AA polls at 126 pounds, wrestled Dylan Enriquez of Sartell in his opening match. Enriquez is a talented wrestler, but he is not ranked in the Jan. 10 individual polls through The Guillotine. That didn’t matter as he pinned Nelson in the second period.

“The kid was good. I wasn’t very prepared,” Nelson said of facing Enriquez. “I think if we were to do it again, I think I’d come out on top.”

It was Nelson’s first loss of the early season, and he was hungry to get back on the mat in Alexandria’s nightcap against St. Cloud Tech. He couldn’t afford to slip up against the Tigers’ Jaxon Kenning, the seventh-ranked wrestler at 126 in Class AAA.

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Both guys feature a lot of speed and athleticism, and there were not a lot of shots to be taken throughout the three periods. Nelson got a takedown in the first, and that held up as he won a 2-0 decision to improve to 3-1 overall.

“I was very motivated,” Nelson said. “I was less motivated going into my first match. I knew I had a very good opponent. My head just wasn’t in the right place. Once I lost, I knew I couldn’t go 0-2 tonight. That would be bad.”

Nelson is eager to prove he is one of the best wrestlers in Minnesota after breaking onto the scene as a young athlete the last couple of years.

"This year, I’m hoping to go (to state) with a really good record, which is hard to do when you have stupid mess ups like I had tonight. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again, and I’ll keep working hard and do good."

- Blaze Nelson, Alexandria sophomore wrestler

Nelson won his first match at the state tournament as a freshman 113-pounder last winter. It was an encore from his eighth-grade season where he surprised even himself by getting to state after a solid section-tournament run.

Nelson was just trying to get his feet wet on varsity at that point. He says he wasn’t even thinking about his place in the pecking order among the state’s best wrestlers at that point in his career, but things have certainly changed now.

“100 percent,” Nelson said. “This year, I’m hoping to go in with a really good record, which is hard to do when you have stupid mess ups like I had tonight. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again, and I’ll keep working hard and do good.”

Nelson’s spot in the state rankings right now is based on his potential this season after such a good start to his career.

“He’s confident. We’ve been telling him, ‘Blaze, you’re a two-time state qualifier. You have a target on your back now. You’re going to get the best from every wrestler that comes at you,’” Alexandria head coach Aldon Struchen said. “He knows that, and he’s stepping up to the challenge. Yeah, he had a little setback tonight against Sartell, but we get to wrestle them again and that’s exciting.”

The loss to Enriquez seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Nelson as he kept coming back to it even after beating Kenning on Tuesday. Nelson has big goals for this season, and accomplishing them will take great focus on a daily basis.

“Win sections, place high at state,” he said. “I feel like I’m capable of placing higher than what I’m ranked at right now. I think I could get top three, top four. That’s my goal, but I want to stay humble. I don’t want to have a big head just because I won one match (Tuesday). On paper, I was supposed to win that match anyways, and I shouldn’t have lost my first match.”

Struchen has watched Nelson display a lot of potential over the last couple of seasons. Now it’s about taking that next step as he goes from a young wrestler into being the guy that every opponent is motivated to beat each night.

“If you’re going to be on the podium at the state tournament, all three positions have to be elite,” Struchen said. “I think the bottom is where he needs to put some more focus in. He’s really coming along with his top game and on his feet. It’s just confidence and continuing to wrestle top-level guys and finding ways to win. That’s hard to do against that top talent.”