The Hastings Raiders wrestling team took sixth out of eight teams in the state tournament last Thursday, March 1, at the Xcel Energy Center. The Raiders went 1-2 in their three duals, losing to Anoka in the quarterfinals, beating Stillwater in the consolation semifinals and then falling to Albert Lea Area in the consolation championship. This is Hastings third year in a row in which they have placed at state. They were consolation champions (fifth place) in 2016 and fourth last season.
The Raiders dropped their first dual to second-seeded Anoka, 39-22. Anoka got out to a large lead in the lower weights and it was too much for the Raiders to make up in the upper weights. Many had pegged Anoka as the team to beat this year, even before Apple Valley was upset by Shakopee. Hastings won five matches, Paul Kendall at 120 pounds, Corbin Leflay at 152, T.J. Pottinger at 182, Trey Rogers at 195 and Drake Guck at 220.
"We knew it was going to be a very tough matchup," head coach Josh McLay said. "They have eight seniors or whatever it was on that squad, so this was their year. We just didn't match up real well. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. I think the kids went out there and wrestled well, it just wasn't a good match up for our guys, but the kids went out there and battled them."
Hastings bounced back quickly with a 44-21 win against Stillwater in the consolation semifinals. Hastings won the first two matches, but the Ponies were able to build an 18-9 lead heading into 145.
Then Hastings won seven of the last eight matches, including a forfeit to Trey Rogers at 195 which sealed the match for the Raiders. Winners were John Kendall (106), Croix Mader (113), Mac Wilson (145), Leflay, Godswill Pepple (170), Pottinger, Rogers, Guck and Chamberlain (285).
McLay said that going in they expected a tight dual.
"They were ranked ahead of us for a while and then ranked below us, so we knew we could be getting into a dogfight," he said. "That was nice that the kids came out and rebounded well. They showed a lot of resilience the way that they came back out and just wrestled great right from the get-go."
Hastings then had a rematch from earlier in the season for their consolation championship match. They faced Albert Lea Area, who beat the Raiders by 30 points during the regular season, and it was Hastings' time to show how much they had progressed over the last month. However, it was not to be as the Raiders found themselves in a quick 26-0 hole through the first six matches. It was not until Mac Wilson won by major decision at 145 that they finally got on the board, but they were eliminated after Godswill Pepple was pinned at 170.
Getting wins for Hastings were Mac Wilson by major decision, Leflay by major decision, Pottinger by tech fall, Rogers by fall in 1:40 and Guck by a 4-1 decision.
"We wrestled those guys earlier in the year and they beat us pretty bad," McLay said. "They beat us by 30 points earlier in the year so we knew that was going to be a tough match. So we closed the gap on them quite a bit, I mean they beat us by 15 so we closed the gap in half. We didn't want to lose that match obviously, but the kids really did a good job of stepping up and, considering we lost by 30 before, and only ended up losing by 15 this time, that's a hell of a turnaround."
The team came a long way from the start of the season, when they had trouble putting together their ideal lineup due to kids being out for a variety of reasons. But McLay said they peaked at the right time.
"I knew it was possible, but man, from the beginning of this year, it was just a strange year," he said. "We couldn't get guys healthy, we couldn't get guys in the lineup, and it just wasn't working out in the way we anticipated. But the kids made the sacrifice to get down to weight and we had the right lineup, finally, come section time, and that is when it counted."