Getting as many wrestlers to the sectional level as possible was the goal of the St. Croix Central tam at their home Division 2 WIAA regional wrestling tournament.
With eight wrestlers advancing out of the regional, the Panthers have put themselves in position to flourish at this Saturday's WIAA Division 2 Sectional Championships in Somerset.
The top three finishers in each weight class of the Division 2 sectional meet will qualify for the WIAA state championships.
Central wrestlers who are advancing to sectionals as regional champions are seniors Carl Moll and Kyle Aaby. Moving on as second place finishers in Saturday's regional are Ryan Gulich, Brian Gibb, Cody Nyhagen, Delfino Carrasco, Josh VanBeek and Austin Edison.
Central coach Brad Holzer said he thinks a number of the Panthers are in excellent position to earn a place in the state tournament field. Moll is a sentimental favorite to get to state after reaching sectionals for the fourth time in his career.
"He's right where we want him to be," Holzer said. "He's always just been on the cusp of getting to state."
Moll pulled off one of the most thrilling wins of the regional finals against Ellsworth's Henry Holdorf. Neither wrestler scored in regulation, before Moll was able to get the 2-0 win in double overtime.
Moll is in a favorable slot in the sectional bracket, with the best record (30-6) in his half of the pairings. His opening draw will be Logan Shwartz of Stanley-Boyd, who brings in a 26-14 record.
Aaby and Nyhagen are looking for return trips to the state meet. Aaby was the class of the 182-pound bracket at the regional, winning in the finals by a 7-1 score over Tyler Miller of Prescott. Aaby takes a 39-2 record into the sectional. His opening match will be against Ashland senior Chris Wilmar, who brings a 24-6 record into the sectional meet.
Nyhagen is part of a 160-pound class that is likely the strongest bracket in the sectional tournament field. He had to face Ellsworth standout Gable Frandsen in the regional championships. Nyhagen couldn't mount many scoring opportunities against Frandsen's defensive style. Frandsen was able to tilt Nyhagen briefly in the second period for two back points, which left Nyhagen in a bad spot. He couldn't come back, losing 6-2.
That means Nyhagen will draw Somerset's Gabe Flandrick in the opening round at the sectional meet. This is the top clash of outstanding records in the opening round of the tournament. Nyhagen is 33-2 this season and Flandrick is 38-1. Both placed at state last season.
Holzer said Nyhagen had his choice of weight classes to compete in for the tournaments. Nyhagen chose the 160-pound class because he considers it his best chance of winning a state title, which is his goal this season.
Edison is another top Panther who wasn't able to win his regional class. Because there were just three wrestlers in the 285-pound class, Edison had to wait all day for his first match, the championship against Ellsworth's Brody Kemmerer. Kemmerer has a low center of gravity and Edison wasn't able to score on throw attempts, leading to Kemmerer scoring a 6-2 win. Edison bounced back with a match more true to his style in the wrestleback, pinning Baldwin-Woodville's Coleman Roskam to qualify for sectionals.
Edison brings a 34-6 record into the sectional. He will open the tournament against Spooner heavyweight Blake Johnson, who has a 24-11 record.
Gibb returned to action for the first time in nearly a month at the regional, taking second at 152 pounds. Gibb is still recovering from a sprained ankle, but this buys him another week to reach top shape. Gibb (24-6) lost to Ellsworth's Logan Kemmerer (17-1) in the finals. Gibb got the first takedown against Kemmerer, but Kemmerer was able to catch Gibb for a pin early in the second period.
Gibb is in a spot where he can have an impact at the sectional meet. He opens up against Rice Lake's Tyler Fleming, who has a 26-12 record.
Carrasco took second place at 195 pounds, losing via a pin to Ellsworth's Jacob Murphy in the championship match. Carrasco (21-16), a senior, draws a freshman in the opening round at the sectional meet, Amery's Eli Newton (26-11).
Changing weight classes panned out for Panther sophomore Ryan Gulich at the regional meet. Gulich moved from 126 to 132 pounds and got through to the sectional. Gulich locked up his spot in the sectional by winning in overtime in the semifinals against Prescott's Paul Hansen 4-2. Gulich was pinned in the finals by Ellsworth's Tristan Miller.
Gulich takes a 24-9 record to the sectional. He will face Rice Lake's Ryan Cornellison, who edged Gulich by one point when they met earlier this season.
The small number of wrestlers in some classes at the regional opened up opportunities for several wrestlers. One of those who took advantage was Central's Josh VanBeek at 220 pounds. VanBeek saw the most extensive varsity time of his career, reaching the finals, where he lost to Ellsworth's Brody Zimmer on a pin.
VanBeek takes a 4-7 record into the sectional meet, where he will face Medford's Aaron Harder, who is 36-7.