On a day featuring 25 local athletes wrestling for a chance to go to state, three won their respective section titles while four more qualified for state. Goodhue, Lake City and Zumbrota-Mazeppa combined to send a total of seven wrestlers to the state tournament.
Baxter O'Reilly (152) will represent the Wildcats at state, winning a section title. Jon Harvey (120) and Joe Kozlowski (138) each came short of winning a title, but will wrestle at state for the Tigers. The Cougars sent the most with four wrestlers qualifying for state, including two section champs.
Despite not going to state as a team, it's been a very successful season individually for the Cougars. Z-M head coach Link Steffen said with four wrestlers going to state, it the hard work each has put forth showed during the individual section tournament.
Luke Krier won the first of two section titles for the Cougars. Leading 5-3 in the waning seconds of the third period, Caledonia's Tucker Ginther appeared to have a takedown, but time had run out. The referees met and waved off the points that would have sent the match into overtime tied 5-5.
Steffen said he couldn't remember Krier having a winning record at any point in his wrestling career before this season. Offseason workouts changed that.
"(Krier) just kept working every year, going to everything he could in the offseason," Steffen said. "He is a kid that deserves to go to the state tournament. He put in every bit of effort he could into it."
Ethan Kovars became the second Cougar wrestler of the day to win a section title when he pinned Cameron Sneed of GMLO in the second period. Kovars came out strong and was able to catch Sneed near the edge of the circle for the pin at 3:24.
Steffen noted the will and drive of Kovars is like no other and that it showed in his title match.
He went out there and pinned his kid there in the finals, that's hard to do," Steffen said. "Top-30 kids in state and when you're taking them over, then pinning them, you're doing something right. That's Ethan's nature. Credit to him for his competitiveness and he hates to lose."
The strategy of each wrestler going to state won't change much for the Cougars. Steffen said there'll need to be a balance for each wrestler.
"You have to be a little bit selfish," he said. "You have to take care of yourself, but you have to be behind your teammates and hope they do well too."
Steffen added, "Get on the mat, get off the mat as quick as you can. Get to the second round."
O'Reilly largely controlled Isaac Denstad of Caledonia in the title match. O'Reilly led 3-0 for most of the match, earned two important points in the third period and held off Denstad's last second push to win by a 5-3 decision.
Additionally for the Cougars, Lucas Schiell lost in the 106-pound championship by pin at 1:27 to Anthony Romero of GMLO, taking second and moving on to state. Gabe Tupper (182) fell in the championship to Gavin Dabelstein of Dover-Eyota 4-1. Both wrestlers qualified for state in second place.
Ben Murray (120) of Z-M had a chance at state after falling in a semifinal. He won his next two matches by decision and competed in a true-second place match, but fell by pin to James Jacobson of GMLO.
Harvey and Kozlowski each wrestled in their respective Section 1AA finals. Harvey fell to Maxwell Peterson of Byron by major decision 21-8, while Kozlowski fell by major decision 15-3 to Simley's Cael Berg.
Cannon Falls, Goodhue, Lake City and Z-M had 33 combined wrestlers reach the podium, but fall short of a trip to state.
From Cannon Falls: Preston Carlisle (113), Cooper Peterson (120), Colten Black (126) in fifth, Levi Anderson (132) in fifth, Beau Zimmerman (170) in sixth, Riley Keenan (195) in fouth and Ryan Linde (285) in fifth.
From Goodhue: Lucas Bortz (106) in sixth, Ryan Bortz (120) in sixth, Maddox O'Reilly (145) in sixth, Cody Lohman (195) in third, Mason Taxdahl (220) in fourth and Blake Carlson (285) in third.
From Lake City: Nate Evans (106) in fourth, Steven Ramirez (113) in sixth, Nash Nelson (126) in fourth, Luke Skifton (132) in third, Mason West (145) in fifth, Luke Becker (152) in fourth, Derek Meincke (160) in third, Dominic Goihl-Krier (170) in third, Thomas Frank (182) in third, Sam Nutt (195) in fifth and Max Balow (220) in third.
From Z-M: Ben Murray (120) in third, Michael Majerus (113) in third, John Poulin (132) in fifth, Beau Jerrens (138) in fourth, Cole Poncelet (145) in fourth, Tanner Mancilman (152) in fifth, Kyle Cloutier (160) in fifth, Jack Haglund (220) in third, Dalton Hall (285) in fourth.
In his senior season, Z-M's Majerus was in a position to secure another trip to state. Last season, Majerus wrestled in the individual state tournament and finished second at 106 pounds.
This season, Majerus has dealt with a hand injury. Steffen said he never really got back to full-strength.
Majerus fell in a 113-pound semifinal, but finished in third place after pinning Bolton Thesing of Dover-Eyota at 4:37.
Steffen was quick to note how well Majerus competed all season and throughout his career.
"It's tough when a senior doesn't make it," Steffen said. "The Majerus's have been in the wrestling program for many many years and (Michael is) the last one. It's hard to see a tradition like that go. I know Michael didn't reach his goals this year, but it doesn't mean he didn't do a lot of good things for the Z-M program."