Rangers place ninth in nation’s top prep event
Forest Lake’s wrestlers picked a good time to exceed expectations. The Rangers blew away what even they thought possible while competing in the national spotlight in Rochester over the weekend. The Rangers came into The Clash – the nation’s premier prep wrestling tournament – seeded 19th in a field of 32 teams which included six of the top eight programs in the national rankings. They emerged in ninth place, marking the biggest leap from seed to actual finish in the event.
“I think in a way we were all surprised, kids and parents and onlookers,” said coach Billy Pierce. “It’s not that we aren’t able to wrestle at that level, but to do it at a tournament [like this]…
“For me to go in with the expectation that, ‘Hey guys, we have a great shot at placing ninth in The Clash,’ they’d all look at me funny.”
In Friday’s opening bracket, Forest Lake lined up against Vacaville (CA), ranked 49th in the nation. A close match turned in the third-to-last bout, when Ranger Tom Longfellow was injured on an illegal slam. His opponent was disqualified, giving Forest Lake key points in a 37-25 win. James Pleski and Tyler Isaacson earned pins, while Michael Pleski won a major decision.
The victory earned a date with Brandon (FL), ranked fifth in the country. Forest Lake fell 49-12, but Pierce was proud of the way the boys competed. It took the longest of the eight matches being held that round.
“It showed that we battled, and it says a lot about the heart of the wrestlers on our team,” Pierce said.
In the featured bout, Ranger senior Ben Morgan lost 3-1 in overtime to Kevin Norstrem, the fifth-ranked 132-pounder in the nation.
The Rangers then met a much more familiar foe – Section 7AAA rival St. Michael-Albertville. The Saints are ranked second in Minnesota and 36th nationally. Last winter, they crushed Forest Lake 50-12 in the team section finals.
The Rangers came out fighting on Friday night, though. Andrew Meyers, Michael Pleski, Morgan and Tyler Isaacson won consecutive decisions to open the match and stake Forest Lake to a big lead. Pleski earned his first-ever win over Cole Sladek (ranked third in the state at 126).
“He wrestled one of the best matches in his career,” Pierce said.
Morgan and Isaacson each beat top-five opponents, as well.
Austin Boniface and Mike Urban would add pins, and Luke McCord stopped a Saint rally with a 5-2 win over Aaron Dick, ranked eighth at 106.
It was a signature victory for the fourth-ranked Rangers, who won 30-24.
“Every guy in our lineup did their job, which was great to see,” Pierce said.
Thursday’s success put Forest Lake in the third bracket of eight during Friday’s finals, along with Jefferson (GA), Colonial Forge (VA) and Kasson-Mantorville. Colonial Forge is ranked 33rd in the nation, and Kasson-Mantorville 46th (No. 4 in Minnesota Class AA).
Admittedly, Pierce felt it could be a long day.
Instead, Forest Lake picked up where it left off, scoring a 31-26 win over Colonial Forge.
Aaron Calhoun used a headlock to pick up a big pin at 220, and heavyweight Beau Phinney followed with a key overtime victory.
“I told him it was time to do his part for the team here, and he listened and wrestled hard and got the win late in the first overtime,” Pierce said.
Morgan and James Pleski added pins in the win.
The ensuing Jefferson match proved to be another dogfight. The Georgia school won decisions in the last two bouts to tie it at 27-all. So deadlocked was the match that it took until the eighth tie-breaker criteria for the teams to deviate. Forest Lake ended up winning based on its amount of first points scored. Morgan and James Pleski again earned pins.
Forest Lake headed into its final match with ninth place secured, as Kasson-Mantorville had already lost to both Jefferson and Colonial Forge. The KoMets beat the Rangers 35-27.
“All in all, you wrestle six duals at this level, you’re going to have some guys slip,” Pierce said. “We had too many of those happen in this dual to pull it off.”
Morgan notched Forest Lake’s only pin of the match.
Overall, he and Isaacson led the team with five wins apiece. Urban and James Pleski each went 4-2.
“I thought we maybe were a little bit ahead of ourselves the first day, but [finishing ninth] is a good indication that we belong in that group,” Pierce said. “It does a lot for the program, and it was pretty fun to be part of that experience.”
The nation’s second-ranked team, St. Edward (OH), topped Apple Valley 32-22 in the championship.
Forest Lake holds its home opener Thursday, Jan. 5, against No. 6 Coon Rapids. The showdown of section rivals is also this year’s Main Event, an annual fundraiser for the program.