Cardinals edge FL wrestlers

Rangers respond by winning Burnsville Invite

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

The season’s first bit of adversity hit the Ranger wrestlers last week. Forest Lake has been justifying its ranking of fourth in the state all winter, but suffered a setback in a highly anticipated showdown with No. 6 Coon Rapids during Thursday’s Main Event.

The Rangers bounced back by winning a tournament in Burnsville on Saturday.

C. Rapids 32, FL 31

Forest Lake hoped to knock off its second section rival in a week at last Thursday’s home meet. Fans packed the stands for the program’s annual Main Event fundraiser, which also served as Alumni Night.

The Rangers beat No. 2 Saint Michael-Albertville six nights earlier, and appeared on their way to topping the Cardinals for most of the match. Consecutive pins by seniors Michael Pleski, Ben Morgan and Tyler Isaacson vaulted the hosts to a 21-9 lead after six bouts.

Forest Lake stretched its advantage to 19 points at 31-12 after wins from Austin Boniface at 152, Ryder Paggen at 160 and Mike Urban at 170.

A pin at 182 kept the Cardinals alive and set the table for their final three grapplers, each ranked. At 195, eighth-ranked Brandt Halseth outlasted Jeremy McLaughlin 12-7, making the score 31-21. Top-ranked 220-pounder Michael Burkhardt then pinned Aaron Calhoun, pulling Coon Rapids within four points heading into the heavyweight bout.

Top-ranked Tanner Lowe made his strategy clear early on, allowing Beau Phinney one-point escapes while racking up two-point takedowns. Phinney lasted deep into the second period before Lowe earned five team points for a 26-9 technical fall.

Ranger coach Billy Pierce focused more on missed opportunities early in the match than on the late Cardinal surge.

“It was disappointing to see us not pull off the victory,” he said. “We had our chances, we definitely had our opportunities. Some guys could’ve scored an extra team point or two and some flat out didn’t finish their matches.”

Forest Lake’s top two wrestlers at 106 pounds were out sick and Coon Rapids capitalized with a pin. James Pleski then earned a 5-1 decision at 113, and Andrew Meyers lost at 120 but limited his ninth-ranked foe to a decision.

Overall, Pierce was glad to get a look at skilled lineup which Forest Lake could well run into again come the Section 7AAA meet.

“In these kind of  matches we learn about our kids, and we learned alot about what we need to work on,” he said.

About 80 former Rangers in attendance were honored before the match. Those present included 1993 grad Jason Davids, a three-time All-American at the University of Minnesota, and longtime coach John Reiman.

Burnsville win

Schedule changes for other tournaments sent the Rangers to a tournament in Burnsville for the first time this past weekend. Forest Lake scored 85 points more than runner-up Eastview to win the seven-team event.

Six Rangers went undefeated to win their weight class: James Pleski at 113, Michael Pleski at 126, Isaacson at 138, Cody Paggen at 145, Boniface at 152 and Urban at 170.

Michael Pleski’s day included a 7-4 win over second-ranked Ben Brancale of Eden Prairie in the championship bout.

“After the Coon Rapids match, one thing we noticed is we’re not doing a good job of closing matches out and doing the things late in the match to secure the win,” Pierce said. “Mike did just that. He got a takedown to close out the match.”

Boniface trailed 10-2 going into the third period of the finals against Case Monger of Eden Prairie. He had been burned by his own signature move twice early on but went to it again and got Monger on his back.

“He’s dangerous with it, and the third time was a charm,” Pierce said.

Urban’s title continued a nice run for the senior.

“He’s really just getting better match by match and improving,” Pierce said. “He’s got a good, hard work ethic and it’s paying off.”

At 132, Morgan fell 8-3 in the title bout with senior Sam Brancale of Eden Prairie, who is ranked No. 2 at 126 pounds. The two have trained together but have not met in high school competition. Morgan, ranked No. 1 at 132, led 2-0 after the first period, but Brancale got him on his back for five points in the second.

“It was a good job on Brancale’s part and something to learn from for Ben,” said Pierce.

Dean Beggs at 106, Meyers at 120, Ryder Paggen at 160 and Jeremy McLaughlin at 195 also took second.

Pierce is also impressed with Kyle Winberg, who took fourth at 182. The sophomore is taking one for the team by competing one weight class higher than he ideally would.

“He’s giving up a lot [of weight] and he’s inexperienced on varsity, but he’s really doing a good job of working hard and getting better,” Pierce said.

Forest Lake hosts Park tonight, Jan. 12.