Four state returnees, three past medal-winners among qualifiers
The number five continues to be lucky for the Forest Lake wrestling program. This weekend’s individual state tournament marks the fifth straight to include five Rangers.
Forest Lake will send a seasoned crew to the Xcel Energy Center on Friday. The quintet of qualifiers has now combined for 14 state appearances and eight section titles.
Many of those totals belong to Ben Morgan. The senior won his fifth Section 7AAA individual title in Elk River over the weekend and improved to 34-2 on the season. The state’s top-ranked competitor at 132 pounds hopes to end his career with a second state championship. Morgan took the title at 112 as an eighth-grader and has placed third in each of the three seasons since.
On Friday and Saturday, Morgan earned a pin in 15 seconds, a pin in 11 seconds and a 9-4 decision over third-ranked Mark Voss of St. Michael-Albertville.
For his fifth state appearance, it’s title-or-bust for the future Nebraska Cornhusker.
“He seems very, very focused,” said coach Billy Pierce. “He’s got his eyes on the prize, that’s for sure.”
Tyler Isaacson will be making his third consecutive trip to St. Paul. Ranked fourth at 138, the senior won his second straight section title with a 3-1 decision over eighth-ranked Lincoln Mallinger, a junior at St. Michael-Albertville. Isaacson (35-6) placed fourth at state last year and third in 2010.
Michael Pleski, another senior, will also make his third straight state appearance. The fifth-ranked 126-pounder came out victorious in a loaded bracket at sectionals. He beat 10th-ranked Evan Caldon of Elk River 3-2 in the semifinals, then took out fourth-ranked Tyler Tischer of Cambridge-Isanti by the same score.
Pierce said Pleski (30-7) did a great job of staying on the attack after taking the lead in both matches. Along with his first section title, Pleski also picked up his 100th career win. He placed fourth at state as a sophomore and did not medal as a junior.
His brother, James, took second place to reach state for a second year in a row. The ninth-grader, ranked sixth at 113 pounds, was pinned by top-ranked Tommy Thorn of St. Michael-Albertville in the finals. Pleski bounced back by pinning Jarod Julkowski of Coon Rapids in the true-second-place match.
Pleski (32-10) went 0-2 in his first trip to state.
Joining the state returnees will be first-time qualifier Mike Urban. The senior has burst onto the scene with a 31-7 campaign and is ranked seventh at 170 pounds. Urban reached the finals via a 6-4 overtime decision over 10th-ranked Cole Bakke of Cambridge-Isanti. Top-ranked Kyle Begin of Anoka pinned Urban in the finals. It appeared Urban had secured a state bid, but Coon Rapids senior Brandt Halseth came from five points down in the third period to beat Bakke in the third-place match. Halseth’s comeback forced a true-second-place bout with Urban.
“He was very nervous about that but he handled it well,” Pierce said.
Urban took care of business by winning 7-1, but did not come away unscathed. He suffered a separated shoulder in the victory, though it is not expected to sideline him for state.
Of Forest Lake’s other wrestlers, junior Andrew Meyers came the closest to advancing. The 120-pounder earned a technical fall in the first round, then fell 7-4 to Coon Rapids senior Joe Anderson in the semifinals. Meyers tied the match 4-4 with less than a minute left. He allowed Anderson one point in order to set up for the winning takedown, but his effort missed and Anderson got a takedown to clinch the win. Meyers went on to earn a pin in the third-place match.
He finishes the year with a record of 20-17.
“He had a great season in his first year of full-time varsity and he really developed,” Pierce said.
Junior Aaron Calhoun won two matches and placed fourth at 220.
Senior Austin Boniface was ranked ninth at 152 pounds heading into the team sectionals, but suffered an injury which kept him out of the individual meet.
In forming the state brackets, section winners are paired with runners-up, but the draws are otherwise random. That often creates situations where the state’s top-ranked foes meet earlier than the finals.
Just such a scenario is likely to play out in Morgan’s 132-pound bracket. A possible rematch of Morgan and Apple Valley senior Dakota Trom has been highly anticipated statewide since the Ranger senior beat the three-time state champ in the Minnesota Christmas Tournament finals this season. However, that showdown will occur in Friday night’s quarterfinals assuming both win in the first round.
The quadrant of the bracket with Morgan and Trom also includes two others ranked in the top six. Morgan opens against sixth-ranked Carson Canedy, a sophomore from Northfield who placed sixth at 119 last year. Trom takes on fifth-ranked Alex Johannes, a senior from Willmar.
Michael Pleski takes on Buffalo senior Lucas Mock (29-9) in the first round. A quarterfinal matchup with top-ranked Mitch Bengtson looms. The St. Cloud Apollo junior is a three-time state champ who has lost once in the last four years.
Urban also faces a tough task early on. He drew the second-ranked 170-pounder in the first round. Albert Lea senior Trey Hable comes in with a record of 23-3.
Isaacson opens against Colten Carlson, a Willmar eighth-grader who is 29-6 on the year. Isaacson could meet Apple Valley’s Dayton Racer in the semifinals. Racer is ranked No. 1 and beat Isaacson in their only meeting this season.
James Pleski will meet Andy Martin (30-9), an unranked junior from White Bear Lake, in the first round. The two did not face off during their teams’ Suburban East Conference dual. With a win, Pleski would face either No. 2 Tanner Johnshoy of Prior Lake or No. 5 Garrett Wangsness of Albert Lea in the second round.
The Class AAA individual state tournament begins at 9 a.m. on Friday. Quarterfinals start at 5 p.m., and wrestlebacks begin at 8 p.m. On Saturday, consolation quarterfinals start at 10 a.m.. Championship semifinals are scheduled for 11:15 a.m. to be followed by consolation semifinals at 1:15 p.m. Third- and fifth-place bouts begin at 5 p.m. and the championship round is set for 7:30 p.m. with awards to follow.
See www.forestlaketimes.com for updates throughout the tournament.