At last, more gold for Morgan

Pleskis also medal at state wrestling

Ben Morgan raises his arms in triumph after winning the 132-pound state title on Saturday. It is the second state title for the senior. He won the 112-pound title in 2008. (Photo by Rick Orndorf/Thisweek Newspapers)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

With arms raised high, an emotional Ben Morgan held up two fingers on each hand. After being stopped just short for three long years, the senior on Saturday sealed his legacy as the best wrestler in Forest Lake history by claiming his second state title.

An 11-4 decision over the state’s third-ranked 132-pounder gave the heavily favored Morgan the gold. It was the third medal of the tournament for Forest Lake. Senior Michael Pleski took third at 126 pounds and ninth-grader James Pleski placed fourth at 113.

Sweet Redemption

Morgan won the 112-pound title as an eighth-grader, which set him up as a favorite in nearly every match thereafter. Title hopes were derailed by state semifinal losses in each of the next three seasons, though. Last year’s came in the fourth overtime, after many onlookers thought Morgan had secured a pin earlier in the bout. Each time, Morgan rallied to win two more matches and place third. However, bronze medals did not satisfy his need to again stand atop the podium.

“It makes you feel guilty and humiliates you in a way, but it makes you want to work harder and harder,” he said.

Morgan came into his senior season claiming to have rid himself of self-imposed pressure, but he surely was fueled by seeing himself listed third in the state rankings. St. Cloud Apollo junior Mitch Bengtson settled in at 126 pounds, leaving Apple Valley senior Dakota Trom as the main competition at 132. Trom had already won three state titles entering this year, but Morgan had won their lone head-to-head meeting.

The pair squared off for a second time in a much-anticipated final at this season’s Minnesota Christmas Tournament. Morgan prevailed 5-3 and claimed the event’s Most Outstanding Wrestler award. Though Morgan would lose 7-3 to third-ranked Sam Brancale of Eden Prairie at a January invitational, coach Billy Pierce said he was a different wrestler after his win over Trom.

“His confidence went to an all-time level – not cocky, just confident,” Pierce said. “His work ethic improved and he just turned into a much more dominant wrestler.”

After claiming his fifth straight section title, Morgan rolled into state ranked No. 1 and with a record of 34-2. (His first loss came to a nationally-ranked wrestler from Brandon, FL in December.) The randomly drawn bracket pitted Morgan and Trom in a possible quarterfinal showdown.

Morgan opened Friday against Carsen Canedy, a sophomore from Northfield ranked sixth in the state. The two had never wrestled before, and Canedy hung close for about half the bout before Morgan pulled away for a 7-1 victory.

“He gave me kind of a tough match, but sometimes it’s good to get a hard match in the morning [session] because it wakes you up,” Morgan said.

Pierce sensed a buzz surrounding Friday evening’s Morgan-Trom matchup.

“You could tell people were just jockeying to get seats in that area,” he said.

Morgan’s history of success against Trom did not give him comfort.

“It made me feel very nervous, because this is where it matters,” he said. “You’d think he’d have been training just to beat me or to try to stop me.”

Ben Morgan throws his foe during the 132-pound title bout. (Photo by Rick Orndorf/Thisweek Newspapers)

But the Ranger captain came out firing and scored a pair of takedowns for a 4-0 lead after one period. Trom responded with an escape, and a third-period stalling penalty pulled the future Gopher within two points at 4-2. Morgan used an escape to again gain separation, then put the match away with a late takedown to make the final score 7-2.

“I wrestled like it was my last match ever,” Morgan said.

With Trom out of the way, Morgan entered Saturday knowing the title was his to lose.

“I felt very confident because I beat the toughest kid in the state and one of the toughest in the country,” he said. “But I still had to put it all out there every time. I went after each of [the next two] kids as much as I did against Dakota.”

Morgan earned a 19–4 technical fall over Spring Lake Park senior Phillip Horsager in a morning semifinal, setting up a championship bout against St. Michael-Albertville sophomore Mark Voss. Morgan had defeated Voss three times this season, including a 9-4 decision in the Section 7AAA finals.

“You still have to be kind of worried, because by this time he might have figured out my shot,” Morgan said.

However, Morgan scored takedowns early and late in the first period, and his confidence grew throughout the match. By the third period, he was keeping a “mental countdown” of the time remaining.

When the clock struck zero, Morgan’s 11-4 win unleashed a flood of relief.

“The satisfaction felt so good,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure off me.”

The future Nebraska Cornhusker grappler had one move left to execute: while atop the medal stand, he used a hand-written sign to ask his girlfriend – team manager Allie Charest – to prom.

Morgan finished his six-year varsity career with a record of 235-16. According to Pierce and, that ranks in a tie for the seventh-most career wins in Minnesota prep history.

Besides crushing the program’s all-time win mark, he became the first Ranger to win five state medals and joined 1993 FLHS grad and Gopher All-American Troy Marr as the school’s only two-time state champs.

This season, 22 of Morgan’s 38 wins came via pins. Twenty came in the first period and 17 in under a minute.

“Ben’s just a great all-around kid,” said Pierce. “He’s not cocky, not selfish. He’s a nice kid who is very appreciate of what he has. It’s been a joy coaching him.”

Morgan’s father, Gordy – a former Gopher and Olympic wrestler – is a Ranger assistant coach. Pierce said he has not yet talked with the elder Morgan  concerning his return but would love to have him remain on the staff.

Pleskis Peak

Saturday was also special for the Pleski family. Michael entered his third state tournament ranked fifth and seeking his second medal, while James entered his second state tournament ranked sixth and seeking his first medal.

Senior Michael Pleski attacks en route to third place at 126 pounds. (Photo by Clint Riese)

After beating Buffalo senior Lucas Mock 10-1 in the first round, Michael ran into top-ranked Bengston, who had moved out of Morgan’s weight class early in the season. The three-time state champ from St. Cloud would go on to have his state-record, 179-match win streak snapped in the finals, but he got past Pleski 7-0 Friday night.

James Pleski controls a White Bear Lake opponent during his run to fourth place at the state meet. (Photo by Clint Riese)

The loss meant Pleski faced a long road toward his goal of getting his picture hung in the Ranger wrestling room, an honor reserved for top-three state finishers. (Pleski placed fourth in 2010.) He began the journey with a 3-1 overtime victory over Faribault junior Brandon Peters. After several stalemates, Pleski finally scored the winning takedown on a go-behind move which countered a shot from Peters.

Pleski then beat eighth-ranked Devin Wolf of Irondale by a 7-3 decision. A subsequent 8-6 win over section rival Evan Caldon, a 10th-ranked junior from Elk River, put Pleski in the third-place match.

Pleski scored a takedown in the final seconds of the first period against third-ranked Shamar Williams, a sophomore from Apple Valley. He added a point in the second, which Williams matched in the third. Pleski stayed on the attack to finish off the 3-1 victory.

Pleski finished his career with a record of 110-26, including a mark of 35-8 this season. Like Morgan, Pleski has turned it on since the Minnesota Christmas Tournament, which he failed to place at.

“I’m really proud of Michael,” Pierce said. “He really put together a great second half of the season.”

James opened the tourney with a dominant performance against White Bear Lake junior Andy Martin. He needed just over two periods to earn a 15-0 technical fall.

Pleski then ran into second-ranked Tanner Johnshoy. The Prior Lake junior prevailed 3-1 in a triple-overtime thriller, sending Pleski to a wrestlebacks bracket loaded with ranked opponents.

Pleski first faced Garrett Wangsness of Albert Lea, a bigger junior who had blanked Pleski 5-0 earlier in the season. This time, Pleski broke a 1-1 tie in the third period with a takedown and hung on to win 3-2.

“That was big, because it kept him alive,” Pierce said. “It wasn’t a good draw.”

Pleski then topped seventh-ranked Nate Mittag of Wilmar 2-1, setting up a match with fourth-ranked Hastings sophomore Luke Rowh. A late escape netted Pleski a 5-4 win, his first against his Suburban East Conference rival.

The third-place bout pitted Pleski against ninth-ranked Grant Dullinger, a senior from St. Cloud Apollo. Pleski led 12-1 late in the third period, but Dullinger suddenly rolled him over with six seconds left and earned a shocking pin.

“What do you say after that?” Pierce said. “James was going after it, he didn’t stop wrestling…It was great to see him break out and wrestle as good as we thought he could.”

Isaacson, Urban in Action

Senior Tyler Isaacson made his third straight state appearance. (Photo by Clint Riese)

Seniors Tyler Isaacson and Mike Urban also ended their Ranger careers at the state meet.

It was Isaacson’s third straight trip to St. Paul. He placed third in 2010 and fourth in 2011. Making a significant leap from 119 to 138 pounds this season, Isaacson brought a mark of 35-6 and a No. 4 ranking into the meet.

At the state level, however, Isaacson was undersized compared to most of the 138-pound field. After beating Wilmar eighth-grader Colten Carlson 11-3 in the first round, he fell 12-4 to fifth-ranked Osseo senior Adam Hammer. A 4-2 loss to Chanhassen eighth-grader Brenden Olevson then knocked Isaacson from the tournament.

Pierce acknowledged Isaacson would have fit at 132 pounds this year if not for Morgan’s presence.

“Tyler made the most of it,” Pierce said. “He had a great season, but I think he didn’t have to lose any weight to make weight and he was wrestling guys who earlier in the week weighed 150 pounds or more.”

Isaacson compiled a record of 136-43 in his varsity career.

Senior Mike Urban, a 170-pounder, made his first state appearance. (Photo by Clint Riese)

On the other hand, Urban joined the sport late and was in his second season of varsity action. Though still developing in technique, the 170-pound senior put together a mark of 31-7 coming into state. A tough draw pitted him against second-ranked Trey Hable. The senior from Albert Lea used a fireman’s carry to pin Urban in the first period. Urban then lost 4-1 to Brainerd junior Levi Rubin.

“Afterwards, he said he loved every minute of being there and made the comment that he wished he would’ve started younger,” Pierce said. “I think he appreciates the experience of being there and really fell in love with the sport.”

Praise for Seniors

The four state-qualifying seniors are part of a large class that the wrestling program will miss next winter.

“We’re losing a great group of kids; not just wrestlers, but students,” Pierce said. “I can’t say enough great things about them.”

Pierce hopes the seniors’ last gift to the program pays off in the development of the younger team members.

“We’re not going to be as bad off as people think we are,” he said. “We have some really tough kids that wrestled behind them that gained a lot of great experience by being in the wrestling room with them.”