The Forest Lake wrestling team struggled with inexperience on the mat this weekend, finishing 31st of 32 teams at The Clash tournament in Rochester, which is featured some of the top squads in the nation.
Head coach Billy Pierce said he had realistic expectations heading into the tournament, and wanted his team to take away some lessons from the competitive environment.
“We learned a lot about the guys this weekend,” Pierce said. “We have young, inexperienced wrestlers— a lot of our kids just don’t have much mat time, but they got that this weekend and learned a lot.”
The Rangers opened the competition on Friday with a 57-12 loss to Carl Sandburg (Ill.), which has 10 top-12 wrestlers in its state rankings.
Sophomore James Pleski, currently ranked No. 2 (Class AAA), won in a minor decision at the 126-pound weight class while No. 3 (Class AAA) senior Austin Boniface took down Carl Sandburg’s No. 6 wrestler at 160 pounds with a pin at 47 seconds. Senior Jeremy McLaughlin also recorded a win at the 220-pound weight class.
Forest Lake then lost 50-21 to Green Valley of Nevada, where Boniface suffered his lone loss of the tournament by minor decision at 160 pounds to a state runner-up.
“From a wrestling fan’s perspective, that was a hard-fought, high-intensity match,” Pierce said. “Unfortunately he came up short, but Austin has put a lot of hard work in over the years, and he has his eyes set on winning that state title and is doing all he can to get there.”
McLaughlin earned another win at 220 pounds, while both Pleski and senior Aaron Calhoun (285 pounds) added six points to the Ranger team score with pins.
The Rangers closed Friday with a 41-28 loss to Corona Del Sol (Ariz.), which has eight top-10 wrestlers in the state.
Sophomore Luke McCord took his opponent down by major decision at 120 pounds, while three Rangers recorded pins. Pleski (126), Boniface (170) and McLaughlin (220) all earned six team points in the first period.
On Saturday, the Rangers lost a close one, 37-36, to Kimball Area (Minn.) in the morning, but went on to defeat Burnsville 42-31. Forest Lake closed the day with a 48-29 loss to Zumbrota-Mazeppa.
Pleski went 6-0 on the tournament, while Boniface and McLaughlinboth finished 5-1. Eighth-grader Teddy Pierce and junior Thomas Lillquist also earned their first varsity victories alongside ninth-grader Tyler Anderson’s varsity debut at the 195-pound weight class after just one year in the wrestling program.
“We asked Tyler to come and wrestle, to give it his best and learn from it,” Pierce said. “I’m proud of him. It was really brave of him to do that in one of the best tournaments in the country, and he came out and gave it his all.”
Despite falling from a ninth-place finish in The Clash last year, Pierce reiterated that he was not disappointed in the showing and is looking forward to having his full lineup back by January. Looking to return to the upperweight class is junior Kyle Winberg, while senior Austin Rizzo should bolster the lowerweights.
Forest Lake travels to the Burnsville Invite on Saturday. The event begins at 10 a.m.