The season might not have ended where they wanted it to, but Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield wrestlers were pleased with what they achieved at the State Class AA Wrestling Meet.
DC/L captured second place in the team tournament and had five individuals place in the individual tournament Friday at St. Michael-Albertville High School.
“Without a question, it was very satisfying,” DC/L co-coach Dan Buker said. “These guys have been building and building and building. They kept on growing as the season went on. I don’t think when the season began anyone thought this was possible.”
The atmosphere at the high school venue was not the same as it might have been at Xcel Energy Center, the usual state wrestling tournament venue, Buker said. But all things considered, with the way the coronavirus pandemic shook up the high school sports season, wrestling anywhere for a state title had to be appreciated.
“It didn’t feel the same,” Buker said. “You knew you were state runner-ups, but you miss the student section, you miss the bigger crowds … it’s hard.
“There’s such a balance there. Yeah, we wanted the Xcel, the student section, the crowd, the parents, but the option would be nothing at all,” Buker said. “We’re grateful that we had a postseason. It’s a great feeling to finish runner-up, but we certainly missed the Xcel Center. I know the kids would prefer that. I would prefer that too.”
But it was still a season to remember, including a match to remember that got Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield into the team finals.
DC/L, seeded third for the tournament, trailed second-seeded Fairmont/Martin County West 23-10 with six matches to go in the semifinals, but reeled off six consecutive victories, four of them by pin, to win 41-23.
Jude Link got the run started at 160 pounds by pinning F/MWC’s Carver Rohman in 1:47. Will O’Brien (182 pounds), Hayden Hoernemann (195) and Brendan Rokala (285) followed with pins.
That pushed Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield into the finals where it met top-ranked Simley. The match went about as expected, according to Buker, with Simley racking up nine pins on the way to a 68-6 win and the state title. Victor Franco earned DC/L’s only points with a pin at 113 pounds.
“They’re on a different level,” Buker said of Simley. “They’re a top-five team in the nation.”
Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield wrestlers had little opportunity to enjoy their runner-up finish, or even to rest, as wrestling began in the individual tournament later in the day.
“It was a grueling day,” Buker said. “That took a little toll, but at the end of the day, they have to go out and earn it anyway.”
Link (160 pounds) and Eddie Simes (152) posted the best individual finishes for Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield, both earning second place.
Link’s battle with Simley’s Cael Berg was highly anticipated, with Link, a junior, ranked second in the state at 160 pounds, and Berg ranked No. 1. And it was the hard-fought battle most expected, with Berg eventually gaining a 4-2 decision.
Simes, meanwhile, lost by technical fall, 22-7, to Simley’s Ryan Sokol, the state’s No. 1-ranked wrestler at 152 pounds.
Other placers for Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield were Franco, who finished fourth at 113 pounds; Jerry Simes finishing sixth at 138; and Hoernemann taking sixth at 220 pounds.
“We knew we had guys who could place in the top six of the state,” Buker said. “As we watched these guys grow during the season, you could tell they were becoming more confident week to week and match to match.”
The rush to season’s conclusion, with a one-day state tournament rather than the usual three, wasn’t indicative of the hard work that took place during the season.
A compact season, which instead of a late November or early December start began in January, meant a lot of hard work in a short period of time.
“You look back at it, it was quick,” Buker said. “But it was the same thing going through practices and the events and making the weigh-ins … even though it was shorter, it still takes a toll on the body. The credit goes to the kids. They went out and performed. They did the work.”
And there will be plenty of work to do between now and next season, as well, as the team looks to replace several seniors. But Buker believes the pieces are there, and a foundation laid, for another successful season.
“Kind of joking, kind of not … we met with the kids after (the state meet),” Buker said. “We thanked them for the run, thanked the seniors, and we told them to enjoy it – but the season starts April 1. I think that got a few eye rolls from the kids. But you know, we have to look ahead.
“We lose a lot from the seniors who are leaving, and the leadership they’ve had,” Buker added. “The returning starters have to step up in leadership and grow and help further the young guys along.”