Seniors help lead Toppers to solid Northern Badger finish

RIVER FALLS — The experience level on the Glenwood City wrestling team varies greatly. The Toppers field a solid and seasoned senior class but they also have seven freshman with barely a month’s worth of varsity wrestling under their belts.

So instead of throwing his neophytes to the wolves, so to speak, in the always competitive and difficult Northern Badger, Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong opted to keep many of his younger charges sidelined for the holiday tournament and have them compete in a later junior varsity tournament to help in their development.

That left the Hilltoppers with just ten wrestlers to compete at the 29th annual Northern Badger Wrestling Classic held December 28 and 29 at River Falls High School.

Despite competing with four empty weight classes, Glenwood City acquitted itself well as its senior class contingent placed in five different weight classes, led by Brennan Kessler’s fourth place finish at heavyweight, to finish in a tie for 15th place in this year’s 40-team field.

“The team’s effort was very good,” said Coach Strong. “We had a few guys really come to wrestle at a high level.”

“Coming in I felt we could be in the top 15 with only 10 guys if everyone wrestled to their potential.,” added Strong. “A couple guys did not meet their goals, but some other guys picked them up with strong finishes and bonus points along the way.”

While Kessler’s effort at 285 pounds was Glenwood City’s best finish at the 2013 edition of the holiday wrestling classic, several of his fellow 2014 classmates stepped up and made the awards podium, which recognized the top 12 place winners in the 14 weight classes.

Donovan Fornal took fifth at 220 pounds; Isaac Tuttle, wrestling at 170, locked down seventh; Jeff Kopacz finished in eighth at 195; and Jacob Carlson finished the two-day tournament in tenth at 138 pounds.

The Hilltoppers accrued 127 points to finish tied with Spooner. The 2013 championship went to Dunn-St. Croix conference member Spring Valley/Elmwood with 301.5 points. Boyceville finished second with 262.5 points. Cumberland (220), host River Falls (207), and Rhinelander (194.5) filled out the top five.

Kessler gave up several pounds to many of his Northern Badger opponents but held his own throughout the tournament finish fourth in the 285-pound division.

Kessler started in impressive fashion as he pinned his first two opponents. He stuck Boyceville’s Brandon Windsor in 1:34 in round one. In the second round, Kessler pinned Taylor Pease of Cumberland in 5:02.

He would have to wrestle the full six minutes in the quarterfinals but Kessler came out on top in a high scoring match as he bested Osceola’s Thor Riemer 17-11 to gain a spot in the semifinals.

In that match-up, Kessler squared off against Division 2’s number two ranked grappler – Cole LaLiberty of Chetek-Weyerhaeuser/Prairie Farm. Kessler fell 9-2. He would also lose a heartbreaker in the third place match, as he fell 7-5 to Ethan Luedtke of Northwoods/Solon Springs to finish 3-2 in the tournament.

“Brennan had a great performance winning key matches against kid 80 pounds bigger than him,” Strong said. “We have been working on a game plan since he decided to wrestle this weight and to his credit Brennan has drilled it hard in practice and it is paying off. His great attitude and team first mentality is leading to great success for him.”

Kessler’s efforts have also garnered the attention of other coaches as he was ranked tenth in the most recent Division 3 heavyweight poll.

Donovan Fornal, an honorable mention in the 220-pound D3 rankings, was another Topper senior that performed well at this year’s Classic. Fornal went 6-1 over the course of two days to take fifth at 220 pounds.After receiving a first-round bye, Fornal lost a close 8-5 decision to Chant Lablanc of Clear Lake.

In the consolation  bracket, Fornal scored three straight pins including two in the first period to earn a spot in the fifth-place match where he beat Nick Rueth of Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal 4 to 2.

“Donovan is wrestling very well right now,” said his coach. “He showed great determination to come back and place 5th when he had a much higher goal. The match he lost at the Badger, he was up by four points in the third before getting thrown. I was very proud of how he reacted to the loss and his character showed in his performance on the backside of the bracket.”

Isaac Tuttle parlayed a 4-2 Northern Badger performance into a seventh place showing at 170 pounds. After taking a bye in the opening round, Tuttle won a 5-3 decision over Josh Glover of Luck before falling by pin to second-seed Jake Rueth of Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal in the second period of the quarterfinals.

Tuttle would earned another two-point win in his match of the consolation bracket as he beat Matt Anderson of Flambeau, 8 to 6. That would earn him a rematch with Glover but this time the Luck wrestler turned the tables for a 5-1 win. In the seventh-place match, Tuttle pinned Durand’s Kolton Schneider at the 3:43 mark.

Jeff Kopacz split his six matches at 195 pounds and finished eighth.

Kopacz opened with two victories – a 18-6 major decision over River Christiansen of Prescott and a 7-0 whitewashing of James Zimmer of Cameron –  but lost a one-point decision to Jared Quenette of Spooner by a 5-4 count. Kopacz rebounded with a pin in his next match only to drop a 9-1 bout to Clear Lake’s Mitch Lien for a spot in the fifth-place match. He then fell to Flambeau’s Zach Lund, 5-3, in the seventh-place match.

“He is wrestling up a weight class,” said Strong of Kopacz. “But he is so strong from the weight room he competes well with them. I felt Jeff also wrestled hard every match with a clear focus.”

The fifth member of  the Hilltoppers to make it to the second day of competition at the Northern Badger was Jacob Carlson. He went 4-3 at 138-pounds to finish in tenth place. Carlson earned an 8-2 win over Josiah Vik from Northwestern in the opening round but then lost to Spring Valley/Elmwood’s Zach Newton 8-1. Carlson then reeled off a pair of wins by fall in the wrestle backs before being pinned. That put the senior into the 4-man bracket for ninth. Carlson  prevailed 10-1 in his first match against Chetek-Weyerhaeuser/Prairie Farm’s Sam Newell but lost on a second-period pin to Nick Opdahl of Prescott for ninth.

Five other Glenwood City wrestlers did not make the first-day cut. Marcus Ullom (132) and Blayze Wood (182) each went 2-2, Damian Hoitomt (145) and Hunter Chouinard (160) both finished 1-2, and Jake Logghe (152) dropped both his matches.