RIVER FALLS — The expectations for Boyceville wrestling are lofty every season but then so are the team’s and individual’s goals.
And veteran head coach Jamie Olson would not have it any other way.
Heading into this year’s Northern Badger Wrestling Classic, Olson and his charges had set a goal of getting four wrestlers into the finals as well as competing for the overall championship – a feat the well-decorated program has yet to achieve.
Boyceville came tantalizingly close to accomplishing both at the 29th annual tournament held December 27 and 28 at River Falls High School.
Three Bulldogs – junior Austin Wolfe (106) and freshmen James Palmer (113) and Micah Johnson (138), all of whom just happen to be ranked second in state polls at their respective weights – went unbeaten (5-0) to claim individual championships in the 2013 Northern Badger Wrestling Classic and helped Boyceville to a second-place overall finish behind fellow Dunn-St. Croix member Spring Valley/Elmwood.
If not for a heart-wrenching overtime loss in the 160-pound semifinals Bryor Hellmann would have made the finals. The senior, however, rebounded from the disappointment to capture third in his final Northern Badger tournament.
“It was a lot of fun those two days,” said Coach Jamie Olson. “Overall, to take second was great.”
“The kids wrestled really well,” Olson continued. “We had some close matches that we won, we lost some close ones but to have three champs and have Bryor right there to almost be a fourth guy in the finals, that is what we were hoping going in that we would have those four, that was our goal.”
“Bryor came up just short but he came back strong and won that third place match.”
Still quite an accomplish in a tournament that features wrestlers from all three divisions and that is, arguably, as difficult and challenging as the state championships.
“I think it is as tough at times as the state tournament,” said Olson. “There were weight classes at this Northern that were eight to ten deep, in all three divisions. 138 was at least 10 deep with quality, quality wrestlers. And a lot of weights were like that. It’s a great tournament.”
That 138-pound class that Olson referenced just happened to be won by the Bulldogs’ Micah Johnson, one of the team’s two freshman wunderkinds. The other, James Palmer, was equally successful as he remained unbeaten and copped the gold at 113 pounds.
“To have two freshmen win it is just an awesome accomplishment,” said Olson. “You just do not see a freshman win this tournament especially at 138 or 145 pounds, those weights are stacked.”
But as good as both Palmer and Johnson looked in their first Northern Badger, the performance of the Bulldogs’ 106-pound junior Austin Wolfe was even better.
Wolfe was clearly the best at his weight class. He scored a pair of pins including one in the semifinals and then scored a 16-1 technical fall over Mondovi’s Austin Fedie in the championship.
“Wolfe dominated,” Olson stated. “Just dominated all the way through. He wrestled a great tournament and is wrestling tough. He is just looking solid.”
Besides the three titlists and Hellmann’s bronze, Boyceville also had five other grapplers grab medals at this year’s tournament. Brock Swenson finished in sixth at 120 pounds, Jon Harnisch came in eighth at 152 pounds, ninth place finishes were earned by Tyler Stroo (126) and Wyatt Hansen (145), and Logan McAbee-Thomas placed tenth at 170.
That helped to return the Bulldogs to the upper echelon of the Northern Badger field after a tenth place team finish a year ago.
Boyceville, ranked fifth in the latest D3 state team polls, finished with 262.5 points to lay claim to the runner-up plaque. Just one team finished better in the 40-team field and that honor went to Spring Valley/Elmwood as the top-ranked Cardinals eclipsed the 300-point mark with 301.5 to win the team championship. Cumberland was third with 220 points, River Falls tallied 207 points for a fourth place finish and Rhinelander grabbed the fifth spot with 194.5 points.
In wrestling, team success is predicated on individual successes.
And Boyceville’s wrestlers found plenty of success in this tournament.
Austin Wolfe was the first of Boyceville three championships to claim his gold medal.
Wolfe made his way to the quarterfinals with a bye and an early second-period pin of Shell Lake’s Jack Skluzacek. In the quarters, Wolfe faced what would be his toughest test of the tournament, Spring Valley/Elmwood sophomore Andrew Webb, younger brother of two-time state runner-up Brady Webb. Wolfe scored a 5-1 win and went on to easily take the championship. He pinned Barron’s Quincy Stephens in the semifinals and followed it with a 16-1 technical fall over Austin Fedie, a Mondovi sophomore, in the championship.
Wolfe stayed perfect in the process as he improved to 20-0 on the season.
It would not take long for Boyceville to get its second champion.
Freshman James Palmer rallied late in the third period to win the 113-pound title with an 11-5 decision over second-seeded and state-ranked Cole Britton of Luck-Frederic-Grantsburg. Palmer also knocked off the brackets top seed in the semifinals, defeating Spring Valley/Elmwood senior Derek Huebel 6-1. It was the first point that Palmer had surrendered all season. Palmer, like Wolfe, improved to 20-0 as he also scored a pair of falls in matches against Wyatt Wade of Cameron and Rhindelander’s Travis Trudeau.
“What do you say about a freshman that is unbeaten,” queried Olson. “He has really been a force.”
“He was challenged in that final’s match, he really was, and that was good,” Olson added. “He was down and came back. He is a gamer, he’s got a thousand matches under his belt. So fun to work with him because he does everything right. His diet is good, his work ethic is excellent and that shows in the way he wrestles.”
The Bulldogs have another freshman whose experience and acumen are far more advanced of those of a normal first-year varsity wrestler.
Micah Johnson defeated both top seeds in the 138-pound bracket including a 4-1 overtime victory in the quarterfinals against Johnson Creek’s Wilder Wichman, who placed third in last year’s state tournament.
Johnson then earned a hard fought, one-point semifinals win over Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal senior Mike Chadwick. Johnson completed his run to the title with a second straight one-point victory in the championship as he nipped top-seed Ben Adams of Bruce 5-4.
“His weight was the toughest weight in the tournament, I think,” said Olson. “I think it was the toughest weight in the tournament at 138. Micah beat a kid in the first round that was tough and placed sixth or seventh. And then he had a kid that was third in state in the quarters and beat him. In the semifinals match, the Neillsville kid is tough, big, strong kid and to come back and win that match down two with not much time to turn him for three, wow! How do you explain that? It just shows Micah’s toughness, savvy, and mat experience.”
Those same attributes could be used to describe Bryor Hellmann’s Northern Badger Swan Song.
The senior, seeded second, opened the tournament with three straight pins, including two in the first period, to make the semifinals. Hellmann victory run, however, came to an end with a physically and emotionally draining 8-6 overtime loss to Flambeau sophomore Rowdy Kochevar.
“He lost a heart breaker in the semifinals,” said Olson. “Bryor had a chance to go up 6-2 but could not get his head out. If he does, the match is probably over but his opponent ended up putting him on his back and beat Bryor in overtime.”
Undaunted, Hellmann responded to the adversity to secure a slim 9-8 win over River Fall’s Winston Bystrom and the bronze medal.
Sophomore Brock Swenson finished with a 4-2 mark and in sixth place at 120 pounds. Swenson opened the tournament with a pair of falls before being pinned himself in the quarterfinals. He then picked up his third pin of the tournament to qualify for the fifth-place match. Johnson Creek’s Adam Becker pinned Swenson in 36 seconds.
“Brock wrestled solid,” Olson said. “He has been wrestling tough. Not big for the weight class but he is a scrapper and does not like to lose.”
Boyceville also got a solid performance from Jon Harnisch.
He went 3-3 with a couple of pins to finish 8th at 152 pounds.
Tyler Stroo and Wyatt Hansen both placed ninth. Stroo went 5-2 at 126 pounds while Hansen finished 4-2 at 145 pounds.
Boyceville’s final place winner was Logan McAbee-Thomas. He took tenth at 170 pounds with a 3-3 mark.
The five remaining Boyceville wrestlers did not place. James Lindo ended the tournament 2-2 at 132, Alex Lovett (182), Clayton Windsor (195), Jake Erickson (220) and heavyweight Brandon Windsor each finished with a win and two losses at the 2013 Northern Badger Classic.