RIVER FALLS — A Northern Badger team title remained as elusive as ever for the well-decorated Boyceville wrestling program.
After several top three finishes over the past two decades including a second-place finish in last year’s tournament, a coveted championship again eluded the Bulldogs’ collective grasp.
Hampered by injuries and the absence of three starters, Boyceville finished third in the 30th annual Northern Badger Wrestling Classic held December 29 and 30 at River Falls High School.
“Our goal was to win it,” Boyceville’s veteran head coach Jamie Olson stated succinctly.
“We came up 32 points short with three starters out,” Olson said, adding “It just shows that everyone stepped up and wrestled with toughness.”
Quite an accomplishment in a large, state-caliber tournament like the Northern Badger for a squad that featured five freshman and a first-year wrestler.
“I was very happy with the third place finish,” said Olson.
He had to be especially pleased with the performances of his three finalists – senior Austin Wolfe, sophomore James Palmer and freshman Dyllon Johnson.
Wolfe and Palmer each successfully defended their 2013 Northern Badger titles to earn their second consecutive championships while Johnson finished as the runner-up in his first Northern Badger tournament.
Ranked number one in the Division 3, 113-pound state poll, Wolfe showed why he was deserving of that recognition as he dominated the 113-pound bracket last week en route to a 5-0 record and gold medal. Wolfe took top honors in the 106-pound class last year.
Palmer, who is ranked in the state polls and a returning NB champ, also finished with an unblemished record but had to overcome a few tense moments including an overtime win in the quarterfinals and a 1-0 win in the semifinals to earn his second straight championship.
Dyllon Johnson made it to the finals in his inaugural performance in the Northern Badger and finished with the silver medal at 106 pounds.
These three performances headlined the Bulldogs’ two-day tournament run in which 12 of the team’s 14 wrestlers placed.
“Having 12 individuals place was the key to scoring 298.5 points,” said Olson “We also had 26 pins in the two days, just second behind Sparta.”
Boyceville, rated fourth in the Division 3 state team poll, finished behind champion Sparta and 2013 champion and Bulldogs’ nemesis Spring Valley/Elmwood. New to the tournament, the Spartans of Sparta racked up 330 points to win the 2014 team title. Spring Valley/Elmwood, ranked fifth in the state polls, scored 316.5 to take the runner-up spot while Boyceville finished in third with 298.5 and took home the Division 3 (small school) title. Third-ranked Clear Lake came in fourth with 214 points and Luck/Frederic/Grantsburg tallied 182.50 to land in fifth.
In all likelihood, a healthy Bulldogs’ squad would have been a worthy challenger for this year’s tourney. Defending state and Northern Badger champion Micah Johnson was unable to compete due to a herniated disc he suffered earlier in December and will likely be sidelined until the regional tournament next month. Jake Lake has yet to see the mat this season due to a lingering injury and Alex Lovett was unable to compete in River Falls. In addition, senior Logan McAbee-Thomas suffered a knee sprain in his quarterfinals match at 182 pounds and had to default for the rest of the tournament.
Any of these injuries might have been devastating to most teams chances for a top three finish. But Boyceville always seems to find ways to not only persevere abut excel. A philosophy that starts with coaches Olson and Corey Day and continues through the wrestlers – from senior to freshman; champion to competitor.
Olson gave kudos to every wrestler that competed.
“Wolfe and Palmer had exceptional performances, and Dyllon Johnson placing second as a freshman was also very impressive,” noted Olson.
But his praise extended to others as well.
“Garrett Joles and Brandon Windsor wrestled outstanding both placing fifth, especially going in banged up with little mat time,” Olson chimed.
“Tyler Stroo placing sixth in a very strong weight class (132) also had a great tournament, said Olson.
“Other place winners that were solid throughout the two days were Brock Swenson, Cody Frederick, Jordan Morse, Logan Mcabee-Thomas, Jake Erickson and Noah Novotney. Justin Malean and Zach Smith battled for us and scored key points,” added Olson.
Team success in wrestling starts with the individual and there were none better than Boyceville’s Austin Wolfe and James Palmer.
Wolfe capped his final Northern Badger tournament with a second straight gold-medal performance while Palmer kept a dream of a four-peat alive and well with his second title in as many tries.
Wolfe was a dominate performer throughout this year’s tournament. He scored two pins, a technical fall, and a major decision on his way to the 113-pound championship where he handle a fellow state qualifier to post an 8-3 win.
A perfect final curtain call that began with a 1:09 pin of Chequamegon freshman Seth Peterson. Wolfe then scored a 15-0 technical fall over Michael Holton of Lakeland in round two and followed it with a quarterfinals’ pin of Neilsville-Greenwood-Loyal’s Kyle Gurney in 1:17.
The dominating performances carried into the semifinal round. Paired against Dunn-St. Croix rival Jacob Nyhagen of St. Croix Central, Wolfe had to wrestle the full six minutes for the first time in the tournament but won easily with a 15-1 major decision.
In his second Northern Badger’s final, Wolfe squared off against David Hayes, a freshman from Sparta. Wolfe scored the first points and never trailed on his way to an 8-3 victory and a second straight Northern Badger championship.
Palmer also captured his second consecutive title last week but in a bit more dramatic fashion as he had to survive a pair of nail biting matches.
It took Palmer less than a period to defeat his first two opponents last week. He pinned Frank Holter of St. Croix Central in just 51 second to kick off the 2014 tournament and then followed it with another first-period pin (1:50), this one against Dylan Nielsen of Neilsville-Greenwood-Loyal.
But then things got interesting.
Prescott freshman Sam Stuhl battled Palmer to a 2-2 draw at the end of regulation time in their 120-pound quarterfinal match. But the Boyceville grappler took the win with a takedown in the first overtime period for a 4-2 win and a spot in the semifinals.
In that match, Palmer earned a slim 1-0 win over fellow sophomore Christian Lamon of Sparta.
In a finals’ match that featured a pair of returning state qualifiers, Palmer aptly defended his title with a 9-3 win and lay claim to the 120-pound title.
First-year varsity wrestler and Boyceville freshman Dyllon Johnson come close to becoming the second member of the Johnson family to be a Northern Badger champion – a feat older sibling Micah accomplished last year, also as a freshman.
The younger Johnson, ranked second in the Division 3 106-pound state poll, was on course to equal it as he won four straight matches to gain the finals. But dreams of a title were dashed by a 8-3 loss to junior Andrew Webb of Spring Valley/Elmwood. Webb, ranked fifth at 113 pounds, dropped down a weight class for the tournament and came away with the gold.
Dyllon’s path to the finals, however, included some signature wins. He opened with a 1:41 pin of Cumberland senior Jim Springsteen and followed it with a 12-1 major decision over Alex Licht of Cadott. In the quarterfinals, Johnson scored an 8-2 win against Skylar Barth of Neilsville-Greenwood-Loyal and prevailed 5-4 over Barron’s Quincy Stephens in the semifinals.
Garrett Joles earned fifth in his first Northern Badger tournament as did Brandon Windsor.
Joles went 5-1 in a very tough 170-pound weight class. The freshman scored a close 4-3 win against Logan Vantassel of Sparta after receiving an opening round bye. St. Croix Central junior Trent Smith gave Joles his only NB blemish, a 16-8 loss, in the quarterfinals. Joles then rattled off three straight wins including a 4-3 win over Zach Schneider of Spencer for fifth. Joles also won consolation matches of 16-0 and 8-3 over Phillips’ Hunter Anderson and Sparta’s Logan Vantassel respectively.
Much like Joles, Brandon Windsor scored a win following an opening-round bye in the heavyweight division. Windsor pinned Noah Leblanc of Hayward in 2:29 for his first win of the tournament. He lost his next match by pin fall to Ethan Luedtke of Northwood/Solon Springs. Luedtke would go on to take third.
Windsor then scored three straight pins to finish in fifth place at 285 pounds. In his first consolation match, it took Windsor just 56 seconds to pin Josh Westmoreland of Somerset. He followed that with a 3:22 fall over Patrick Higley of Melrose-Mindoro/Galesville-Ettrick-Trempeleau. In the fifth place match, Windsor again scored the pin, this time sticking St. Croix Falls’ Kyle Bastin in 3:33.
Senior Tyler Stroo wrestled a nice tournament in a strong 132-pound weight class and finished sixth with a 4-2 mark.
Stroo had a great first day. He scored a 15-0 technical fall over Elaine Ulrich of Clear Lake to open the tournament and followed it with a 3:454 fall of Clay Carney of St. Croix Falls.
Stroo found himself in the consolation bracket after being pinned by top-ranked Try Lundequam of Cumberland in the quarterfinals. But Stroo rebounded to win his next two matches, 16-3 and a 4-2 overtime win against Chequamegon’s Hunter Schienebeck, to make the fifth place match. Logan Newton of Spring Valley/Elmwood won the final match 5-3.
Six other Bulldogs placed in this year’s Northern Badger Classic.
Junior Jordan Morse went 4-2 including a 9-0 win over Glenwood City’s Jake Logghe in the ninth place match.
Brock Swenson, Cody Frederick, and Noah Novotney all went 4-3 in the two-day tournament. Brock Swenson (126) and Cody Frederick (138) both finished in tenth while Novotney placed 11th at 195 pounds.
Senior Logan McAbee-Thomas, despite having to default from the tournament after suffering a knee sprain in the quarterfinals, finished 12th at 182 pounds. Jake Erickson went 3-4 at 220 pounds and finished 12th.
Senior Zach Smith (152) and freshman Justin Malean (145) did not place. Smith was 2-2 while Malean was 1-2.
Boyceville will open conference action tomorrow evening, January 8, when it travels to Spring Valley to take on the fifth-ranked Cardinals in a showdown that will likely determine this year’s conference champion. Then on Saturday, January 10 the Bulldogs will be in Hudson for a tournament before returning home Tuesday to host Eau Claire North in a dual.