CLEAR LAKE — The Boyceville wrestling coaches scoured their student body in an attempt to fill the season-long holes that have haunted their team and get back on top of its regional competition.
They came oh so close, filling 13 of the 14 spots heading into last Saturday’s WIAA Division 3 Regional tournament at Clear Lake High School.
The Bulldogs were motivated and hungry and delivered yet another inspired regional performance but in the end it was not enough.
That lone empty weight slot at 126 pounds came back to bite the Bulldogs.
Boyceville was denied the regional championship for a fourth consecutive year as arch nemesis Spring Valley/Elmwood, who was able to man all 14 weight classes, nipped the Bulldogs by a single point – 204-203, via tie breaking criteria – to capture its sixth straight Division 3 regional crown and team sectional berth.
“It came down to me filling 14 weights and I wasn’t able to do that and it cost us in the end,” said Boyceville head coach Jamie Olson, still reeling from the heartbreaking loss.
“Our kids wrestled with the goal in mind that we set out from a year ago. We had the best week of practice all year and I really feel all 13 guys wrestled the best they could,” said Olson.
“The effort and intensity was there all day long. There were a couple of matches I would like to have back, but I can’t fault our toughness and heart in trying to win those matches,” added Olson. “That’s all you can ask for as a coach. They laid it on the line in every single match and I’m very proud of them for that.”
In a stacked regional field of six, arguably the strongest Division 3 regional in all of Wisconsin with four state-ranked squads including Spring Valley/ Elmwood (#8), Cadott (#10), Clear Lake (#11) and Boyceville (#12), the Bulldogs held tenuous leads prior to the start of the finals and after their conclusion.
Before the start of the wrestleback session, Boyceville held a 4.5 point advantage over Spring Valley/Elmwood – 203 to 198.5. And just 18.5 points separated first from fourth.
With no competitors involved in wrestlebacks, Boyceville coaches, wrestlers and fans had to just sit and watch as Spring Valley tied the Bulldogs on Carter Merth’s 18-0 technical fall win at 170 pounds. Merth garnered three points for second place and 1.5 bonus points for the tech fall.
It actually could have been worse as a Merth pin, which he was close to getting at least twice during the match, would have given the Cardinals the outright title, there and then, by a mere half point.
The outcome in that 170-pound wrestleback sent meet officials scrambling for their rules books.
According to tie-breaking criteria, officials were to add up each team’s placement points for first through fourth places at each weight class.
Officials along with Olson and Spring Valley/Elmwood coach Carter Turner, retired to the school’s library to tally the points.
Those most concerned – the contingents from Boyceville and Spring Valley/Elmwood – did not have to wait long.
Within a few minutes, an announcement was made congratulating the Cardinals on winning the regional championship.
In the final count, Spring Valley/Elmwood had 120 placement points to Boyceville’s 111.
The Cardinals took on St. Croix Falls in one semifinal at last evening’s WIAA Team Sectional held in Boyceville. The winner of that match was set to face the winner of the Durand-Ladysmith semifinal in the championship with the victor advancing to team state on March 4.
“Saturday was a tournament to remember for many different reasons,” Olson said. “Not only was it loaded with numerous state-ranked wrestlers from all six teams, it had four teams that at any point in the day had a chance to win it. If you were a spectator it didn’t get any better, and if you were a coach it couldn’t get anymore stressful.”
But coming close for a fourth straight year gave Olson no comfort. In fact, he admitted this was the worst one to accept.
At this time last year, although the Bulldogs were licking their wounds from another runner-up finish to the Cardinals, there was high hope that the next season – this season –- would be Boyceville’s best as it was to return a team that was poised to dominate its competition.
Unfortunately, through a series of unforeseen circumstances, six of last year’s varsity starters, all of whom were expected to return, were not a part of this year’s squad.
That, along with the loading or overloading of talented wrestlers and teams into one regional tournament, year after year, was enough to push Olson to the brink of exasperation.
“I will argue that it was the toughest regional in the state in division 3,” stated Olson unequivocally. “And that many quality wrestlers will watch Saturday (individual sectional) from the stands as less than average kids participate. That bothers me a lot, especially when I see there is a bye at the sectional tournament. That means there was only one kid in a weight class from another regional.”
As for the final standings, Spring Valley/Elmwood sat atop the six-team tally with 204 points, followed by Boyceville at 203, host Clear Lake finished third with 197, Cadott had 190.5, Glenwood City topped out at 130.5 and Cornell/Gilman/Lake Holcombe came in with 123 points.
The disappointment that Olson and Bulldogs fans left the Clear Lake gymnasium following the conlusion of the February 11 regional, was tempered by several outstanding individual efforts.
Four Bulldogs – Brock Schlough (160), Justin Malean (170), James Palmer (182) and Garrett Joles (195) – claimed championships, the most of any team in the regional meet. Boyceville also had two others, Sam Retz (152 ) and Noah Novotney (285), finish second.
With the top two in each weight class advancing to this Saturday’s WIAA Division 3 Individual Wrestling Sectional at Osseo-Fairchild High School, all six of the aforementioned Bulldogs’ earned berths, tying Clear Lake with the most sectional competitors.
“Our Hammers”, as Olson referred to Schlough, Malean, Palmer and Joles, kept the Bulldogs in the hunt throughout the day as each scored massive bonus points.
Schlough, Palmer and Joles, each ranked first or second in state at their respectively weight classes throughout the season, all had a pair of pins following quarterfinal byes en route to the regional gold.
Schlough, who had been ranked atop the 160-pound field until this week’s latest poll which had him second, had pins of 18 seconds and 2:33 over 11th ranked Dominick Grimm of Cadott in the finals.
Neither of Palmer’s or Joles’ competitors made it a full minute with the duo.
Senior James Palmer, a three-time state qualifier and D3’s highest rated 182 pounder, registered a 29 second pin over Josh Briggs in the semifinals and then stuck Spring Valley/Elmwood’s Nick Hofacker just 53 seconds into the pair’s championship match.
Joles was equally impressive. He recorded the Bulldogs and tournaments quickest pin, a 16 second fall against Clear Lake’s Mason Krueger in a 195-pound semifinal. Senior Ethan Haider of Cadott didn’t fair much better against the Bulldog junior in their title match which Joles won in 55 seconds.
Although junior Justin Malean had just one pin, his championship run at 170 pounds was nonetheless impressive. After a first-round bye and a three minute pin in the semifinals, Malean beat his nemesis, Carter Merth of Spring Valley/Elmwood, for the first time, winning the championship bout, 14-2. Malean used a series of four-point moves at the end of each period (a takedown and 2-point near fall) for the convincing win.
All four were sectional qualifiers last year.
Senior Sam Retz qualified for his first section as did junior Noah Novotney after second place showings at 152 and 285 pounds. Both wrestlers won on semifinal pins only to lose on a pair of 57 second falls to their championship match opponents.
Retz was stuck by Cadott’s James Pfeiffer, ranked fourth, in the 152-pound title match while Novotney lost to sixth ranked Takoda Lee of Cornell/Gilman/lake Holcombe.
Nick Goodell just missed grabbing a seventh sectional qualifying spot for the Bulldogs as he took third at 120 with a 2-1 mark which included an 8-4 win over Cadott’s Chase Schultz for third place.
Hunter Lipke (220) and Jerod Nelson (138) both took fourth while Eli Swanson (106) and Micadin Kahl (132) finished fifth and Trey Brinker (145) placed sixth as did Jaden Reisimer, a basketball player, who wrestled at 113 pounds but did not win a match.
“Swanson and Kahl had big pins for 5th place. Lipke, Nelson and Goodell had critical first round pins,” Reisimer and Brinker scored big six place points to give us a chance,” said Olson.
“It was a team effort from start to finish. Everyone contributed to the 203 points, we needed just a 1/2 point in there somewhere to win…it’s really crazy when you think about all the different things that could have happened from both teams and we tie.”
“We have some very exciting matches that lay ahead of us in the next two weeks and that will be the focus,” concluded Olson.
Sectional wrestling kicks off at 10:00 a.m. Saturday in Osseo.