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Strong places second, five others medal to lead Toppers to 11th place in Northern Badger

RIVER FALLS — It was a lofty goal considering Glenwood City had just nine wrestlers competing in last week’s Northern Badger tournament.

Despite the limited numbers, the Hilltoppers were just three and a half points short of their stated goal of a top-ten finish.

Glenwood City finished in a three-way tie for 11th place as the Toppers along with Northwestern and Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal (last year’s NB runners-up) all scored 150.5 points just behind tenth place finisher Somerset who had 154 points. Glenwood City took fifth in the Division 3 (small school) competition. The Hilltoppers finished with a 115 points and in 17th place a year ago.

St. Croix Falls took the overall title and Division 2 crown at this year’s tournament after scoring 252 points. Host River Falls was the runner-up with 245.5 and were followed closely by the Boyceville Bulldogs, who took third overall with 243 points and won the small school title.  

En route to that finish, six of the Hilltoppers’ nine varsity wrestlers that competed in the 33rd annual Northern Badger Wrestling Classic held last Thursday and Friday, December 28 and 29 at River Falls High School, medaled and made the awards podium.

That’s the most since 2012, according to head coach Shane Strong.

That is saying something considering the 2017 Northern Badger Classic featured a tournament-high 44 schools and a much more talented pool of individual wrestlers than has been seen in some time at the River Falls Invite.

“Our team wrestled well,” said Shane Strong. “I felt the Badger was deeper in talent this year than in the past few years. Each weight classes had high levels on both sides of the bracket.”

Which made the Hilltoppers collective results even more impressive.

Senior Carson Strong saved his best for last. Strong finished his final Northern Badger tournament as the runner-up in the 132-pound weight class to lead the way for the Hilltoppers.

Carson Strong opened his tournament with a trio of first-period pins. He flatten Ruan Salley of Hayward/Northwood in 1:11 in the opening round, followed that with a 52 second pin of Northwestern’s Brody Burke and then stuck Somerset’s Jared Grahovac in 1:02 in the quarterfinals.

Strong dominance continued into the second day of competition when he majored Bailey Gillet of Cadott 14-6 to gain a spot in the final where he faced state runner-up Max Dascher of Cochrane-Fountain City.

The pair battled to a one all deadlock after three periods, each surrendering just an escape point. Dascher, however, would earn a takedown at the edge of the mat in the first overtime period for the 3-1 win over Strong for the gold medal at 132 pounds.

“Carson was able to really open up this tournament with his leg attacks,” said his father and coach. “He scored several high level takedowns against quality opponents. He was in deep on a few shots against the state runner-up, but just missed the finishes in the finals.”

After finishing eighth at 120 pounds in last year’s Northern Badger, fellow senior Jake Nadeau placed third at 126 pounds in this year’s tournament.

Nadeau tech falled St. Croix Central’s Tadan Holzer 16-0 following a first-round bye and then pinned Nick Elmer of Clear Lake in 3:46 seconds to earn a spot in the semifinals. Nadeau, however, came up a few points short as he lost a 6-4 decision to Rhinelander’s Tyler Olson. But the Toppers’ senior rebounded to take a close 2-1win in the third-place match against River Falls’ Michael Rebozo.

“Jake wrestled a solid tournament and demonstrated his dominance when wrestling on top, “ said Shane Strong. “He was able to pin a state ranked wrestler, while defeating a couple other quality kids.”

One of the Toppers’ biggest wins was delivered by Austin Curvello, who pinned the top-ranked wrestler at 145 pounds – Nick Sempf of Clear Lake – in the quarterfinals. Curvello earned a pair of pins before upsetting Sempf to make the semifinals. There he lost a 6-2 decision to Zach Pooler of Northwestern before suffering a 16-0 defeat by technical fall to Regis/Altoona’s Payton Kostka in the third-place match to finish fourth.

“Austin Curvello was able to defeat the #1 seed in the quarterfinals despite being up a weight class,” stated Coach Strong. “He wrestled a great tournament.”

Another one of the Toppers’ great finishes was turned in by second-year wrestler Jake Kopacz. The senior overcame a second round loss and together five straight wins, including three by pin falls, in the consolation bracket to finish in fifth place at 182 pounds. Kopacz won a pair of one-point decisions in his final to matches. 

“Jake wrestled a great tournament coming from behind to win four matches including a victory over a state qualifier and a few ranked kids,” noted Strong. “Despite only having a year of wrestling under his belt, he has steadily improved.”

Aaron Holmquist and Brad Kessler both finished in 11th place after going 4-3 at 113 and 138 pounds respectively to round out the Toppers medal winners.

Andy Grant (106) and Tucker Lagerstrom (152) finished 1-2 while Dakota Dean-Immerman was injured in the tournament and had to default in his two matches at 170 pounds.

“We have had our ups and downs this season so far with injuries, illness, lower numbers and other concerns,” said Coach Strong of the early portion of the season.

“Despite the adversity our kids have really stepped it up and I can’t express how proud the coaching staff is of their efforts and commitment to improving. It has become very evident to us that the kids committed to our training and are improving and competing very well for us right now.”

Glenwood City will open conference duals hosting Durand this Thursday evening, January 4. The squad will then travel to Cadott on Saturday for an invitation before going to Cameron for a non-conference dual next Tuesday, January 9.