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RIVER FALLS — After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Northern Badger Wrestling Classic made its return to River Falls High School last Wednesday and Thursday, December 29 and 30 much to the pleasure of wrestlers, coaches and fans.
None may have been happier for the return of the area’s premier Christmastime wrestling tournament than Glenwood City. The Hilltoppers not only had their first individual champion crowned in eight years but returned to Glenwood City last Thursday evening with the Division 3 (small school) championship plaque in tow.
Wyatt Unser became the first Glenwood City wrestler to win an individual Northern Badger Classic championship since 2013 when Riley Knops, Adam Holmquist, and Austin Moe each achieved the feat. In winning the 106-pound crown last week in River Falls with a perfect 5-0 mark, Unser, who was an honorable mention in the latest Division 3 state poll at 113 pounds, also became the very first freshman in Glenwood City wrestling history to win a Northern Badger crown.
“He wrestled so composed and humble,” stated Hilltoppers’ head coach Shane Strong of Unser’s two-day Northern Badger performance.
Unser’s feat coupled with an impressive third-place finish by state-ranked junior Ian Radintz at 120 pounds and sixth-place showings from junior James Knight and freshman Mitchell McGee at 126 and 132 pounds, respectively, helped vault Glenwood City to the small-school crown. The Hilltoppers scored 157 points to top the dozen other teams competing in Division 3 and finished ninth overall in the 41-school Northern Badger Classic field.
“We don’t win the small-school team race without a team effort in the tourney and in the practice room,” Strong wrote in a Facebook post on the program’s page December 31.
In that post he extolled the efforts of wrestlers Thomas Moede, Blake Fayerweather, Noah Brite, Zeb Holden, and Connor Gross who added valuable team points to the Toppers’ tally with some important wins in the tournament. He also praised the competitive spirits of Jonas Draxler and Jackson Logghe in their first Northern Badger experience.
“Overall, it was a good tournament for our team,” added Strong. “It was awesome to be back in the gym with a packed house after a year of limited wrestling opportunities.”
In hindsight, no one may have been more thankful for that opportunity than first-year varsity wrestler Wyatt Unser. While the freshman’s record-setting trek to the top of the 106-pound chart last week may have been an eye-opening experience to many that observed it, it wasn’t all that surprising to his coaches and teammates who witness his dedication to the sport day in and day out.
“Wyatt’s always looking to improve and sets a great example,” said Strong. “He has great leg attacks, is dominant riding and refuses to be turned when on the bottom.”
All those aforementioned attributions were on display in his Northern Badger matches.
Following an opening round bye, Unser (12-1) was paired with Cumberland’s Peter Montgomery and won via a fall at 2:15. That victory sent the Glenwood City freshman into the quarterfinal match against Cole Steffen of St. Croix Falls. In a tight battle, Unser was awarded an escape as the match ended to earn a 5-4 win and a spot in the semifinals the following day.
Day 2 competition would see Unser battle a pair of Division 2, state-ranked wrestlers. First up was a semifinal showdown with St. Croix Central’s Maverick Kostrzak, an honorable mention at 113 pounds, who like Unser, had dropped down a weight class. Unser prevailed in the match, winning a 5-2 decision and a berth in the championship where he wrestled second-ranked Brendan Burke of Amery. For the second time in three bouts, Unser won a one-point, 7-6, decision over Burke to claim the 106-pound gold and his first-ever Northern Badger Classic title.
The Division 3, state runner-up at 106-pounds a year ago, junior Ian Radintz is no stranger to facing talented competition in pressure-package situations just like those in the Northern Badger.
Radintz parlayed his wrestling talents into a third-place finish in what was a loaded bracket at 120 pounds that featured a state champion and a state runner-up.
Radintz’s first day of competition included, an opening-round bye, a first-period pin over Chequamegon’s Aiden Miesbauer and a 7-2 decision over Teague Holzer of St. Croix Central in the quarterfinals.
In the following day’s semifinals, Radintz squared off against fellow state runner-up Luke Dux from Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal. Both wrestlers were also ranked third in the respective divisions in the most recent individual state polls. Radintz came up short in his bid for a spot in the finals, losing to Dux, 3-1. Yet another state place winner awaited Radintz in the third-place match – fifth-ranked Mitchell Anderson of Clear Lake. Radintz controlled the match and won 7-2.
“That is tough to do,” said Strong of Radintz’s third-place match. “He demonstrated toughness coming back to win that match.”
Two other Topper wrestlers also stood on the podium following the conclusion of this year’s Northern Badger, junior James Knight and freshman Mitchell McGee. Both wrestlers finished the tournament with 5-2 wrestlers and copped 6th place in their respective weight classes.
All five of Knight’s victories at 126 pounds came via pins. He opened the tourney with a first-period pin over Edgar’s Austin Schreiber before losing 9-1 in the next round to Trayton Torres of Elkhorn. But, Knight responded with four straight pins over Brayden Mohr of Chetek-Weyerhaeuser/Prairie Farm, Trevor Gilbertson of Clear Lake, Ethan Buchanan of Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal and Camren Benesch of Northwestern. In the fifth-place match, Spooner/Webster’s Phoenix Heise reversed rolls and pinned Knight in the second period.
“He wrestled his best tournament of his career, not because of his placement, but for how he wrestled,” noted Strong. “He was under control, in good position and composed throughout the two day grind. He battled back in some matches, never breaking under pressure. He has grown a great deal in the past month.”
Mitchell McGee showed great promise with his sixth-place finish at 132 pounds.
Four of McGee’s five tournament wins were by pins which included falls over Mason Putnam of Marathon in the opening round, Daniel Adomaitis of Phillips, Briar Naglosky of Shell Lake and Drake Marks of Hayward. He also majored fellow freshman Jake Bialzik of Boyceville by a 13-2 count. McGee’s four-match win streak was snapped by Hudzon Sebesta-Opelt of Neillsville-Greenwood-Loyal who shut him out 5-0 in the fifth-place bout.
“He defeated some solid kids in the two-day tourney with grit and toughness,” said Strong of McGee. “His conditioning has improved greatly this season helping him win those close matches. His top position turning is getting better, making him a pinning machine.”
Seven other Glenwood City wrestlers competed but did not place with five, however, adding important team points.
Senior Thomas Moede, junior Noah Brite, and freshman Blake Fayerweather all finished 2-2 at 152, 160 and 220 pounds respectively. Sophomores Jonas Draxler (138) and Connor Gross (182), and freshman Zeb Holden (145) were 1-2 while another freshman Jackson Logghe (170) was 0-2.
Glenwood City was supposed to wrestle in Durand on Thursday but the match was postponed due to illness in the Durand School District. Instead, the Hilltoppers will travel to Mondovi for a triangular and wrestle the host Buffaloes and Independence/Gilmanton. On Saturday, Glenwood City will compete in the Cadott Invite.