by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Rogers Royals wrestling team just missed qualifying for the state team tournament on Feb. 15 but felt a lot better a week later by landing seven individuals in the big show.
“It feels great to have seven going,” said junior Jake Owens, one of four Royals winning Section 5AAA championships on Saturday at Champlin Park.”We’re making some history.”
Rogers’ previous high was three, last year.
“It went pretty well, individual-wise,” said senior Phil Anderson, who’s Rogers’ first three-time state qualifier and its record-holder for wins with a 140-32 mark.
Winning titles for Rogers were Anderson at 138 (repeating his 2013 crown), senior Tyler Eicher at 182, Jordan Lemcke at 195 and Owens at 220.
Runners-up were senior Connor Larson at 145, junior Jordan Bond at 152, and sophomore Andrew Piehl at 285.
“At the beginning of the year, I was hoping for four, one more than last year,” said coach Chris Donnay. “We doubled last year, plus one.”
The Royals, 18-6 in duals, reached the section team finals but lost to Maple Grove 38-28. But they wound up with a significant state presence anyway.
State individuals will be held Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“We can’t just be happy to be there, any more,” said Donnay. “We’ve got to get some guys on the podium.”
The lone podium-finish in Rogers’ 10-year history was by fifth-place Todd Klemz in 2008.
Anderson (36-2), ranked No. 5 in Class 3A, beat Mounds View’s Jack O’Brien 5-1 in the finals.
“I wrestled smart, and came out on top,” said Anderson, who reached finals with two pins.
Eicher (31-6) had to ward off a pin in the final 25 seconds to earn his title. He had two takedowns and led Mounds View’s Jimmy Kaiser 5-1 before getting caught in a cradle hold. “It was close,” he admitted, “but he extended himself a little and I was able to roll through.” Eicher kept his shoulder blades off the mat and emerged with a 5-3 win, following a bye and a pin to reach finals. He was a fifth-place finisher last year.
“Great way to end my senior year,” said Eicher.
Lemcke (31-8) sweated out a rare 1-0 win in the finals over Park Center’s Julius Ogunti, whose 23-4 record includes three losses to Lemcke, all by one point. The escape came at the outset of the second period. “I chose down, and he let me walk out because he didn’t want to ride me,” said Lemcke, who fended off Ogunti’s attempts to turn him throughout the third period.
“It’s awesome,” said Lemcke about going to state, after just missing last year with a true-second loss.
Owens (31-7) got the first takedown with a double-leg, then got another and controlled Spring Lake Park’s Tristan Wehmas for a 5-1 win in the finals. “I beat him 10-1 (in December), but he came out stronger this time,” said Owens, who makes his second state trip. He was a runner-up last year.
Larson (25-13), who has 98 career wins, nabbed his first state trip by edging Champlin Park’s Andrew Ockuly 3-2 in the semifinals, after breezing 13-3 in the first round. Larson got thumped by Osseo’s No. 2 ranked Carson Brolsma 18-3 in the finals but didn’t have to do a true-second.
Bond (25-14) won three of four decisions to place third and earn a true-second match, where he would have faced Maple Grove’s Will Suehr, who beat him 6-0 a week earlier. However, Suehr suffered a knee injury in the finals against Osseo’s Badhasa Wako and had to default both the finals and the true-second.
Piehl (31-7), a hulking sophomore, reached finals with two pins, including an overtime pin of Centennial’s Joe Nelson, then got pinned himself by Irondale’s No. 7 ranked Eriq Smith in the finals in 5:44.
Donnay gushed about his big four, who anchor the lineup with a combined 123-28 record.
“Our bottom four and Dominic Skawiniak (220 and 285 backup) really pound on each other every day,” said Donnay, “and they’ve all gotten so much better this year.”
Royal eighth-grader Bret Wilson took fifth at 106 and finished a banner rookie season 35-6. Sophomore Sam Seudbeck (9-14) placed fifth at 160.