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Woodbury wrestling: Royals suffer heartbreak in section final

Woodbury’s Pavel Swensen shows his emotions after Tartan came back to beat the Royals in the section title match. (Bulletin photos by Nick Gerhardt)1 / 3
Woodbury’s Ben Donnelly earns a takedown in his match against Tartan. The Royals fell 35-32 to Tartan in the Section 4AAA championship match. (Bulletin photo by Nick Gerhardt) 2 / 3
Woodbury’s Howard Jones gets control of his foe against Tartan. (Bulletin photo by Nick Gerhardt) 3 / 3

Second-seeded Tartan dashed Woodbury’s hopes of advancing to the state wrestling tournament as a team for a second consecutive season Saturday with a stunning 35-32 victory in the Section 4AAA championship at Woodbury High School.

The Royals wrestling team, which was ranked 12th in Class AAA heading into sections, secured a trip to the state tournament last season with a thrilling 32-27 victory over Stillwater for the first state appearance in school history. Top-seeded Woodbury led throughout most of the match against the Titans, but ran into a buzzsaw in the final three matches.

“It was going to be either a toss-up match one way or another and bonus points,” Royals head coach Justin Smith said. “I think we kind of got bit by both of them.”

Woodbury gave up bonus points in each of the final three matches and Tartan ended the dual with a fall from Jason Telin, a two-time state entrant at 285 pounds.

“It’s the biggest disappointment in my high school wrestling career for sure,” Royals senior captain Justin Herold-Plakut said. “It’s my senior year, I’ve worked hard for six years on this team and to see it end this way as a team …”

Woodbury gave up a technical fall at 220 to make it 32-29 with one match to go. The Royals gave up bonus points at 195 to former state champion T.J. O’Hara and lost by decision at 182.

Herold-Plakut won by fall at 170 to give Woodbury a 32-16 lead. Howard Jones won by technical fall at 160, as did Ben Donnelly at 145.

“I think they came in with the attitude of ‘why not them,’” Smith said of Tartan.

The Royals eked out a 36-33 victory over Stillwater in the semifinals to return to the title match. Woodbury won seven matches against the Ponies and with each victory came bonus points. Ty Johnson, Ben Malacko, Herold-Plakut and John McNiff all won by fall.

The Section 4AAA individual tournament begins Friday at North St. Paul.

Individually, Woodbury has a number of wrestlers hoping to reach state. Herold-Plakut is the No. 1-ranked wrestler in Class AAA at 152 pounds, Johnson is ranked No. 4 at 126 pounds, Donnelly is seventh at 145 pounds and Jones is ranked ninth at 170 pounds.

-Nick Gerhardt