Wrestling: East Ridge advances to state as a team for first time in program history
An eruption came off the East Ridge wrestling bench and the Raptors fans in the stands as Ethan Pittman won his 182-pound match in the section finals against Hastings on Friday night. After the win for Pittman, the score changed and East Ridge was leading 35-13.
The Raptors wrestlers knew history was going to be made at Eagan High School on Friday night. After three more matches, East Ridge had finalized a 38-25 win over No. 1 seed Hastings to reach the state tournament as a team for the first time in program history.
The captains received the championship trophy from athletic director Sara Palodichuk and the entire team came running over holding one finger in the air.
At the beginning of the season, the wrestlers said their goal was to end Hastings winning streak in the section tournament and make it to the state tournament. The Raptors have been through a lot with injuries and moving wrestlers around in the lineup, but it was all worth it for this one moment on Friday night.
"Words can't describe how excited we are for this win and to be the first team in program history is a true honor," Pittman said.
It's been a goal that head coach Matt Everson and the entire wrestling team has strived for since not only the beginning of this season, but over the last five seasons Everson has been coaching the team.
If there's one word to describe this team, every wrestler and coach said it on Friday night. That one word is family.
It took a team and a family to overcome the obstacles and adversity they faced with each match and and each challenge in their way.
"We have definitely become a family this season with the time we spent in practice and at duals," said Marco Cavallaro. "It took this whole family for us to reach this point and we couldn't be happier."
East Ridge had three challenges to face to reach the state tournament. It started with a dual against Bloomington Kennedy in the quarterfinals. It was a good way to get the wrestlers started for the night and allow some of the wrestlers outside of the starting lineup to get a start in the section tournament.
The Raptors dominated the dual and ended with a 60-19 final score and advanced to the semifinals against No. 3 seed Woodbury. These two teams faced off earlier in the season and it came down to a tiebreaker, so the expectation was that it would be yet again another close dual.
East Ridge won the first two matches to take an 11-0 lead, but Woodbury came right back with two wins as well and made it an 11-9 lead for the Raptors. It was a back-and-forth dual until Woodbury won in 220-pounds to make it a 38-33 lead for East Ridge heading into the final dual.
Cavallaro ended the dual with a pin and helped the Raptors win 44-33 over Woodbury.
"That Woodbury win was big for us because it brought some confidence and momentum heading into the finals," said Hunter Lyden. "We had been hoping for this finals dual all season long and we were ready for the battle."
East Ridge built some momentum after the big rivalry win against Woodbury and it spread into the Hastings dual. It was the No. 1 seed, Hastings, up against the No. 2 seed, East Ridge, for a spot in the state tournament.
This is what the Raptor wrestlers were envisioning all season long.
East Ridge started off the finals dual with two wins to create an 8-0 lead, but Hastings came right back with two wins of its own to bring the score to 8-7. Then, the middle weights threw the pressure aside and did what they do best which is wrestle.
Ryder Rogotzke earned the pin, while Hunter Lyden scored big in his match to extend the lead to 19-7. Then, Royce Hogue and Roman Rogotzke each won their matches to draw out the lead to 26-7. Finally, Sam Tollison earned the medical forfeit to give East Ridge a 32-7 victory.
Hastings won the 170-pound, 195-pound and 220-pound matches to draw the dual closer, but that 182-pound win for Pittman was the moment these Raptor wrestlers knew they were heading to the state tournament.
Cavallaro ended the dual with a win and made it officially a 38-25 final score in favor of East Ridge.
"I'm so proud of this team to work hard every day in practice and leave everything on the mat," Everson said. "This team has faced adversity throughout the season, but they've never backed down from the challenge and it's only made this team stronger."
The Raptors faced many injuries this season and never had the same starting lineup in any dual. They used the "next man up" mentality all season long and it not only helped the team win, but it created more depth with more knowledge of wrestling.
The wrestlers and coaches are excited for the state tournament and aren't sure what to expect from the team tournament side. None of them have been there, but they know the competition will be tough in each dual.
The team will prepare for the individual section tournament next weekend, but the following week will be focused solely on the team and making a run at the state tournament.
A handful of these wrestlers have been to state for individuals, so they understand the atmosphere and will pass that onto some of the new wrestlers on the East Ridge team.
"It'll be a new experience for all of us," Cavallaro said. "We just can't wait to wrestle the best teams in the state."
The individual section tournament will take place on Friday, Feb. 22 starting at 4 p.m. and it will carry into Saturday, Feb. 23 starting at 10 a.m. at Bloomington Kennedy High School.
After this upcoming weekend, the state tournament will be the next focus. East Ridge will compete as a team on Thursday, Feb. 28 starting at 9 a.m. at the Xcel Energy Center. If they win in the quarterfinals, they'll wrestle at 1 p.m. at the Xcel with the championship dual at 7 p.m. on the same day at the Xcel.
If the Raptors were to lose in the quarterfinals, they would wrestle at 11 a.m. at the Xcel with the consolation finals and third-place dual at 5 p.m. that same day at the Xcel.
The Royals came into the section tournament with the No. 3 seed and had a bye for the opening round. In the quarterfinals, Woodbury was up against No. 6 seed Henry Sibley who the Royals defeated during the regular season.
That streak continued as Woodbury ended with a 57-11 win over Henry Sibley to advance to the semifinals.
In the quarterfinals, head coach Justin Smith went away from the typical starting lineup and threw in some wrestlers that haven't had many starts this season. It gave them the chance to wrestle in a section tournament and also allowed Smith to see what the future looks like for this team.
"A lot of these wrestlers will be starting on a regular basis next season and it was great to see them wrestle hard on Friday," Smith said. "The future of this team looks bright with these wrestlers returning next season."
The Royals received wins from Alex Braun, Cade Johnson, Cole West, Will Bents, Brady Moesenthin, Sebastian Zamarano, Brock Rinehart, Omar Abdelal, Ahmed Abdelal, Donald Nde Jr. and Mason Barrows in the Henry Sibley dual.
With the win, Woodbury had to prepare for No. 2 seed East Ridge in the semifinals. Smith said he was hoping to win the coin flip to decide which team would announce their wrestler first.
The Raptors won the coin flip and it allowed East Ridge to have some strategies against Woodbury throughout the dual. The biggest matches came in the 170-pound and 182-pound matches.
Woodbury had Rinehart lined up for the 172-pound match and the Royals were expecting Pittman to come out for East Ridge. Instead, Pittman wrestled in the 182-pound match and earned the pin to give the Raptors a good lead to win the dual.
Smith was happy with the growth of the team this season and he said he saw some leadership from different wrestlers this season.
One wrestler that he saw grow a lot was Will Bents as he won 16 matches last season and ended this season with 31-match wins. Smith is excited to see Bents become a leader in the coming years.
Now, this week will become more selfish as wrestlers prepare for individual sections this upcoming weekend.
"It's good to have some wrestlers that have experienced the state tournament and can teach the younger wrestlers what needs to happen to reach state," Smith said. "It should be a fun weekend."
The Park wrestling team came into Friday with the No. 4 seed and went up against No. 5 seed Eagan in the quarterfinals. It was a big matchup with the winner wrestling No. 1 seed Hastings.
The Wolfpack had to become familiar with the wrestling mat and an opponent because it had been three weeks since their last dual. Due to the weather, Park had all of their duals cancelled and postponed to end the regular season.
Head coach Jim LaBrosse said he could see some of the rust from the wrestlers, which he expected and it showed in the final results against Eagan.
The Wildcats took the win over Park and ended the team season in the quarterfinals of the section tournament. Even though it was a loss, LaBrosse is happy with the wrestlers and their improvements throughout the season.
He knew Eagan was going to be a tough matchup to start the night and he congratulated the Wildcats on the win.
"It's never the same being in a dual, so not having that experience for a few weeks really hurt us," LaBrosse said. "I was proud of the way our guys wrestled tonight and throughout this season. It was fun to see them grow as wrestlers."
The season is not completely over though as the wrestlers prepare for the individual section tournament next weekend at Bloomington Kennedy. There are a handful of Wolfpack wrestlers that are eyeing a spot in the state tournament including Solomon Lankow.
"This week, you get to be a little more selfish as you prepare for individual sections," Lankow said. "It's fun to practice this week because every wrestler is hoping to reach state, so you work extra hard and push yourself because you know what's at stake."