For a wrestler there’s probably no better way to celebrate a birthday than by winning a championship.
Peter Harrison of the Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus Road Crew turned 18 Saturday and commemorated the event by capturing the 160-pound championship that night in the Paul Bunyan Invitational at Brainerd High School. Harrison, a senior, decisioned Pat Hopkins of Grand Rapids 4-2 in the final.
“I knew I had to come out tough right away, take him down and take it to him,” Harrison said. “I took second here the last two years and I was kind of hoping for a win this time and I ended up getting it. You have to prepare yourself mentally , pretty much it’s all mental. He’s a strong guy and wrestled hard, but I came out on top.”
Harrison was Bunyan runner-up at 152 as a junior and at 145 as a sophomore. He has yet to place in two state tournaments, but hopes to rectify that finish in March.
“The first time (at state) I was one match away from medaling and last year, I separated my ribs and cracked a bunch and it was really hard to wrestle,” he said. “This year, my goal is to place in the top three at least.”
Road Crew coach Travis Hoffarth was glad Harrison finally got a taste of being a Bunyan champion.
“He’s looked very impressive this year,” Hoffarth said. “He’s much more aggressive this year. You can tell he’s got a goal. He’s been to the state tournament twice, and has not placed. He’s looking at the big picture. Obviously, he’s looking at what he wants to accomplish and the only way to get there, obviously, is to start and finish strong.”
Harrison was the only area individual champion in the 45th annual event, which was dominated by Foley. Class 2A’s second-ranked Falcons won the team title for the fifth straight time and captured seven individual championships.
The seven area runners-up included Nate Adams (152) and Casey Biever (195) of Brainerd; Frank Wilczek (126), Connor Scherping (132) and Dillon Kifer (138) of Little Falls; Drey Loge of PL/PR-B (145); and Nathan Tomala (170) of Pierz.
Adams lost to Frazee’s Rij Koehnen 4-2 in the finals.
“Nate was in a tough weight class,” Warriors co-head coach Mike Boran said. “He wrestled a good kid in the finals, and we knew that going in, and he wrestled him tough. He got caught on the bottom, got turned, the back points were huge, but he was right in the match the whole time. He had a good tournament and wrestled well. He’s been doing that for us all year.”
Biever rallied in the third period before losing to Foley’s Tom Kipka 8-6.
“Casey’s had a great season for us so far,” Warriors co-head coach Jim Kath said. “He wrestled a great semifinal match, got in the finals against a tough kid and wrestled a really good second and third period. He couldn’t quite get as many points in the first period as he needed to get it done.”
Wilczek suffered his first loss of the season, 9-5 to Royalton’s Andy Poster.
“Frank was seeded No. 2 and got second,” Flyers coach Mike Hendrickson said. “He has about 115 wins in his career, almost 100 are falls. To his detriment, he hardly ever sees the second period, let alone the third period, and that’s his whole career. That’s the first time he’s gone six minutes in a match this year, and in his career it’s only a handful (of third periods) because he pins everybody. So he’s got to learn to go six minutes. Live and learn, learn from your losses.”
Kifer also was administered his first loss, 8-2 by Frazee’s Bruce Lemon.
“Kifer was the No. 1 seed, so that was a little upset,” Hendrickson said. “(Lemon’s) a very strong kid. He’s very physical, a tough style for Kifer to wrestle. Dillon likes to open things up. That guy was very controlled.”
Scherping was pinned by Foley’s Mitch Dunlap at 5:05.
“Connor was seeded sixth and came back and took second, so we liked that,” Hendrickson said. “Scherping is a goer. He beat two really tough kids to get to where he was and both of them were section opponents.”
Loge was edged 4-3 by Tyler Bemboom of Foley.
“This was the first time he gave up points this season so he put himself in a hole in the first period,” Hoffarth said. “Giving up some back points when you’re in a championship match, you really can’t go to your back, unfortunately he did, but he battled back, and in the end loses by one point. If we see (Bemboom) again I think possibly we’re going to end up on the other end of it.
“Overall, Drey had a great tournament. We’re happy to have him back. Last year, he was injured just before Christmas break and was out for the rest of the season. He’s healthy and looks good. We’re hoping he can make it to the state tournament as well.”
Tomala, a two-time section champion, who has yet to place at state, lost a 16-5 major decision against defending 160-pound state champion and top-ranked Taylor Lewandowski of Foley.
“(Lewandowski’s) a very good kid, he had a great tournament,” Pierz coach Simon Waltman said. “Nathan had a good tournament, too. He just got beat by a kid that did a better job than he did today. I told Nathan to keep that in his memory and remind himself every day at practice how hard he needs to work now because that’s the level he wants to be at.”