Dillon Kifer is the area’s highest-ranked Class 3A wrestler.
He’s also the unluckiest.
The Little Falls senior suffered his third loss of the season in the Section 8-3A final. That planted the seventh-ranked 138-pounder against top-ranked Dayton Racer of Apple Valley in the first round of the Class 3A state individual wrestling tournament Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Kifer, who is Little Falls’ all-time winningest wrestler, will be making his fifth state tournament appearance. His best finish was sixth last year.
“The good thing is Dillon’s opponent is only a freshman,” said Flyers head coach Mike Hendrickson. “Our assistant coaches have been watching film of him online and they think Dillon matches up pretty well with him. He’s not overly physical.”
Kifer’s teammate, Frank Wilczek, will hope to duplicate his older brother Ted’s feat and pin his way to the finals. The ninth-ranked Wilczek enters his second state tournament with a 36-3 record. He will face unranked Alex Rod of White Bear Lake (28-12) in the first round of the 120-pound bracket.
“I think he’s got a matchup he can win and then in the next round he’ll probably face No. 2 Andy Underhill of Burnsville,” Hendrickson said. “That’s a kid Frank pinned two years ago in the Paul Bunyan tournament.
“Frank hasn’t been to state since ninth grade. He just had some tough luck in the section matches where he lost by one point each of the last two years. I won’t say he’s a darkhorse to do well, but he’s a diamond in the rough. If things get going for Frank he could pin his way deep into the tournament.”
Connor Scherping is the third Flyers state wrestler. He will face Justin Harold-Plakut of Woodbury in the opening round of the 132-pound weight class. Harold-Plakut owns a 31-8 record. Scherping, the Section 8-3A runner up, is 32-10.
The Section 8 champion at 132 pounds is Brainerd’s Dan Babineau. The Brainerd Warriors junior will face Phillip Horsager of Spring Lake Park.
“The nice thing about being a section champion is you get the other section’s runner-up,” said Brainerd co-head coach Mike Boran. “With Dan’s experience at state (he wrestled four matches last year) the conditions should be good for him. He’s got a good shot in the first round and then we’ll go from there. Each round gets tougher. He’s got his goals to go down and win a state medal.”
Babineau was one win away from placing at state last year. He enters state with a 28-8 record. Horsager is 13-7. Both are unranked.
“We’ve seen Dan steadily get better through the season and I think he’s wrestling as well as he can,” Boran said. “He’s feeling good and confident.”
So is Levi Rubin. The 170-pound junior will face Jonathan Wirkkala of Buffalo in his first state tournament match. Rubin owns a 36-8 record, while Wirkkala is 16-22.
“Levi’s got a nice shot in that first-round match,” Boran said. “Going into your first state meet there is a lot of distractions so hopefully he can get that first match and we’ll go from there. If he gets through that first match he’ll run into some good competition, but Levi is a good wrestler, too.”
Brainerd’s Casey Biever and Jace Engelmann will also be making their first state trips. The two juniors were section runners-up. Biever (21-6) will face top-ranked Tom Petersen of Lakeville South (27-1) in the first round of the 195-pound weight class. Engelmann (15-8) opens with unranked Cody Wagner (24-11) of Hastings.
“I wouldn’t say we were surprised Jace is going into the state meet, but his weight class in our section is really tough and he made it through,” said Boran “It was a good challenge and he wrestled a heck of a tournament. He’ll be ready to go.
“The same thing for Casey. He’s got a tough first-round draw. It’s his first state tournament so it will be a good learning experience for him.”
Class 3A wrestlers
120: Little Falls’ Frank Wilczek (36-3) vs. White Bear Lake Area’s Alex Rod (28-12)
132: Brainerd’s Dan Babineau (28-8) vs. Spring Lake Park’s Phillip Horsager (13-7); Little Falls’ Connor Scherping (31-10)
138: Little Falls’ Dillon Kifer (37-3) vs. Apple Valley’s Dayton Racer (35-4)
170: Brainerd’s Levi Rubin (26-8) vs. Buffalo’s Jonathan Wirkkala (16-22)
182: Brainerd’s Jace Engelmann (15-8) vs. Hastings’ Cody Wagner (24-11)
195: Brainerd’s Casey Biever (21-6) vs. Lakeville South’s Tommy Petersen (27-1)