From 1976-99 the Staples-Motley Cardinals wrestling team was one of the most dominant programs in Minnesota State High School League athletic history.
In that 24-year span S-M made 18 trips to the state tournament. During that stretch the Cardinals won seven state championships and were runners-up four times.
The last few years the balance of wrestling power in the Brainerd area has shifted west of S-M, to Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale and Wadena-Deer Creek. B-H-V (17-1-1) is ranked No. 1 in Class A and is making its third consecutive trip to state. W-DC (19-1-0) is ranked second in Class AA and will make its second straight appearance.
B-H-V will take on fourth-ranked Adrian 10 a.m. Thursday in the Class A quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. W-DC will wrestle third-ranked Dassel-Cokato 2 p.m. Thursday in the Class AA quarterfinals.
W-DC coach Dennis Kaatz believes S-M's dominance helped other area teams strive to emulate the Cardinals' success.
"That got programs going," Kaatz said. "B-H-V is right next door, and they have an excellent program. We had a dual with them. They had some kids sitting out and we won fairly easily (51-15). If they would have had a full squad it would have been a heck of a dual meet."
Despite the high regard for Brainerd area wrestling, Kaatz hopes the Wolverines can surprise the competition in St. Paul.
"We're kind of an unknown, although we were down there last year," he said. "We haven't gotten a lot of publicity. Maybe we can keep ourselves a little secret, maybe we can sneak up on some people."
B-H-V coach Steve Techam said being ranked No. 1 in the state has put a bulls-eye on the Raiders' backs.
"There's a lot of pressure," he said, "but the kids are relaxed. I think we will do well. (The state tournament) fires them up. They want to win the whole thing."
In addition to team competition, 35 individuals from Aitkin, Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Little Falls, Pierz, Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus, S-M, B-H-V and W-DC qualified for state, which runs Thursday through Saturday. Eighteen members of the delegation were section champions.
W-DC had six section winners: Leland and Logan Brincefield, Peter Hayes, Kyle and Luke Trout and Tony Vittetoe.
B-H-V also had six: Trevor Balbach, Jared Oyster, Reggie Rach, Adam Becker, Casey Finck and Justin Messer.
The Brainerd Warriors had three: Vince Sellnow, Jesse Marohn and Andy Pickar.
Ben Keen and Josh Bresnahan won titles for Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus and Craig Luberts of Pierz also was a champion.
Rach is 34-0, Leland Brincefield and Hayes are both 32-0. Five area state qualifiers have one loss: Logan Brincefield (20-1), Luke Trout (31-1), Bresnahan (33-1), Jared Oyster (35-1) and Finck (34-1).
Returning state placewinners:
Runners-up: Rach, W-DC's Pat Kramer.
Third: Luke Trout, Keen.
Fourth: Leland Brincefield.
Fifth: Hayes, Joeb Oyster.
Sixth: Aitkin's Chris Tibbetts.
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