Capturing the Paul Bunyan Invitational wrestling team title Saturday at Brainerd High School was an emotional experience for Pierz Pioneers coach Mark Jensen.
Jensen, a BHS graduate, wrestled in the tournament four times as a Warrior, winning it as a freshman and senior. He was runner-up as a junior and third as a sophomore.
During the two-day event, Jensen had an opportunity to talk to his former Warriors coach, Vern Moore, and former Brainerd teammate Ron Lingwall, whose eighth-grade son, Nick, wrestles in the Warriors' program.
In addition, Aitkin graduate Tom Gruhlke, head coach of BOLD, was a teammate of Jensen's at Concordia College in Moorhead. And, Grand Rapids coach Dan Jinks was a heavyweight when Jensen was a Warrior.
"This has kind of been like old home week for me, coming back and wrestling in my old gym," Jensen said. "Having wrestled in this tournament before, it's really great to have a team that could step up and win this thing."
Jensen's Pioneers stepped up and won three individual championships on their way to accumulating 243 points. Pierz outdistanced runner-up Perham (186.5) and third-place Brainerd (167.5).
It was Brainerd's highest team finish in the Bunyan since winning it in 1988.
"As a coach you see some good things but you always know you could have done better," Warriors coach Bob Brakke said. "We impressed some people, which helps with our own confidence. We just hope to get our guys better and better as the season goes on."
Pierz individual champions included Hank Virnig (103 pounds), Warren Gall (135) and two-time state champion Craig Luberts (152).
Virnig beat Mike Hines of Sauk Rapids/Rice 7-4 for his title.
"It was just a heck of a match," Jensen said, "and Hank was fortunate to pull out a takedown at the end to win it."
Gall nipped Brainerd's Kyle Dukowitz 2-1 to win his title.
"It was really close," Jensen said. "It could have gone either way, and fortunately Warren won."
Luberts scored two pins and a major decision on his way to the final, where he registered a technical fall against Brainerd's Jake Smith. Luberts, the top-ranked wrestler in Class 1A at 145, raised his record to 13-0.
"Craig is a once in a lifetime kid to coach," Jensen said. "He just put on a show and pretty much dominated."
Brainerd's individual champions were Dan Fleischhacker (112) and Tom Zelinske (125).
Fleischhacker nipped Pierz's Kyle Bednar 4-3 for his championship.
"Dan wrestled a very smart match," Brakke said. "He pretty much controlled the whole match, even though the score wasn't out of this world, but you definitely could tell he was confident, in control and he was going to win it."
Zelinske outscored Pierz's Jon Andres 10-3 to win the 125-pound championship.
"Tom had a very good tournament, a smart tournament," Brakke said. "It was the smartest I've seen him wrestle. He was very quick on his feet. He countered a lot of fast-takedown guys. He was able, in his first couple matches, to score enough to win, and in his final he looked very good."
In addition to Dukowitz and Smith, the Warriors' Nate Rubin was a runner-up at 119.
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