Column: The next step

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2006

John Focke, KATE Sports Director

&8220;We started the season with three goals, to win the Big Nine, we did that. To win the section, we did that. And now we have one more tournament to win.&8221; That was Albert Lea Wrestling Coach Larry Goodnature after his team dismantled Owatonna in the section final to head back to the state tournament for the second time in three years.

If Albert Lea were a pro basketball team they would be the Chicago Bulls from 1998. A veteran team built to win a championship. The Tigers are lead by four senior captains, Ben Berhow, Nate Goodnature, Alex Paul and Eric Elleby. They are a group that has been wrestling for almost all of their lives and have been preparing for this moment since seventh grade.

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You could see that as the Tigers took apart Owatonna on Dec. 15 at Albert Lea High School, 42-15, and took over the number one ranking in the state. You could see it by the way the team competed each weekend in tournaments against the top teams from around the state and country.

Albert Lea completed their first goal when they pounded Rochester Mayo to capture the Big Nine title. No surprise to anyone that the Tigers got the number one seed in the section and then went about their business in executioner type fashion.

The Tigers sent Northfield packing, and followed that up by working over Rochester John Marshall, setting up the finals match everyone wanted to see; Owatonna and Albert Lea.

From the first match it was easy to see the Tigers focus as Cody Hansen downed Richard Rodriguez. At 112, Logan Korton, a freshman, won in overtime over senior Aaron Robinson. Eric Johnson, wrestling for the first time of day and with a sore elbow, pounded Hector Milan. Beau Hansen picked up an 11-4 win over Cody Buscho and celebrated with a Tiger Woods fist-pump afterwards, sending the Tiger faithful into a roar.

The Tigers didn’t even seem like they could see the Owatonna wrestlers, instead they looked like they were looking right through them to the Xcel Energy Center and the Huskies were just a mere speed bump.

At 145, Eric Elleby scored a fall, followed by Matt Morris pinning Tyler Grunwald whose frustration spilled over onto the mat and resulted in a loss of a team point. Taylor Ignaszewski effectively put the match out of reach beating Matt Uher 4-3 at 171, and Ben Berhow put the stamp on the trip to State with a pin at the heavyweight.

The celebration afterwards was one of excitement and elation, but lacked the unbridled joy of two years ago. This was a celebration of a team that knew there was more work ahead. This was the celebration of a team that had already begun to think about Hastings waiting at the X on Thursday March 2, at 2 p.m. That is the next step the Tigers have to take.