Five things to watch at the state tournament

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The state wrestling tournament officially begins today with the individual portion getting underway at 4 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The team portion begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

There are several storylines to follow throughout the state tournament, but here are a few of the Albert Lea storylines that will be interesting to follow.

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1. Will the Tigers return to the state title dual?

The indications look good that Albert Lea, No. 3 in Class 3A, stands a very good chance of making a return trip to the championship, though the Tigers will be tested early against Centennial in the quarterfinal round.

Centennial (32-6) is ranked No. 9 in Class 3A and qualified nine wrestlers for the individual state tournament. The Cougars have six ranked wrestlers and are strong through the middle weights.

Jesse Hytlon (31-4) is ranked No. 9 at 119, Brandon Haluptzok (36-6) is ranked No. 7 at 135, Brandon Hertog (34-8) is ranked No. 7 at 140, Mitch Hedgers (40-2) is ranked No. 5 at 145, Ryan Krause (36-6) is ranked No. 8 at 152, Mitch Hrovat (40-2) is ranked No. 6 at 189.

Albert Lea easily defeated Centennial 40-13 last season in the semifinals to reach the championship, but the Cougars return the majority of their lineup from last season.

The Tigers have seven ranked wrestlers. Ethan Reed is No. 9 at 215, Matt Tiegs No. 5 at 160, Logan Kortan No. 4 at 152, Trevor Rasmussen No. 8 at 130, Cody Hansen No. 3 at 125, Cory Hansen No. 3 at 112, and Trey Hable No. 9 at 103.

The key will be getting bonus points in the lower weights and keeping Centennial to decisions in the tougher matchups.

“There are some other guys that they have really good records that weren’t on their squad last year and now have shown up this year and we don’t know that much about them,” said Albert Lea assistant coach Jon Hansen.

The Tigers will get the benefit of seeing the Cougar wrestlers in the individual portion of the tournament Wednesday.

If Albert Lea wins, the team would likely face Cambridge-Isanti in the semifinals.

Cambridge-Isanti is ranked No. 4 in Class 3A and the two teams met earlier in the season with Albert Lea crushing the Bluejackets 45-15 at the Kiffmeyer Duals in St. Cloud. The Tigers won 11 of the 14 matchups.

If Albert Lea would get past Cambridge-Isanti, then it would be a repeat matchup with No. 1 Apple Valley.

2. The Hansen brothers

Both Cody and Cory have had stellar years once again this season. Cody enters the state tournament with a 37-4 record and Cory a 38-4 record.

Last season, Cody was undefeated entering the tournament and placed third in state. This season he’s looking for a state crown, the first for Albert Lea since Ben Berhow in 2006.

Cody is making his fourth consecutive appearance at state which ties a record set by Logan Kortan last season.

“Senior year, I just want to end it off on a high note and hopefully I’ll be a state champion,” Hansen said. “You just have to take it one match at a time and wrestle your style.”

Hansen has not lost since Jan. 24 at the Champlin Park Rebel duals. That loss came against Trent Harold, the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 125 in Class 3A. If Hansen wins his first round match he will likely meet Harold in the second round and possibly in the team tournament.

Cory has been just as impressive in his sophomore season. After a second place finish at state last season, he is No. 3 in the state at 112.

Cory has only four losses on the season and three came at the Christmas Tournament in Rochester. He has not lost since.

3. Logan Kortan’s final state tournament

The senior has had an amazing career at Albert Lea as the first time five-time state participant and the all-time leader in career victories. His record now stands at 178 wins and he has placed every year he’s been at state.

His first round match is going to be tough with No. 2 ranked Zak Coates of Henry Sibley, but the field at 160 is loaded with tough wrestlers. Kortan ranks among the best though at No. 4 and has loads of experience.

4. The underclassmen

Albert Lea returned six wrestlers with state experience this season, but now has seven who will return next season. Those are pretty good numbers and a good sign for a team that will lose some very talented seniors after this year.

Of the seven underclassmen going to state, three are newcomers to the state individual tournament. Trey Hable at 103, Dalton Westerlund, and Connor Kortan will all get their first taste of the state tournament experience.

“Experience really helps for these individuals because it’s a pretty overwhelming thing to get up there in the big Xcel Energy Center,” said Albert Lea head coach Larry Goodnature. “At the same time our section tournament is really nice because it’s an atmosphere like the state tournament.”

Hable, Westerlund, and Kortan have all enjoyed phenomenal seasons in their first year as full-time varsity wrestlers. A nice run through the tournament will go a long way for the first-time participants and make for a strong team coming back next season.

5. Championship Saturday

The final day of the individual tournament is an exciting place to be. With eight mats going at the same time, there’s often one champion after another being crowned within the blink of an eye.

It’s a fantastic sight to see the wrestlers celebrate with their coaches and fans following a state championship. All the hard work and hours in the practice room have finally paid off in that one moment.