The Gator wrestlers made history last season after clinching their second straight Section 8A team title— the first time the program had clinched back-to-back section team titles. The team had a chance to add to that history with a third straight section title. To get that, the third-seeded Gators would have to defeat the fourth-seeded Crookston Pirates— a team the Gators defeated 42-35 earlier in the season.
Heading to Cass Lake-Bena High School for the Section 8A Championship, the Gators would drop a couple close matches and give up some bonus points early to fall into a 0-26 hole. The Gators battled back in the bigger weights, but this deficit proved too much to overcome in a 39-27 loss to the Pirates on March 13, denying the program of that third consecutive section team crown.
What was the difference in this dual? Gator Head Coach Isaac Novacek said it was something that happened before the first whistle in the dual even blew: the flip.
When referring to the flip, Coach Novacek was referring to the flip that occurs between opposing coaches and captains. The referee flips a two-colored disk to decide when each team has to show its wrestler first at each weight class. Whoever wins the toss gets to choose between showing its wrestlers first on either the even or odd weights, based on weight order.
The Gators would lose this flip. As a result, what happened?
“We didn’t get a single matchup that we wanted. And, that seemed to be the difference,” Coach Novacek said. “We were right there still with losing the flip… We didn’t turn the matches that I wanted to around.”
With the loss, the Gators finish as the Section 8A runner-up and end the season with a 21-9 dual record. What was Coach Novacek’s message to his team after this loss.
“You can’t win them all. We had a heck of a run—two-time section champs (and) three times section finalist (in the last three years),” Coach Novacek said. “We wrestled good. You can’t really hang your head. And now it’s individuals. They got to never say die. And if you lose now, you could be done.”
The Gator wrestlers would shift their focus to their individual goals with only individual tickets to state available.
At the Section 8A Individual Tournament on March 16 in Crookston, eight Gator wrestlers, including Jaxon Janousek (120), Bode DeZelar (126), Tony Olson (138), Garrett Undeberg (145), Ethan Waage (160), Caleb Vacura (182), Dominik Vacura (220), and Dawson Beito (285), finished in the top four of their respective weight classes to advance to the Individual State Preliminaries tournament between Section 7A and Section 8A back at Cass Lake-Bena High School on Saturday, March 20. Actions begins at 10:00 am that day.
The top two wrestlers at each weight class from this tournament advance to the Class A State Individual Tournament at St. Michael-Albertville High School on Saturday, March 27.