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Steele County qualifies 14 wrestlers for state

Steele County, wrestlers, state, championship
Owatonna 139-pounder Trey Hiatt lets his emotion out after pinning his opponent from Northfield to advance to the section championship match. Hiatt’s pin won him a qualifying spot at the state tournament. Staff photo by Johnnie Phillips
By
Johnnie Phillips, Sports Editor

Steele County wrestling will be well-represented at the MSHSL state tournament again this year with 14 wrestlers aiming to find their way to the top of the podiums.

A battle for the bracket at 142 pounds between defending champion Annabelle Petsinger from NRHEG and Owatonna’s Aliah Fischer figures to be the headliner amongst the girls championship. Names like state No. 2 Bo Zwiener and No. 3 Tommy Elwood will lead the way for the boys.

Here’s who to watch as wrestlers hit the mats this weekend.

 

Owatonna

Owatonna had three No. 1 section seeds advance to the big show behind dominant performances from Fischer, 215-pounder Blake Fitcher, and heavyweight Grant Lower.

Fischer enters the 2024 state tournament hungry for her first state title – a feat that would make her one of Minnesota’s youngest-ever girls champions as an eighth grader.

The junior high standout placed fifth at last year’s state meet but will have an uphill battle, potentially facing reigning state champion Petsinger down the line.

Fitcher breezed his way through his 215-pound bracket as the No. 1 seed but will face a gauntlet of top-10 opponents at the top of his bracket.

Making up the top of the class is Mounds View’s Quin Morgan, who pinned Fitcher in 54 seconds in January.

Lower was able to take down his bracket as well and will have a similar path to the podium.

The Class AAA heavyweight bracket is littered with talent from some of the state’s biggest high schools – meaning Lower will have to be on his A-game.

Also placing second and making their way to the Xcel Energy Center are Kaden Lindquist and Trey Hiatt.

Lindquist has been ranked inside the top 10 in the state all season and will have his shot at the state level after falling to Northfield’s Caley Graber just one match short of first place at sections.

Meanwhile, Hiatt earned the moment of the section tournament by avenging a section loss and pinning Northfield’s Zane Engels via a cradle in the third period.

Hiatt’s win placed him in the championship match, where he lost a tight 5-4 decision to Albert Lea Area’s Brody Ignaszewski.

 

Medford

Medford tied Owatonna for the most entrants with five, continuing to show the depth of Tigers wrestling despite a disappointing team season.

Leading the Tigers’ hopes for a title is Elwood at 160 pounds.

Elwood is a multiple-time state placer and will look to join his brother, Charley, as a state champion for the Tigers.

The junior had an efficient day at the Section 2A individuals by earning a quarterfinal bye, pinning his semifinal opponent and winning via a 9-0 major decision against NRHEG’s Ryan Schlaak to take first.

Also finishing in first for Medford was 114-pounder Kaden Harfmann.

Harfmann put up similar statistics to Elwood in his impressive section finish and took a bye before winning by technical fall and a 5-0 shutout decision.

Earning their shot at state by finishing second for the Tigers were 121-pounder Luis Lopez, 152-pounder Evan Schweisthal, and heavyweight Mason Degrood.

All three athletes are no strangers to the state meet, having all qualified last season.

Lopez enters the tournament unranked at 121 pounds but will fight with a chip on his shoulder, having recently signed to wrestle at Luther College next year.

Schwesithal and Degrood will both hit their brackets as potential dark horses holding on to top-10 state rankings.

Degrood is currently No. 7 at heavyweight; meanwhile, Schwesithal is close behind at No. 8 at 152.

 

NRHEG

NRHEG’s first-ever female state champion will look to add to her resume when Petsinger hits the mats this weekend.

The senior has been dominant again in 2023-24 but enters her bracket with a deep field including Owatonna’s Fischer and Stillwater Area’s Audrey Rogotzke.

Petsinger has managed to beat both wrestlers over the course of the past two seasons – most notably beating Rogotzke in the state finals in 2022-23 – but faced a hiccup in her section championship match by losing to Rogotzke via pin in the first 35 seconds.

While Petsinger hunts for more hardware, NRHEG’s George Roesler enters the mix at 172 pounds with momentum after taking first in sections.

The NRHEG senior standout is ranked No. 8 in the state and took down his section bracket by two first-period falls.

Roesler will look to make the most of his final season in black and red by working his way onto the podium for the first time.

NRHEG’s Ryan Schlaak also placed second at 160 pounds to secure his spot at state for the first time in his young career.

The freshman rode two first-period falls to the championship match but ultimately fell to Medford’s Elwood via a 9-0 major decision.

With three more years of wrestling to go, Schlaak should gain vast experience by qualifying for state and has the potential to earn a podium as an underclassman in a weight class that’s entire top 10 is owned by upperclassmen.

 

Westfield

Zwiener is the lone Razorback to make the trip up north this year; however, he does so as Steele County’s most touted male wrestler of the season.

The junior has bounced back and forth between first and second in the state rankings at 133 pounds this season and will be hungry for a top spot on the podium after having placed sixth last season.

His biggest competitor for the title figures to be state No. 1-ranked Trey Gunderson from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg.

Gunderson currently holds a 52-0 record and will likely draw a spot on the opposite end of the bracket from Zwiener, bringing the potential for fireworks in the late stages of the tournament.

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