Maple Grove’s Logan Dick, front, worked on his moves at a recent practice. The Crimson won the Class 3A, Section 5 tournament despite a 16-14 regular season. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune)
While Maple Grove faces a daunting challenge when it takes on undefeated Apple Valley in the Class 3A state tournament quarterfinals Thursday, the team already has accomplished a major victory by making the state tournament.
The Crimson finished an injury-ridden regular season 16-14 and was the third seed heading into the Class 3A, Section 5 tournament Feb. 15. It had lost to top-seeded Rogers and second-seeded Centennial earlier in the season but knocked off both to clinch a second state tournament berth in school history.
“We were underdogs, but we always believed we could beat Centennial and Rogers,” sophomore captain Logan Dick said. “We’ve been practicing as hard as we could in the practice room, very consistently. Everybody’s mind was in high spirits, and we did it.”
The Crimson will now face the top-seeded Eagles (30-0) at 9 a.m. Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
Maple Grove came into this season believing it was poised for a section-championship run, despite a subpar 2012-13 season. The Crimson, then a team largely of sophomores, went 11-18 and lost in the first round of the section tournament.
“It was kind of like, ‘All other teams are losing people, and we’re only getting better,’ ” junior captain Will Suehr said.
Still, the Crimson struggled through the season. The team went 16-14 and finished sixth because of, in part, injuries to several key wrestlers.
Despite the struggles, the Crimson went into the section meet believing it had a chance to win.
“We’d been preparing mentally and physically to peak at that right time,” coach Troy Seubert said, “and it came together for us perfectly with everybody getting healthy and being down to weight.”
Junior captain Brad Osatuik said the team visualizes its matches before it wrestles. He said the team seemed more fired up after its visualization Friday.
Maple Grove breezed by Champlin Park in the section quarterfinals and defeated Centennial 43-18 in the semifinals. Osatuik said he knew the team would have to start strong against Rogers because of the strength of the Royals’ heavyweights.
The Crimson couldn’t have scripted the start of the match any better.
Osatuik won the first match, at 106 pounds, by forfeit. Freshman Tyler Shilson then gave the Crimson a 12-0 lead with a pin. Three bouts later, the Crimson had a 28-0 lead, and with four bouts remaining, the Crimson clinched a victory.
“We didn’t want get too excited cause we didn’t want to give up team points,” Dick said of clinching the match. “We were all really happy, but we tried to remain calm, because we still had other wrestlers wrestling.”
After the match, the team went up to the coaches room and celebrated the win — and Seubert’s 33rd birthday.
The Crimson continued its momentum into individual sections Saturday, with five wrestlers clinching spots in the individual state tournament. Now the team has shifted its focus to the state tournament and its first-round opponent, Apple Valley, winner of the past eight state championships.
“We have nothing to lose; no pressure is on us,” Osatuik said, “so we just get to go out there, have a little fun, and show them what Maple Grove is all about.”
The captains said the team’s goal is to finish better than sixth at state, which is what it finished in 2010. The Crimson could be poised to repeat as section champs next season, with all but two members of their varsity roster returning.
“They can come back and do some fun things next year if they decide to,” Seubert said.
Nate Gotlieb is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.