State wrestling: Benson Braves senior eyes a 3rd state title

Feb. 28—BENSON — Since sixth grade, Thomas Dineen has been building for this kind of wrestling success.

Dineen had already won several Northland Youth Wrestling Association titles in elementary school. The Benson wrestling coaches put the idea into his head early: You can be a state champion if you put in the work now.

"My brother (Ryan) and I were very honest with him at a young age that the life of a state champion can be very lonely sometimes and you've got to make some sacrifices that a lot of kids your age aren't willing to do," said Braves head coach Scott Thompson, who was a state champion for Benson in 2005. Ryan Thompson was a two-time champion in 2009 and '10.

"He bit in right away that he was going to do everything we said and more."

"I remember that day very clearly," Dineen said. "That's what made me decide that I can really take this seriously and we'll see where it goes."

Where it's taken him is completely unheard of in Benson wrestling's history.

Now a senior, Dineen has the school's all-time wins record at 199-14. He's won 131 straight matches. Following this season, he'll wrestle collegiately at Division I South Dakota State.

And on Friday and Saturday, Dineen is going for his third straight state championship when he competes as the top seed in the Class A 195-pound bracket in the state wrestling championships at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"That's my goal and it's on my mind," Dineen said, "but I just want to finish it the way it all kind of started and hopefully it all goes well. I just have to take it one position, one more and one moment at a time. There's no getting it all done at once; you just have to kind of live in the moment and control what you can control."

He'll try to become the area's fourth three-time state champion, joining Renville-Sacred Heart's John Miller (1982-85), Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg's Kevin Steinhaus (2007-09) and Minnewaska's Tyson Meyer (2019-21).

On school days, Dineen's car can be seen in the school parking lot at 6 a.m. It's a lot of cardio, weights and putting the right things in his body.

"I like to start my days early because that's not really typical of what a lot of guys do," Dineen said. "It really sets the tone for the whole winter and everything you want to do. It's good to spend time thinking about what you want and going through those hard workouts."

Dineen made his first state tournament as an eighth-grader at 195. As a freshman, Dineen had a 41-3 record and made it to the 182 semifinals, losing to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove's Trevor Eisfeld in a 3-2 decision. In the wrestlebacks, Dineen lost his next match by fall against Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena's Mason Smid.

He'd win his final match by third-period fall over Crookston's Ethan Boll to claim fifth place.

Being a medalist as a freshman should be a celebratory occasion. But even back then, Dineen had championship aspirations for himself.

"I just kind of wrestled nervous and tight that whole tournament," Dineen said. "That kind of got the best of me. I was fixated on that I was going to win the tournament and it didn't end up the way I wanted.

"I was crushed for a long time and I've just kind of always kept that in the back of my mind and always thought about that feeling. I never wanted to feel that feeling again."

That was the last time Dineen felt the sting of defeat in high-school competition.

He was 38-0 in his COVID-shortened sophomore year. He followed that with a 47-0 showing as a junior. Dineen is 35-0 heading into this weekend's tournament, with 25 pins, eight tech falls and two major decisions among those victories.

"He's never backed off," Thompson said. "You win a state title as a sophomore and you've reached the top of high-school wrestling, it's easy to let off the gas a little bit. I can attest that Thomas Dineen hasn't let off the gas. That's a testament to the young man he is and his mental toughness because man, it's a tough life being at the school by 6 a.m. every day. He doesn't take days off."

Dineen's tournament begins against Royalton/Upsala's Kaden Holm (28-14). The other top wrestlers in that bracket are No. 2 seed Tytan Small of St. Charles (37-6), No. 3 seed JoJo Thompson of Deer River (42-3, ranked eighth) and No. 4 seed Koby Endres of Wadena-Deer Creek (42-3). Dineen has wins this season against two other 195 hopefuls in Red Rock Central's Vander Mathiowetz and West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon Evansville's Beau Robinson.

"We love the draw," Thompson said. "There's nobody in there that overly scares us or that we're too worried about. There's definitely some solid opponents that have the ability to push Thomas and wrestle with him. We'll be scouting those as the rounds get deeper so we can give Tom some notes.

"We're not going to overthink anybody. Hit the offense until somebody can stop it."

Encouraging words from a pair of state champs helped push Dineen at the start. After six years of hard work, Dineen's hoping to end high school atop the podium once again.

Said Dineen, "I'm very grateful to those two guys and everything they put in to me and all the opportunities I have because of them."

Along with Dineen, two other area wrestlers are top seeds in their respective brackets.

At 120A, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg freshman Trey Gunderson is in the top spot. With a 51-0 record, he is looking to become a two-time state champion after claiming the 106A championship last season. He'll face TMB/WWG's David Schuh in the opening round.

At 152A, BOLD junior Austin Kiecker is also a No. 1 seed. Sporting a 31-1 record, Kiecker opens state against Caledonia/Houston's Isaac Blocker. During the Section 5A championship last weekend, Kiecker won his 163rd match, becoming the Warriors' all-time wins leader. Making his fourth state trip, Kiecker placed third at 138 last season.

Other top seeds from the area are:

* Willmar sophomore Conlan Carlson is the three seed in 138AAA. Making his fourth state appearance, Carlson (37-4) takes on Forest Lake's Dayton Dale (16-16) in the opening round. Carlson will try to make the finals for the second straight year after placing second at 126 last season.

* Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa junior Ryan Jensen (39-3) is the three seed in 132A. He'll try to make his third straight finals appearance after finishing runner-up in 2022 (126) and '21 (120). A four-time state entrant, Jensen begins against Fosston/Bagley's Aiden Wolfe (38-4).

* Another high-seeded Cardinal is senior Braeden Erickson (36-4). He's the fourth seed at 170AAA. He's competing as an individual for the first time since 2019 when he competed as an eighth-grader at 113. Erickson takes on Shakopee's Jack Ferguson (29-15) in the opening round.

* BBE has a trio of three seeds: senior Wyatt Engen (35-6) at 138A, junior Maximus Hanson (44-1) at 170A and senior Ethan Spanier (37-5) at 220A. Engen opens against Medford's Evan Schweisthal (30-12). Hanson (44-1) faces Luverne's Sam Rock (39-7). Spanier takes on Minneapolis North's Cashmere Hamilton-Grunau (39-9).

* Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield's Tate Link is 31-0 and is the three seed at 182AA. Finishing fourth at state last season, Link faces Aitkin's Jacob Williams (33-6) in the opener.

* In his state debut, Minnewaska eighth-grader Miles Wildman (37-2) is the third seed in 106A. He'll take on Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial's Ryder Antony (28-17).

* Paynesville's Peyton Hemmesch (32-6) is the four seed at 182A. He'll face Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie's Justin Koehn (23-19).

KMS sophomore Adamaris Chable Rodriguez is the first area female to make the state girls wrestling tournament after finishing as the runner-up at 152 at the Section 5-8 championship on Feb. 11.

Chable Rodriguez (5-3) is the fifth seed in the 152 bracket. She'll begin state against another state newcomer in fourth-seeded Alyzabeth Hiler (10-3) of Roseville.

The top three seeds at 152 are: Apple Valley junior Grace Alagbo (21-3), Badger/Greenbush-Middle River eighth-grader Sarah Pulk (23-1); and New Ulm freshman Elizabeth Dake (17-1). Alagbo was the 145 champion last season, beating BH/V/PP's Abby Ervasti by second-period fall. Dake wrestled in the 152 finals last season, losing to Minneapolis Edison's Shean'Areial Miller. Pulk was third place at 165.

Willmar (6): Cavin Carlson (120); Sully Anez (132); Conlan Carlson (138); Braeden Erickson (170); Steven Cruze (182); Zander Miska (195).

Team United (7): Ben Gunlogson (106); Daniel Gunlogson (126); Kameron Sather (132); Zander Clausen (138); Holt Larson (170); Parker Bothun (195); Brady Rhode (285).

D-C/Litchfield (2): Victor Franco (120); Tate Link (182).

NLS (1): Isaiah Nelson (113).

BBE (6): Ryan Jensen (132); Wyatt Engen (138); Hunter Laage (160); Maximus Hanson (170); Carson Gilbert (182); Ethan Spanier (220).

KMS (3): Trey Gunderson (120); Jett Olson (145); Adamaris Chable Rodriguez (152 girls).

Paynesville (3): Roman Roberg (106); Peyton Hemmesch (182); Spencer Eisenbraun (285).

ACGC (2): Jevon Williams (160); Terrell Renne (220).

BOLD (2): Brady Kiecker (126); Austin Kiecker (152).

Minnewaska (2): Miles Wildman (106); Chase Smith (120).

Benson (1): Thomas Dineen (195).