Mar. 24—In its first season, the Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield co-op made the state wrestling tournament but bowed out early with an 0-2 showing.
In 2021, D-C/Litch has already surpassed last season's success. And it's still hungry for more.
D-C/Litch (26-3) is the No. 3 seed in the Class AA final four and will take on No. 2 Fairmont/Martin County West (28-1) for a spot in the state championship match. In the other semifinal match, No. 1 Simley (26-0) wrestles No. 4 Princeton (20-8).
The Class AA team tournament gets underway at 9 a.m. Friday at St. Michael-Albertville High School.
"It's just building off of last year," said Litch/D-C co-head coach Dan Buker. "Not to say we couldn't have done better last year, but that's how it shook out. We're looking to improve. We've been tested this year."
D-C/Litch has a record of 6-3 against ranked opponents, including a 40-32 win over Princeton on Jan. 15.
But it was in a loss against Class AAA powerhouse St. Michael-Albertville (33-30 on Jan. 30) that showed the coaches there was something different about this crop of athletes compared to 2020.
"That performance, it showed we're better than we were a year ago," Buker said. "We're capable of more against the best teams in the state."
Area Wrestling Roundup: Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield moves into the state semifinals
Since then, D-C/Litch is 17-1 and is ranked No. 4 in the final Class AA poll from The Guillotine, a statewide wrestling publication. It won the Section 6AA championship over sixth-ranked Becker, 36-24. In the state quarterfinals, D-C/Litch crushed Section 5AA champion Totino-Grace, 63-10.
And following the Section 6AA/5AA state prelim, half of D-C/Litch's roster will compete in the state quarterfinals: Victor Franco (113 pounds); Jerry Simes (138); Eddie Simes (152); Jude Link (160); Tate Link (170); Beau Nelson (195); and Hayden Hoernemann (220).
"We're definitely peaking," Buker said. "You look at all the hard work, all the practices and the grind at all the events, it prepared us for this coming Friday."
While D-C/Litch is building off of last year, Fairmont/MCW is trying to emulate last year's success after reaching the Class AA team championship. The Red Bulls are 3-1 against ranked teams, with the only loss coming against second-ranked Kasson-Mantorville on Feb. 6, 36-33.
Area Wrestling Roundup: D-C/Litchfield wins two in metro triangular
It's at the middleweights where Fairmont/MCW presents the most trouble with all six of its ranked wrestlers between 120 to 160. Jaxson Rohman is ranked first at 126 while Connor Simmonds (second, 145), Lucas Jagodzinske (third, 138) and Blake Jagodzinske (fourth, 160) are all in the top five of their weight classes.
D-C/Litch has four of its standouts in that span in Alex Joedeman (120), Jerry Simes (138), Eddie Simes (152) and Jude Link (160).
"They have great wrestlers (in that range)," Buker said. "It's going to be a pretty physical match. You want to minimize points with their best wrestlers, or if you have a stud versus a stud, you want to win that swing match. If you can minimize points against any of their best, that's a win in our book."
If D-C/Litch can get by Fairmont/MCW, the championship will likely come against Simley, which is looking to secure its third straight state championship.
State wrestling: It was a long day at the mat for Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield
"We're thankful for the opportunity," Buker said. "We were talking this week about how we were in Zoom meetings a couple months ago talking about what the season would look like, if there is going to be a season and is there going to be a postseason.
"It's not going to be the same as being at the Xcel Energy Center, but it's the opportunity and the experience to go against the best guys in the state. We're after that peak performance and winning will take care of itself."
Class AA team
(at St. Michael-Albertville High School)
3-D-C/Litchfield (26-3) vs. 2-Fairmont/MCW (28-1), 9 a.m.
4-Princeton (20-8) vs. 1-Simley (26-0), 9 a.m.
Class AA championship following the semifinals