When the No. 14 ranked Augustana wrestling team met No. 1 ranked St. Cloud State on the Elmen Center mat Thursday, Feb. 14, it was clear that the Vikings had their work cut out for them.
But a series of individual losses at the beginning of the last regular season meet put the Vikings in a rut that they couldn’t get out of, leading to their eventual 31-3 downfall and the addition of another win onto St. Cloud’s flawless 20-0 season record.
“We wrestled OK,” said head coach Jason Reitmeier. “But you don’t beat national champs by wrestling OK. You’ve got to wrestle great and we didn’t.”
Augustana Redshirt sophomore Ethan Cota started the match with an 8-4 loss in the 125 lbs. bracket to No. 2 ranked Brett Velasquez. Sophomore Keaton Schorr followed up with an 8-2 loss to St. Cloud State’s Travis Swanson in the 141 lbs. bracket.
“Cota has got to work hard from bottom and start getting his offense going forward and the same thing with Keaton Schorr, he’s got to open up and hit some shots,” said Reitmeier. “Right now, he’s tentative.”
Augustana freshman Tyler Wagener fought hard in the 149 lbs. division against No. 2 ranked James Pleski in the 149 lbs. division, but also ended up being taken down 6-3.
“Tyler Wagener’s not that far off,” said Reitmeier. “No. 2 kid in the nation, we had him on the ropes, we had a shot at winning that match at the end and it just didn’t work out.”
In the 149 lbs. division, Augustana Redshirt senior Colin Ayers fell to No. 6 ranked Jake Barzowski and Augustana Redshirt sophomore Jackson Sweeney followed with an 8-4 loss to Devin Donovan in the 165 lbs. weight division.
In the 174 lbs. division, Augustana Redshirt senior Lukas Poloncic came out hard against No. 2 ranked Kolton Eischens. Starting the final period behind Eischens 2-3, Poloncic fought back and gained a 4-3 edge on Eishens. After Eishens tied up the match 4-4, Poloncic added another takedown for two points and an extra point for riding time and emerged victorious with a 7-4 score.
Reitmeier said that Poloncic, who is now 8-1 in the season and 7-1 in the NSIC, worked hard for the win. “He’s wrestling really well right now. He’s wrestling really smart. He’s watching film, he’s learning the tendencies of the other guys [and] he’s executing his offense really well when it’s time to do it. [It was the] No. 2 kid in the nation he just beat, so he’s right there.”
Augustana redshirt freshman Daniel Bishop lost the team’s weak grip during the 184 lbs. division falling 11-3 to No. 4 ranked Chance Helmick. In the 197 lbs. division, No. 1 ranked Vince Diez seized the opportunity to pull in another win for the Huskies by taking down No. 8 ranked redshirt senior Clayton Wahlstrom with a score of 9-2.
Redshirt Freshman Matt Naig closed out the night in the 285 lbs. division by falling in an intense 3-2 match with No. 11 ranked Zach Muller.
“Really, I think we have it all there,” said Poloncic. “Most of our losses were just one- [or] two-point losses, so we’re right there with all of those kids and they have a lot of ranked kids. Really, the only thing we’re lacking right now is just being able to let the clutch out, put the pedal down and just get on these guys.”
Reitmeier said that it was the Vikings’ offensive timing that allowed the Huskies to take control of the center of the mat.
“They dictated the center of the mat, they controlled the center” he said. “They were off first with their offense, they were taking crisp, early shots on us and we were not getting our offense going. It’s like we were a little timid in certain situations.”
Ultimately, Rietmeier said that it took too long for Augustana to find its groove.
“Third period we finally woke up a little bit and noticed that they weren’t as tough as we thought they were and it was obviously too late by then,” he said. “I thought once we figured things out and figured out that we could wrestle with them that we opened up a little bit, but it was obviously too late. We like to see our guys go out there and get after people in the first minute and then build on it and we just didn’t do that.”
The Vikings now have a 5-4 overall season record and are 4-4 in the NSIC. This Saturday, they will be heading to the NSIC regional championship standing at No. 5 in the conference.
Poloncic said that the team will mostly just hone its technique in preparation for the postseason.
“We’re just going to prepare to the best of our ability like we do every time, we’re going to just not beat each other up so much in the room,” he said. “We’re just going to coast in and just really work on the technique and what we need to do as individuals at this point.”
Whatever the outcome, Poloncic said that he is proud that he had the opportunity to start and finish his wrestling career at Augustana and the relationships he made during his time here.
“It’s been great growing up with these guys, creating a relationship with the coaches and the community, and I love every single one of them, because they come in there and they bleed and pour their lungs and their heart out on the mat, and it’s just a great thing to see,” Poloncic said.
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