Benton County Connection Clicking on the Mat at SJU

By Frank Rajkowski, SJU Writer/Video Producer

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn. – Ben Gilbertson and Logan Thorsten have more in common than just their shared roots in Central Minnesota.

The duo – let’s call them the Saint John’s University wrestling team’s Benton County Connection – are also each driven by a deep motivation to demonstrate what they are capable of at the college level.

“Coming out of high school, I had a couple of offers from schools here and there, but not really a lot of them,” said Thorsten, a 157-pound freshman from Foley High School who qualified for the Class 2A state meet four times during his prep career, including a fourth-place finish as a senior last season.

“So I do want to show people they missed out. But I’m naturally competitive anyway. I think everybody on this team has that drive to be the best they possibly can.”

Gilbertson, a 174-pound sophomore out of Sauk Rapids-Rice High School, feels the same way.

“I didn’t have very many places in the state of Minnesota, or anywhere else, interested in me,” said Gilbertson, whose prep career was hampered by injuries including a broken collarbone that ended his sophomore season and a torn meniscus suffered at the section meet when he was a senior.

“My prep career really wasn’t at the level that gets you a lot of chances to wrestle collegiately. But (Johnnie head coach Kevin) Schiltz had me out for a visit and gave me a chance. I wanted to take advantage of that.

“I came in here knowing I had something to prove.”

So far, both Thorsten and Gilbertson are making good on the goals they have set for themselves.

Saint John’s wrestlers – sophomore Ben Gilbertson and freshman Logan Thorsten

Thorsten currently boasts a 13-6 record, including a third-place finish in his weight class at the Citrus Invitational held Dec. 29-30 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Gilbertson, meanwhile, is now a team-best 14-7 and won the ‘Warrior’ (consolation) bracket in his weight class at the same event.

“Those guys are probably two of the best listeners we have,” said Schiltz, whose team is scheduled to return to action Saturday at Central’s Under Armour Invitational in Pella, Iowa.

“They hear everything the coaches tell them and they buy into it. They’re like sponges in the practice room, always learning and doing whatever it takes to get better. They’re the kind of guys any coach would be thrilled to have on their team.”

Gilbertson finished with a record of 1-1 as a freshman a year ago. But since Saint John’s was only able to compete in a total of two dual meets as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said this year actually feels like his true freshman season.

“Last year was kind of hard to adjust to because of the restrictions we were under and everything that was going on,” Gilbertson said. “We only had the two dual meets so there wasn’t a lot to focus on or judge yourself by.

“This year already feels a lot different than that.”

Because they grew up in the same area and attended neighboring schools, Thorsten and Gilbertson have long been familiar with one another.

“When we were at the K-6 level, we wrestled each other a bunch of times in tournaments,” Thorsten said. “Once we got to high school, we didn’t see each other as much because (Foley and Sauk Rapids-Rice) are in separate conferences. Our teams did cross paths a few times, but he was already too big for me to wrestle by then anyway.”

“I watched him beat some of my teammates though,” Gilbertson added. “So I knew how talented and confident he was as a wrestler. And I was really excited when I heard he was coming (to SJU).”

Gilbertson, an elementary education major, hopes to one day work in special education. It’s a path he was inspired to follow by his mother Amy, who works as a Speech-Language Pathologist in the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District.

“When I was younger, she used to take me with her to help out at special education camps she would work at in the St. Cloud area,” said Gilbertson, who is also part of the SJU disc club, a program in its first year on campus.

“Working there helped me become a better person. And that’s the kind of work I’d like to continue doing in the future.”

Thorsten, meanwhile, is looking at majoring in accounting.

“I’ve always been a numbers guy,” he said. “I like working with money. I had an uncle who graduated from Saint John’s, and I had a cousin who majored in accounting and loved the program here. So that’s what kind of drew me in that direction.”

On the wrestling mat, both Thorsten and Gilbertson have their eyes set on the NCAA Division III Upper Midwest Regional scheduled for Feb. 25 in Eau Claire, Wis. From there, they hope to advance to the NCAA Division III Championships March 11-12 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“It’s really exciting to think about how things are going now, and to realize how much time we both still have left here,” said Thorsten, who is also a member of the SJU Ultimate Frisbee club.

“To see how much we’ve improved already, and how much more we still can improve, has me really excited about the future.”

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