Early fireworks key New Prague’s trip to State

By Brian Jerzak

The state tournament is a great event. The electricity in the building – especially Saturday night during the individual finals – is spectacular. While the sheer number of people is dwarfed, the atmosphere in a packed gym during a section team tournament – in some ways – is even better. The 2AA semifinals featured three of the top six ranked teams in AA and a fourth that was deemed Lean and Mean by the latest Guillotine rankings. To say the atmosphere in New Prague Saturday night was electric would be an understatement.

“Our fans are awesome,” New Prague head coach Dan Wagner said. “They got everyone here. We told them that could be a difference maker – the atmosphere. Our kids wrestle better at home in that atmosphere, and the fans showed up.”

Sometimes in wrestling, the critical match of the dual takes place before the crowd is even settled into their seats. That was the case during the Section 2AA team finals between New Prague and Watertown-Mayer. Lightning struck early and paved the way to the Trojans’ 37-32 victory and a trip to the Minnesota State High School Wrestling Tournament.

The Trojans and Royals would be tested to get to the finals. Although New Prague would win the match by a comfortable margin – 38-20, Coach Wagner knew it would take a complete team effort.

“We match up well with St. Peter,” Wagner said. “St. Peter is a really tough team. They lost to (state entrant) Waconia by three points last week. They are a solid team, but we knew we matched up well with them. We needed to prevent bonus points. We went through the entire dual without giving up one pin; St. Peters is a great team. That set the tone for the finals.”

Lightning didn’t strike early for the number five-ranked Royals against sixth-ranked Scott West. It was a see-saw battle all afternoon. The Royals took an early 11-0 lead, but Scott West stormed back to take a 15-11 lead. From then on, neither team was able to get any separation. The Panthers led 23-19 with three matches to go. One win and Scott West was on to the finals. Watertown-Mayer had other ideas. With only an escape for each wrestler on the board, the Royals’ Kyler Burmeister’s late third-period takedown gave him a 3-1 victory – cutting the team score deficit to one. At 220 pounds, the dual again hung in the balance with another tied match late in the third period. This time it was Watertown-Mayer’s Jason Fenske with a four-point throw just before time expired. Ian Burau would put the match away with a third-period fall – capping off a Royals 31-23 win.

Before the crowd could catch its breath, the Trojans/Royals match was sure to start fast. New Prague’s number one-ranked Lawson Eller would toe the line against Watertown-Mayer’s fourth-ranked Joel Friederichs. Friederichs nearly ended things in the first period when he put Eller on his back. The top-ranked 106-pounder fought off his back and then turned a second-period reversal into a second-period pin. The drastic turn of events had the Trojans’ crowd rocking with the six-point swing.

“That was huge,” Wagner said. “Lawson won a close match against him a couple of weeks ago, so this was going to be a tight one. Then he went down 4-0, and we thought we were in trouble, but he kept battling.”

Watertown-Mayer was not about to go away. They went on to win the next four matches – but although they were underdogs on paper – they only gave up two bonus points.

“We have been preaching that all year,” Wagner told The Guillotine. “Our road to State was limiting bonus points with our less experienced guys and gaining bonus points with our other guys. They did awesome.”

The strength of the Trojans’ lineup was coming up, and they put up a lot of bonus points. Cole Herrmann, Koy Buesgens, Colton Bornholdt, and Evan Farley all put up bonus points to take control of the dual. With a big lead, the New Prague coaching staff decided to move third-ranked Brady Westall up a weight instead of setting up a top-five matchup. The two teams swapped bonus point wins – precisely what the Trojans needed.

“We had about twenty scenarios written down depending on the score,” Wagner explained. “At that point, the only way we were going to lose was by losing both 170 and 182. It was Brady’s first match in two and a half weeks. He did something to his ankle, so it was not a good matchup for him. We knew we were in the driver’s seat at that point if we won one of those. We knew we had Joey (Novak) at 195, putting us in a good position.

The Royals would win the final two matches, but it wouldn’t be enough. Number one ranked 195 pounder Joey Novak put up more bonus points – sealing the victory for the Trojans. The Trojans advanced with a 37-32 win.

2023 MSHSL Section 2AA Team Champions – New Prague. Photo by Brian Jerzak.