Austin Freerksen only wrestled for two weeks his freshman year at Byron. That's it. Instead, he became solely focused on football, and he transformed into the Post Bulletin's 2020 Player of the Year. He broke Byron's school record for rushing yards and touchdowns.
Oh, and then three years after being done with wrestling, he decided to come back out for his senior year.
On Friday, Freerksen placed third in Class AA at 182 pounds. Up until the state tournament, Freerksen had only lost to one man: Kasson-Mantorville's four-time state champion Bennett Berge. Berge won the 182-pound Class AA state title. Freerksen's third-place finish meant that Section 1AA produced two of the top-3 182-pounders in the state of Minnesota.
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"That kid didn’t wrestle for years and came back and got third at state," Berge said. "That’s an impressive athlete right there. If all four of the kids in Section 1 had come to state, I guarantee you we would’ve had first, third, fourth and fifth. We had four of the top-5 kids in our section. Two didn’t get to state."
Freerksen came into the state wrestling tournament unranked, and he put on a show. He sneaked up on some top-ranked wrestlers and dominated thanks to his terrific speed, athleticism and strength. Plus, Freerksen was extremely aggressive from the start. He was never defensive, and he was always ready to pounce at a moment's notice.
In the state quarterfinals, Freerksen took on New Ulm Area's Cole Ranweiler who entered the state tournament at a sparkling 31-1. Despite trailing early, Freerksen came from behind to stun Ranweiler with a vicious pin. Ranweiler had to nearly pick up his jaw as he walked off the mat after Freerksen's display. Then, the Byron star nearly pulled off an upset in the state semifinals before Becker's Caden Dewall pulled out a tough 8-4 victory. In the third-place match against Adam Neumann, Freerksen came out on top with a 9-7 victory.
Freerksen finished the year 24-3. Pretty good for a football player who hadn't wrestled in well over three years.
"I really gave it everything I had this year," Freerksen said.
WYNIA'S GRITTY PERFORMANCE
Kasson-Mantorville's Kail Wynia might have had the toughest draw in the state. The 170-pounder had to go up against Connor Tulenchik, Cale Luthens and Adam Sylvester who all entered Friday's action as defending state medalists.
Wynia nearly pulled off an incredible run. In the quarterfinals, Wynia handed Luthens his first loss of the season with a 7-5 decision. Wynia really controlled the match throughout. Next up was undefeated Sylvester. But the Totino-Grace star was able to pull out a 7-3 victory, but Wynia was within 5-3 in the third period and nearly could've had the game-tying takedown before Sylvester knotted the match-sealing takedown with one second left. Sylvester went on to win the 170-pound Class AA state title, but he nearly lost to Wynia and his match against the K-M star was hands-down his toughest of the state tournament.
Wynia then promptly dominated Detroit Lakes' 30-match winner Blaine Henderson in the third-place match. It's the first time in his career that Wynia has earned a medal at state. Sylvester and Luthens are both seniors and graduating, so Wynia could have the inside track to be a state champion next year.
Petersen, Vaughan come up just short
Maxwell Petersen nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages in the 138-pound Class AA state championship match. Simley's Chase DeBlaere held a 6-1 lead heading into the third period, but an escape and two takedowns trimmed the deficit to 8-6. Petersen needed just one more takedown to tie the match, and DeBlaere was absolutely on his heels.
But the Byron star and North Dakota State commit came up just short down the stretch. He nearly had the takedown that he so desperately needed, but the referees called an injury timeout which saved DeBlaere from a precarious spot.
The Byron coaching staff wasn't very happy about the decision, but Petersen displayed terrific sportsmanship, congratulating DeBlaere –– a man he had beaten just one week ago –– and walking off the mat without a disturbance.
Kasson-Mantorville's 145-pounder Logan Vaughan also had a heartbreaking 4-3 loss in the championship match. Thief River Falls' Brady Kasprick was able to pull off the tight victory, and Vaughan crumpled to the mat after the final buzzer. It was a painful, gut-wrenching loss, but Vaughan still finished with a terrific 27-2 record.
Bennett Berge was the only southeastern Minnesota wrestler to win a Class AA state title, but it could've easily been three if a break or two went Vaughan and Petersen's way.