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Minnesota state wrestling: Wagner, Suda, Burnett state champs

While being crowned a state wrestling champ in St. Paul on Saturday, Pipestone Area wrestler Michael Suda holds up three fingers with his left hand to signify how many titles he's won in his high school career. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)1 / 3
Pipestone Area senior Hunter Burnett walks off the mat Saturday night to celebrate his third consecutive Minnesota state individual wrestling championship. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)2 / 3
Dalton Wagner of Jackson County Central eyes his opponent in the 195-pound Class A state wrestling finals Saturday night. Wagner won the match to become a state champ. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)3 / 3

ST. PAUL -- Dalton Wagner, surrounded by thick gray walls in the bowels of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, stripped off his singlet and seemed almost emotionless as he explained how good it felt to win his first state wrestling championship.

“I worked really hard for this,” he said. “I’ve been working hard for this since I was a little kid. It’s been my dream.”

Meanwhile, two Pipestone Area wrestlers -- buddies since they were grade schoolers -- Michael Suda and Hunter Burnett enjoyed the remainder of the Minnesota state tournament Saturday night having already won their third consecutive state titles.

The first championship is a time for excitement. The second championship validates the first. But what emotions go through a titleist’s head after winning a third?

“I think this one was for us,” Suda said. “The second time was to prove it wasn’t a fluke. The third one was for us. This one was for our teammates and our coach. Everything they did for us in the wrestling room is a thank-you. Without them we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

Here’s how Wagner, Suda and Burnett took their places atop the state high school wrestling world:

Dalton Wagner, JCC

The Huskies strongman was undefeated entering the state individual tournament. But he had wrestled only nine matches so late in the season.

Before his winter wrestling campaign could get under way, Wagner had to fight through personal demons. He went into treatment in the summer for drug use.

“When I got back, I tried talking to the state high school league, to try to get my suspension cut (which didn’t happen). But I knew I could still go back on January 26.”

So Wagner, while working on getting his life back together, also had to make up lost time for the wrestling season -- the most important wrestling season of his career. He is a senior, and last year as a junior he finished second at 160 pounds, giving up a takedown in the last 42 seconds of his 160-pound championship match to Bailee O’Reilly of Goodhue. This was his last opportunity to end up highest on the victory stand.

“The big problem I had was conditioning -- getting in shape. But other than that, I was dedicated. I never won it before,” Wagner recalled.

Wagner was never really challenged in the 2018 state tournament at 195 pounds. He won his first match in a fall in 3:23, and he won his second match in a fall at 2:43. On Saturday, he won his semifinal match in a fall at 3:11 against Jake Ubert of Fosston-Bagley.

Then in the finals, he scored a takedown near the edge of the mat with about 20 seconds remaining in the first period against Jacob Bennett of Zumbrota-Mazeppa. He later gave up an escape, but with 20 seconds left in the second period Wagner hooked a leg for another takedown. He won 7-1, thus earning his first state championship in his fourth state tournament appearance.

Wagner, who finished the season 13-0, is a bullish wrestler with an intimidating physical appearance. He’s strong, but also aggressive. His goal is to wrestle his kind of match irregardless of the opponent. And his kind of match is straight-ahead and relentless.

After capturing his first championship, Wagner allowed that his stint in treatment wasn’t all bad. It taught him some things.

“It just helped me stay positive -- stay focused on what I needed to stay focused on,” he said.

His coach, Randy Baker -- who has schooled many state champions in a long and successful tenure -- is pleased to add Wagner to the list.

“He lost a lot of time. But he also had a lot of history behind him, too,” Baker said, adding, “That’s what high school is all about -- second chances. Second chances for kids is good.”

Michael Suda, Pipestone Area

Suda’s path to his third individual championship took some interesting turns.

An exciting takedown artist, he eased through his first two matches with 17-6 and 20-10 victories. But his 126-pound semifinal match on Saturday against Tanner Schermerhorn of Frazee went right down to the wire.

Suda trailed early, led 5-3 in the second period, then trailed 8-7 with under a minute to go in the third. Tying the score 8-8, Suda trailed again when Schermerhorn got in on his legs for a 10-8 advantage. A moment before time elapsed, Suda scored on a reversal to get the match into overtime. He got a quick takedown in the OT period and won 12-10.

That put him into the finals against Blake Legred of United South Central, who won the state Class A 106-pound championship in 2017. The tall, wiry Legred presented quite a contrast to the compact and well-muscled Suda, and again Suda had to rally.

Quickly, the Arrow senior secured a 2-0 lead with a takedown. He led 2-1 when the first period ended. He led 6-4 at the end of the second. Suda was down in the referee’s position to begin the third, and the lanky Legred used his elongated frame well, and turned Suda for back points and an 8-6 advantage. With 59 seconds to go, Suda got a reversal. Legred managed to take a 9-8 lead, however, before Suda finished a takedown in the final 30 seconds.

Suda applies science along with his obvious physical skills to become a champion. His semifinal opponent, he said later, wrestled smart. “The coaches watch a lot of tape. They knew what they had to do. To keep it close. To slow me down,” he said. “I just have to stay calm. Keep pushing for the pressure.”

Legred, he said, is patient. He likes to wait, to react, to pounce when his opponents make a mistake. Suda said to beat him, he had to stay aggressive. He was, right to the end, and it paid off with another championship and finishing his senior season at 40-3.

Hunter Burnett, Pipestone Area

Like Suda, his friend and mat partner, Burnett can dominate. He won his first 2018 state tournament match at 132 pounds by 20-5 technical fall, then he pinned his rival in 5:19 in the quarterfinals.

In his semifinal match on Saturday, Burnett pinned Nate Hart of Ottertail Central in 5:38. He had a tougher time of it against Mark Buringa of St. Charles in the finals.

Buringa produced a 4-3 lead in the first period. It was 6-6 at the end of two. It was 12-6 at the end, Burnett’s strong pressure working its desired effect.

“He came in ranked No. 1 (according to The Guillotine),” said Burnett, who was ranked No. 2. “I knew he was going to be a tough kid. He was really strong. He was taller than me, and I’m pretty tall, too. He really came to wrestle.”

If Burnett was miffed that a two-time state champion should be ranked behind anyone else, he didn’t let on after the match. Instead, he said, he was determined to apply pressure liberally and consistently, and it paid off.

“Words can’t describe what it’s like to win it a third time with my wrestling partner and my friend,” he added, thinking of Suda.

“This year’s been very emotional. Lot of stuff going on. It’s our senior year. It’s huge to win a state title and go into our college careers as three-time state champs,’ he said.

Burnett and Suda will both wrestle collegiately at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., thus continuing their exceptional wrestling careers together.

Burnett finished with a 44-2 senior season record.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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