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Willmar's Nathanial Swoyer reacts after winning the state title Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

Braaten, Steffel, Swoyer capture state mat titles

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ST. PAUL -- Three area wrestlers, each a senior, won championships Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center. It was the first title for each.

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Jacob Braaten of Minnewaska Area won the Class A 112-pound title, Alex Steffel of BOLD was the 152-pound Class A champion, and Willmar's Nathanial Swoyer earned the title in the Class AAA 189-pound weight class.

After Braaten's arm was raised in victory signifying his championship, he ran and jumped into the arms of the Minnewaska Area assistant coach -- his dad.

In 1981 at the old St. Paul Civic Center, Lee Braaten won the Class A 119-pound state title for Glenwood/Villard.

"He's a big inspiration," Jacob said of his dad. "To think he did this same thing 30 years ago today."

Jacob won his title by defeating Shane Novak (37-6) of New York Mills 5-4. The match was tied 4-4 after one period and the score didn't change until Braaten got an easy escape to start the third. Novak tried for the takedown but Braaten fought him off.

Braaten, also a state qualifier as a sophomore, finishes his final season 39-3.

Been here before

He was the only entry this year for head coach Wes Tessman, who now has four state champions in the new century.

Braaten, also a state qualifier as a sophomore, finishes his final season 39-3.

"I've been coming here since I was five years old," said Jacob. "(Champions) Aaron Erickson in 2000, Jacob Bryce in 2003 and

Brandon Manderschied last year were all models for me. I've been very blessed. I've been healthy this year and wrestled well."

Along the way to the title, Braaten beat No. 1-ranked Isaac Novacek (43-2) of Badger/Greenbush 6-4 in the quarterfinals and No. 2 Mitch Andrews (44-3) of Border West 6-3 in the semifinals earlier on Saturday.

Last match 'best'

With three undefeated wrestlers in the Class A 152-pound bracket, it was easy to overlook Alex Steffel with a 33-7 record to emerge the victor.

"We knew we had a chance," said BOLD head coach David Williams. "He's put in his time and few work any harder than him. He was a state champion in the freshman league four years ago."

Steffel, a 1,000-yard running back on the football team, walked a tightrope to the final. He won his quarterfinal match Friday evening 8-7 and then, around noon on Saturday, survived a four-overtime match with Bryan Andrews of Martin County West to win 4-2.

The final pitted him against LeSueur-Henderson junior Brett Pfaar, unbeaten in 42 matches including a 6-5 victory over another unbeaten Anthony Caputo of Crookston who would go on to win third-place and finish 43-1.

"Even if I didn't win, it was just great being in the final," said Steffel later. "The crowd (11,288 for the final session) and just three mats. It's a dream."

Steffel was more than ready. He led Pfaar 4-2 after one period and 4-3 after two periods. In the third period, he got an escape and then a pair of takedowns for a decisive 9-4 win.

Steffel's strategy to wrestle defensively worked well. When Pfaar attacked, the BOLD senior would slip to the side and spin behind for the capture and two-point takedown.

"It's the best match I ever wrestled," said Steffel.

Steffel's wrestling room partner and running mate in the Warriors' backfield, Brent O'Halloren, won the third-place medal at 160-pounds earlier in the evening.

"We keep each other going," said Steffel. "We go at it pretty hard, banging off the walls sometimes. He's been my partner the last two years. When one of us is feeling low, the other picks him up."

4-wheeling win

The Class AAA 189-pound weight class matched the two best records in the final -- senior Shaun Little (39-2) of wrestling power St. Michael-Albertville and Nathanial Swoyer (35-1) of Willmar.

Little has a stocky, muscular build; Swoyer, though a linebacker/fullback in football, looked tall and rangy by contrast. Neither could land a punch, and after three periods, it was 1-1.

The stalemate continued through the first one-minute overtime period. In the back-to-back 30-second extra periods, both wrestlers scored an escape, including Little's in the last two seconds.

The fourth overtime would decide the match. Either Little would maintain control while trying to score for 30 seconds or Swoyer would escape.

Little went into the last overtime with the burden of one warning for stalling. With time running, Little was on the mat desperately holding onto Swoyer's left ankle while being dragged about the mat.

With only seconds remaining, the referee blew his whistle and called a second stalling on Little for not initiating action. Swoyer had kicked free of a similar desperation ankle hold by Little in the second overtime.

Swoyer was champion, the program's first this century.

"I thought if I wrestled well, I'd be in the finals," said the senior, who was 0-1 at the state tournament a year ago.

Asked about his motivation, Swoyer said, laughing, "My dad told me when I was seven years old, he'd buy me a four-wheeler if I ever won a state title."

Willmar had five entrants in the state tournament this season. Of those, three will be returning for the Cardinals next season, including Alex Johannes, who placed fourth at 130 pounds in Class AAA.

In the finals

Three wrestlers from the area reached center stage on Saturday evening but fell, each one losing to an outstanding opponent.

In Class AA at 145 pounds, New London-Spicer's Shawn Hatlestad lost 4-3 to Nick Wanzek (44-3) of Simley, the Class AA team champion. Wanzek didn't give up a point in three matches on his way to the finals, but Hatlestad (41-2) got a takedown in the second period and an escape to make it close.

"He was tall and strong," said the Wildcats' senior of his final foe. "Every time I'd get in deep, I couldn't get close to finishing."

But he wouldn't trade the spotlight on the final day for anything.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "I was nervous until I got on the mat and then I relaxed and I was just loving it."

He finishes with 195 wins, which leads the Wildcats' program, and two third-place finishes at state to go with this year's silver medal.

The highlight of his road to the final was a 3-2 win over 200-win senior Ryan Swenson of Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley. Hatlestad finishes his career 3-1 against Swenson, who won a state title in 2009 and was fourth this year.

Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg's Klinton VanHeuveln (39-6) lost 9-2 to now three-time state champion Hayden Zillmer (43-1), a senior at Crosby-Ironton.

"It wasn't so much his strength. He was fast," said VanHeuveln.

The Saints' senior barely made it through his first match at St. Paul, winning 4-3 against Seth Johnson (35-7) of Blooming Prairie in the round of 16.

"It was a slow start. I was overconfident and maybe nervous," he said. "But I was more relaxed in the quarterfinals and got a third-period pin when it was tied 5-5."

He concluded that he was very thankful for the opportunity to wrestle in the state championship match. "It's something I've prayed for."

Matt Doom blazed his way to the championship match impressively, scoring three falls -- at 4:51, 1:31 and 1:13.

But the Paynesville senior met a roadblock in the 171-pound final. Josh Willaert of LeSueur-Henderson had won the weight class in 2010 with a 41-2 record and was 39-2 with one match left in 2011.

Doom's credentials were more modest. He went 1-2 as a junior in his first trip here.

Willaert scored four takedowns on the way to a 7-3 win. Doom did get a takedown in the third.

"A lot of things weren't working," said Doom. "It's the first time all year I didn't cradle. He was a strong kid."

He said lifting weight all summer led to his successes this season as he rolled to a 33-3 record and ended his Bulldog career 94-30.

Class A

Semifinals

112 pounds

JACOB BRAATEN, Minnewaska: won 6-3 decision over Mitch Andrews, Border West

130 pounds

KLINTON VANHEUVELN, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: won 7-5 decision over Bruce Lemon, Frazee

140 pounds

LARRY BOMSTAD, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: lost 3-13 decision to Clint Poster, Pierz ... won 11-3 decision over Adam Cooling Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther ... 3rd place

152 pounds

ALEX STEFFEL, BOLD: won 4-2 4OT decision over Bryan Andrews, Martin County West

171 pounds

MATT DOOM, Paynesville: pinned Ryan Sieberg, St. Clair/Mankato Loyola, 1:13

Championship

112 pounds

JACOB BRAATEN, Minnewaska: won 5-4 decision over Shane Novak, New York Mills ... 1st place

130 pounds

KLINTON VANHEUVELN, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: lost 2-9 decision to Hayden Zillmer, Crosby-Ironton ... 2nd place

152 pounds

ALEX STEFFEL, BOLD: won 9-4 decision over Brett Pfarr, LeSueur-Henderson ... 1st place

171 pounds

MATT DOOM, Paynesville: lost 3-7 decision to Josh Willaert, LeSueur-Henderson ... 2nd place

Consolation

103 pounds

TYLER BERGHUIS, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: won 4-1 decision over James Goman, Trinity School ... lost 4-5 decision to Cody Hanson, St. James ... lost 0-3 decision to Tyler Keller, Medford ... 6th place

119 pounds

HAYDEN ROUSER, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: won 6-4 decision over Jesse Jaeger, Maple River ... won 15-1 decision over Justin Doerr, Lewiston-Altura ... lost 2-4 OT decision to Dustin Esplan, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva ... 4th place

160 pounds

TREVOR MAHLUM, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg: won 10-8 decision over Brandon Klindworth, Zumbrota-Maxeppa ... lost 0-6 decision Jacob Forcier, Eden Valley-Watkins ... won 5-3 decision over Cody Tibbetts, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial ... 5th place

BRENT O'HALLORAN, BOLD: ... won 6-0 decision over Collin Mitchell, Ogilvie ... won 3-1 decision over Cody Tibbetts, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial ... won 8-3 decision over Jacob Forcier, Eden Valley-Watkins ... 3rd place

171 pounds

RYAN LARSON, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: won 4-3 decision over Tyler Nelson, Hayfield ... won 2-1 decision ocer Ryan Sieberg, St. Clair/Mankato Loyola ... lost 0-2 decision to Shawn Johnson, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton ... 4th place

215 pounds

DYLAN NELSON, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City: pinned Jordan Phibbs, Jackson County Central, 2-5 ... was pinned in 3:29 by Matt Marketon, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted ... was pinned in 3:35 by Billy Connelly, Border West ... 6th place.

ANDREW BROOKS, BOLD: lost 1-10 decision to Cole Nelson, Zumbrota-Mazeppa ... eliminated

Class AA

Semifinals

119 pounds

JOHN WEEDING, Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley: lost 2-4 OT decision to Pedro DeLao, Simley ... lost 3-13 decision to Mike Fuenffinger, Hibbing ... won 7-0 decision over Jordan Hanan, Annandale/Maple Lake ... 5th place

145 pounds

SHAWN HATLESTAD, New London-Spicer: won 9-2 decision over Charlie Pesch, Scott West

160 pounds

SAM HAAS, Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley: lost 4-7 decision to Micah Barnes, Simley ... pinned Hunter Rud, Byron, 2:58 ... pinned Jamison Evans, Grand Rapuds, :33 ... 5th place

Championship

145 pounds

SHAWN HATLESTAD, New London-Spicer: lost 3-4 decision to Nick Wanzek, Simley ... 2nd place

Consolation

130 pounds

CHASE AUSTVOLD, New London-Spicer: lst 0-7 decision to Tyler Dobmeier, Scott West ... eliminated

145 pounds

RYAN SWENSON, Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley: won 10-4 decision over Logan Draack, Monticello ... won 2-1 decision over Joey Stadnick, Watertown-Mayer ... lost 4-10 decision to Dallen Rud, Byron ... 4th place

152 pounds

CODIE WEEDING, Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle Valley: won 5-1 decision over Cole Cihak, New Ulm ... lost 1-5 decision to Jesse Puncochar, Annandale/Maple Lake ... lost 0-5 decision to Tyler Zilverberg, Scott West ... 6th place

285 pounds

ZACH GIBSON, Morris/Hancock/Chokio-Alberta: lost 3-6 decision to Nick Cervantes, Thief River Falls/Goodridge ... eliminated

Class AAA

Semifinals

130 pounds

ALEX JOHANNES, Willmar: lost 0-8 decision to Brady Johnshoy, Prior Lake

189 pounds

NATHANIAL SWOYER, Willmar: won 7-4 decision over Tom Peterson, Lakeville South

Championship

189 pounds

NATHANIAL SWOYER, Willmar: won 3-2 4OT decision over Shaun Little, St. Michael-Albertville ... 1st place

Consolation

130 pounds

ALEX JOHANNES, Willmar: won 4-2 decision over Ben Donnelly, Woodbury ... was pinned in 2:52 by Ben Morgan, Forest Lake ... 4th place

152 pounds

COTY MILHAUSEN, Willmar: lost 3-4 decision to Danny Egesdal, Chaska/Chanhassen ... eliminated

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Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
(320) 214-4334
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