BOLD/BLH's Kopel takes long way to state

Chalking up wins in wrestling hasn't come easy for BOLD/Buffalo Lake-Hector's Zach Kopel. His record has been below .500 nearly his entire career. Yet, the personable senior has been a perfect example of what can happen when you don't throw in th...

Chalking up wins in wrestling hasn't come easy for BOLD/Buffalo Lake-Hector's Zach Kopel. His record has been below .500 nearly his entire career.

Yet, the personable senior has been a perfect example of what can happen when you don't throw in the towel too early.

Kopel entered the Section 5AA individual wrestling tournament Saturday in Annandale unseeded among the 11 in his 189-pound weight class and sported a modest 16-18 record.

Having to wrestle in a pigtail match just to make it into the quarterfinals, Kopel was pinned in the second period by another unseeded wrestler.

That dropped him into the consolation bracket, where one loss means elimination and hopes of reaching state significantly decreased.


Kopel expected little. He was already going with his teammates to state for the Class AA team competition today through Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"I just wanted to at least win one match," he said. "I wasn't looking to get to the state tournament or anything like that. I thought these matches would help get me ready for the team competition."

Kopel came back strong after his disappointing first-round loss and won 14-4. Next up was Dustin Celander of Litchfield, a junior whom Kopel lost by major decision to a week earlier in the section team championship.

This time, Kopel salvaged a 4-3 victory to stay alive.

In his fourth match, Kopel was tied 1-1 with Brandon Schmidt of Waconia before notching a takedown in the third period for a 3-1 triumph and a chance to wrestle for third place, something that not even he expected, let alone his coach or teammates.

"I think I surprised myself," he admitted. "But it was kind of exciting going for third place."

Kopel was pitted against Glencoe-Silver Lake junior James Carlson, the No. 4 seed.

In the second period, Kopel was trailing 2-1 and scored what seemed to be a late takedown.


But action was halted because the clock wasn't started properly. So they put the correct time on the clock, but Kopel's takedown was surprisingly taken away.

BOLD/Buffalo Lake-Hector coach Tom Gruhlke, normally mild-mannered on the sideline, was vehemently upset that the points weren't still credited to Kopel.

"He would have had the points even if the clock was right the first time," said Gruhlke.

Kopel was also upset at the referee's decision and took it out on Carlson, scoring three takedowns in the third period and prevailed 7-3.

"That was the best period I wrestled all year," laughed Kopel, who was 4-8 on the varsity as a junior and 4-4 as a sophomore. "I should have had bad calls more often."

Surprisingly, Kopel qualified for a true-second match against No. 2 seed Tyler Kloos of Howard Lake-Waverly/Winsted, a senior with a 31-6 record who also beat Kopel by major decision in the section team tournament a week earlier.

Kopel was now aware of how close he was to joining four other teammates in the state individual competition.

Kopel stayed with Kloos through three periods, which ended in a 1-1 tie. In overtime, it looked as though neither would manage another point again as the fatigued combatants struggled to find enough left to pull out a win.


Then, with just 1.8 seconds showing on the clock, Kopel was awarded a takedown and a 3-1 victory.

Kopel leaped into the arms of BOLD/Buffalo Lake-Hector coach with his fists pumping the air in jubilation.

"He's our Rudy," said Gruhlke, referring to the former Notre Dame football star who proved skeptics wrong. "I don't know what got into him this day, but he sure wrestled well. He's never won five matches in a row in his life. I was told he never won five in a row even in elementary wrestling."

Kopel wasn't expected to even be a regular on the varsity this season. That weight was expected to be filled by Trent Squibb, a solid wrestler who was 32-9 last season. But Squibb missed the entire season with an injury sustained in football, opening the door for Kopel.

"The funny thing is Kopel went to all the camps and paid his money, even though he knew he probably wouldn't get to wrestle much this season," said Gruhlke. "He just wanted to be a part of the team. That's the kind of kid he is."

Kopel's dance in the state tournament may be short-lived, however. His opening match is against Brent Eidenschink (33-0), a senior from Detroit Lakes who is rated No. 2 in the nation at his weight and a Minnesota Gopher recruit. If he does lose to Eidenschink, Kopel would face the loser of Eidenschink and Lance Peters (42-0) of Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander in wrestlebacks.

"I just want to help the team win," said Kopel. "I won't be disappointed no matter how it turns out for me in the individuals now. I never expected to be there anyway."

But, what if .... oh, never mind. Even Cinderella only went to one ball.

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