Farmington wrestler Taylor Venz, ranked second at 145, grabbed Kyle Benjamin’s leg as they did wrestling drills during practice last week. (Renee Jones-Schneider, Star Tribune)
Farmington’s wrestling program has had its sights set on one goal since the beginning of the season, and one goal only — making the Class 3A state tournament field of eight teams. Goal accomplished.
The Tigers earned their first state tournament berth with back-to-back thrilling victories in the Section 1 tournament. They defeated Hastings 35-27 in the finals after edging Owatonna 34-30 in the semifinals.
“They definitely put their best effort to date out on the mat against Owatonna and Hastings,” Tigers coach Chad Olson said. “I’m not sure I can put into words on how proud, excited and relieved I am for our wrestlers, coaches, parents and fans.”
It was two monumental victories for the program, giving it a school-record 24 victories this year. The Tigers were eliminated by Owatonna 42-16 in the section semifinals the previous year and fell to Hastings 48-15 earlier this season.
“People will start to notice Farmington’s wrestling program now,” Tigers senior Kyle Benjamin said. “Hopefully, it’s the start of a dynasty.”
Olson knew the section title was in reach after last year. He welcomed back 12 of his 14 starters, including four individual state tournament entrants.
“Our wrestlers set a goal after last season to make it to state, and to sit back and watch them put the work and sacrifices in and then for them to reach it is awesome,” Olson said. His squad’s 10 defeats this season all were to ranked teams.
The Tigers are one of three South Suburban Conference teams in the field. The other two are Apple Valley and Prior Lake, all of which happen to be in the same side of the bracket.
“The South Suburban is the toughest conference in the state,” Benjamin said. “Wrestling against that type of competition really prepared us for our section tournament.”
The fourth-seeded Tigers are looking forward to their quarterfinal matchup with fifth-seeded Prior Lake. They split their two matches with the Lakers during the regular season, winning 39-27 in January after losing 44-25 in December.
Farmington has two juniors ranked second in their weight classes: Victor Gliva at 106 and Taylor Venz at 145. Classmate Jamin LeDuc is ranked third at 120.
Senior Matthew Rustad is ranked sixth at 152 pounds and Benjamin is sixth at 160 pounds. Rustad has won more than 100 career matches.
“We knew those five would be guys we could count on for a lot of wins, but Mason [Hawkins] has been a pleasant surprise,” Olson said.
Hawkins, a junior, couldn’t make the team wrestling at 138 pounds a year ago. He made a huge jump to 195 pounds this season.
“We hoped he would help us, but when you jump from 138 to 195 you are never sure how they are going to adapt to it,” Olson said. “He also missed the first five weeks of the season with a knee injury. Once he hit the mat, he took off.”
Hawkins was one of seven Tigers to finish first or second in the Section 1 meet, and qualify for the individual state tournament. Gliva, LeDuc, Benjamin and senior John Walz (182 pounds) were crowned section champs.
“This year’s team has accomplished so many things, it has solidified its spot as the best team in program history,” Olson said.