ST. PAUL — Reid Ballantyne capped a remarkable season for the Stillwater wrestling team, though the eighth-grader is hoping it’s just the opening chapter of a storied prep career.
Ballantyne became the first wrestler to capture an individual state championship for the Ponies in 14 years as he stormed through the 106-pound bracket in the Class AAA state tournament to cap an undefeated season on Saturday, March 4 at the Xcel Energy Center.
After surviving a 5-3 overtime victory over Maple Grove’s Joey Thompson in the semifinals, Ballantyne (47-0) dominated Regan Schrempp of Apple Valley 7-1 in the finals to claim Stillwater’s first gold medal since Dustin Dahlblom won the second of his two state titles in 2003.
“It feels really good,” said Ballantyne. “I accomplished all my goals for this season.”
Ballantyne entered the season ranked No. 2 in Class AAA by The Guillotine, despite having never wrestled a varsity match. He lived up to the early hype and then some while completing an undefeated season.
“It was my goal, so I wasn’t completely shocked that I got it,” Ballantyne said. “It definitely was a higher goal than I’ve ever set for myself, but it wasn’t a shocker.”
Mark Hall became Minnesota’s first and only six-time state champion a year ago and Ballantyne would like to join an exclusive list of five wrestlers who have won five state titles — a goal that get wiped out quickly if you don’t win the first.
“I really want to be a five-time state champion,” Ballantyne said. “That’s definitely my next big thing, I want to become a five-timer. Going undefeated would be the icing on the cake.”
Ballantyne became just the sixth state champion for the Ponies. Jack McPherson (1966 and 1968) and Dahlblom (2002 and 2003) each won two titles while Mark Miller (1977), Ray Wilhelm (1994) and Mike Law (1995) also claimed a gold medal.
Starting with eight state qualifiers, the Ponies finished this year’s state tournament with three medalists, including Ballantyne and fourth-place finishers James Huntley (182 pounds) and Connor Weiss (195). The eight qualifiers matched the previous school high water mark set in 2013.
“It was an awesome year,” Ponies coach Rich Keller said. “We’ve got a 47-0 and three kids with 40 wins and three others with 30 wins, so I thought it was an awesome year.”
Huntley (40-3) stumbled in a 4-3 quarterfinal loss to Calvin Sund of Prior Lake, but bounced back with victories over AJ Jenks of Little Falls and Rowan Morgan of Mounds View. In a rematch of the section finals when Huntley rallied for an overtime victory over Morgan, this was another tight battle. Huntley eventually pulled out a 4-3 win to advance to the third-place match, where he lost to Dalton Miller of Anoka 11-10.
Against Miller, Huntley fell behind early but rallied with three takedowns to tie the match at 10-all with 30 seconds remaining in the third period. Miller used two minutes of injury time and Huntley gave up an escape in the hope that he could score another takedown in the final seconds, but time ran out first.
“James had a great tournament,” Keller said.
Weiss (38-8) overcame a rough start to his individual state tournament after getting pinned by Mike Delich of Eastview in just 12 seconds in the first round. Weiss grinded his way back with a 3-1 victory over Ben Lathrop of Anoka and then upended Abe Ngaima in an ultimate tie-breaker (fourth overtime) 3-2. Following a scoreless one-minute overtime period, each wrestler escaped after choosing down in the two 30-second overtime periods that followed. For the finale, Ngaima won the flip and chose down, but Weiss was able to ride him out for 30 seconds to earn the hard-fought victory.
“Most of the time the odds are in your favor if you go down, but 30 seconds goes by pretty fast,” Keller said.
Weiss then defeated Centennial’s Justin Mohlin 6-4 to earn a spot in the third-place match against a familiar foe in Delich, who prevailed by a 10-3 margin to claim the bronze medal.
“To come back and win those three after getting pinned in 10 seconds is pretty impressive,” Keller said. “We just said, let’s see what you’re made of. He had a great tournament and James had a great tournament.”
This marked the first time Stillwater landed a state placewinner since 2013 when Christian Bahl and Austin Jordan each placed fourth. This was also the first time the program produced three placewinners since 1999 when Karl Knothe (4th), Andrew Pertz (4th) and Nate Greenberg (6th) finished on the podium.
Wrestling at 120 pounds, Trey Kruse (40-8) pinned his first-round opponent before losing to eventual state runner-up Israel Navarro of Willmar in the quarterfinals. The freshman bounced back with a pin against Coleton Pertucci of St. Francis in the wrestlebacks, but was eliminated by Boyd Mumbuwa of Minnetonka 6-3 in the second round of consolation.
“Trey didn’t place, but he battled the state runner-up, so I thought he wrestled a good tournament,” Keller said. “He’s got some upperclassmen in that weight class that are just a little bit better. Trey knows he needs to get stronger, but he’s a ninth-grader and he’s got some time. He’s always going to battle and he’s not going to stop until the end.”
Will Harter (26-7) won his opening match by pin for the Ponies at 152 pounds, before losing decisions to Riley Habisch of Buffalo and Payton Horsted of Moorhead. Habisch went on to finish fourth in the tournament.
“They lost to good kids,” Keller said of Kruse and Harter. “I know they want to go back and be on the podium, which is a good thing.”
Stillwater’s Javon Taschuk (32-13) at 113 pounds and Kevin Thole (29-15) at 170 pounds lost their first-round matches and did not get an opportunity in the wrestlebacks after their opponents were stopped in the quarterfinals. Tyler Olson (15-10), who missed most of the regular season because of injury, was also forced to forfeit at heavyweight for the Ponies after suffering a knee injury in the team tournament the previous day. His anticipated opponent in the first round Brandon Frankfurth of Anoka advanced all the way to the finals.
It was a rare disappointment for the Ponies, who featured just three seniors among their eight state qualifiers.
“More than pleased,” Keller said. “We didn’t lose many matches that we really had a chance.”
Taschuk and Ballantyne have alternated weight classes throughout the season in order to provide the best match-ups and Ballantyne was quick to credit his teammate for pushing him all season.
“We definitely had an impact on each other getting into the room and being able to push each other and getting the most out of it we can,” Ballantyne said. “A huge part of wrestling is partnership and practice and that helped both of us pushing each other through those hard days.”
Ballantyne cruised through the first two rounds at state, pinning Minnetonka’s Andrew Sanders in 5:03 before defeating Jared Spohn of Sauk Rapids-Rice 6-0 in the quarterfinals.
Keller noted the confidence and maturity that helped Ballantyne enjoy such an impressive season was also required during his narrow semifinal victory over Thompson.
“He had the courage to try his vipor move he uses on takedowns, which puts yourself in some danger, but he just wrestled awesome,” Keller said. “He’s just so relaxed out there and he has that confidence that he’s going to win. What sets Reid apart from most kids his age is that he’s so confident he’s going to win. He’s been in those situations before and he’s going to keep wrestling. He doesn’t look at the brackets or rankings or that stuff, he’s just going to go out there and wrestle, which is not common for high school kids. He just goes out and wrestles.”
Ballantyne admitted there are some significant differences at the varsity level and said he has become a more complete wrestler throughout the course of the season.
“The biggest difference was not the work intensity, but how often it was,” Ballantyne said. “With youth it’s two or three times, but here it’s seven days a week and that was the biggest difference.”
But he entered the season with big goals and delivered in a big way.
“I got a lot better on top,” Ballantyne said. “That was probably the No. 1 think I improved on the most. Towards the end I just kept improving and thought this is a doable goal. As the season went on, it seemed more possible than I thought it was at the beginning.”
106 — Reid Ballantyne (4-0, 1st place): pinned Andrew Sanders (Minnetonka) 5:03; dec. Jared Spohn (Sauk Rapids-Rice, 6-0; sudden victory over Joey Thompson (Maple Grove) 5-3; dec. Regan Schrempp (Apple Valley) 7-1.
113 — Javon Taschuk (0-1, DNP): lost to Roman Rogotzke (East Ridge) 12-10.
120 — Trey Kruse (2-2, DNP): pinned Azi Rankin (Eden Prairie) 1:46; lost by major dec. to Israel Navarro (Willmar) 11-3; pinned Coleton Pertucci (St. Francis) 3:50; lost to Boyd Mumbuwa (Minnetonka) 6-3.
152 — Will Harter (1-2, DNP): pinned Xander Falkenstein (Eden Prairie) 3:55; lost to Riley Habisch (Buffalo) 8-2; lost to Payton Horsted (Moorhead) 7-0.
170 — Kevin Thole (0-1, DNP): lost by major dec. to Elijah Hollins (Rochester John Marshall) 14-4.
182 — James Huntley (3-2, 4th place): tech fall Bobby Sweet (Mound-Westonka) 18-3; lost to Calvin Sund (Prior Lake) 4-3; won by injury default over AJ Jenks (Little Falls) 1:44; dec. Rowan Morgan (Mounds View) 4-3; lost to Dalton Miller (Anoka) 11-10.
195 — Connor Weiss (3-2, 4th place): pinned by Mike Delich (Eastview) :12; dec. Ben Lathrop (Anoka) 3-1; ultimate tie-breaker over Abe Ngaima (Shakopee) 3-2; sudden victory over Justin Mohlin (Centennial) 6-4; lost to Mike Delich (Eastview) 10-3.
285 — Tyler Olson (0-1, DNP): forfeit to Brandon Frankfurth (Anoka).