They were nicknamed Murderers' Row by a Brainerd parent and that's exactly what they have been to opposing teams during the regular season.
With a combined 145-37 record, seniors Kyle Patnode, Braden Kramer, Denny Busbey and Brad Patnode will put their winning ways up to the task Friday, March 1, in the Class 2A State Individual Wrestling Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Brainerd's day will begin at 132 pounds and senior Denny Busbey going up against the top-seeded and top-ranked Trayton Anderson of Northfield.
Busbey takes his 34-10 record into his first state tournament.
"We've looked at this realistically," Brainerd head coach Mikky White said. "Trayton is a stud and that's why he's the No. 1 seed. For us to win that match would be a huge upset, but if we don't the good thing is Trayton is most likely not going to lose his next match either so Denny is going to have another match and, in my opinion, I think Denny could beat both of the guys that he could face in that next round."
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- Team: Aitkin Gobblers and Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie Raiders
- 3A Individuals: 6 wrestlings, including 4 from Brainerd
- 2A Individuals: 4 wrestlers, including 3 Pierz state veterans
- 1A Individuals: 15 wrestlings, including top-seeded, top-ranked and defending section champion Craig Orlando of Verndale
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At 138 pounds, Kyle Patnode is seeded eighth with a 40-6 record. This is the first state appearance for the 10th-ranked senior. He opens against Trae Janisch of Blaine, who is 18-5 this season
"Kyle is really consistent, so I think if he sticks to his game he'll be able to do some things," White said. "It's nice that they seed these tournaments and so being the eighth seed he's going to have to wrestle some good kids and he'll have to wrestle above his seed, which is why we go to these tournaments."
Following Kyle Patnode is Brad Patnode at 145 pounds. This is the senior's second trip. He's seeded No. 14 with a 35-13 record. He'll open against No. 3 ranked and third-seeded Nick Dunagan of Mounds View, who is 45-3.
"Brad is a good wrestler," White said. "I really like watching Brad wrestle. If he does what he does he'll give himself a shot. All of these guys have the ability, the skills and the drive to win some matches down there."
Brainerd's first round will finish at 152 pounds with returning state wrestler Braden Kramer. The senior was ranked sixth in the final state poll, but was slapped with the No. 13 seed despite being the Section 8-3A Champion. He'll put his 36-8 record up against fourth-seeded and fourth-ranked Roman Rogotzke of East Ridge, who is 35-6.
"The way they do the seeding criteria it's head-to-head first and then it's how you've done," White said. "Unfortunately, for Braden, as good of a season as he's had, Braden hasn't been to the state tournament since eighth-grade.
"Same deal, no matter where you get seeded, you've got a bunch of guys you have to beat. You either beat them early or you beat them late."
The Little Falls Flyers will have two wrestlers at state, including sophomore Gabe Nagel, who is the last remaining unbeaten wrestler at 160 pounds.
"He's got potential to beat them all," Flyers head coach Mike Hendrickson said. "He's wrestled some good kids so it's not like his record is fluky or anything. The No. 1 ranked wrestler was hurt during team sections so he's not even there. The No. 3 ranked kid is now No. 1 so we'll have him in the semifinals if we get there.
"Gabe was ranked No. 2 by The Guillotine at the end of the year, but he wasn't seeded that. But seeding is probably more important than ranking."
Nagel was ranked No. 5 on the bracket and will face fellow sophomore Isaac Grams of Bloomington Kennedy and his 36-7 record.
"All the guys that are seeded ahead of Gabe placed last year and they put a lot of stock in that," Hendrickson said. It's also likely why Grant Litke was seeded No. 8. The senior won the Section 8-2A 182-pound title and owns a 41-2 record, but this is his first state tournament.
Litke was ranked sixth and will open against Carter Lyons of Eagan and his 29-10 record.
"We're somewhat fortunate in that his first-round match is a kid from Eagan that he beat earlier in the year in Stillwater," Hendrickson said. "It was only a 5-3 decision and the kid is really strong just like Grant. To beat him again will be difficult. If he wins that one then he'll have the No. 1 ranked kid from Albert Lea, who is also undefeated.
"The last two years, he's gotten the hardest worker award because nobody works harder than Grant."
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Class 2A Individuals
With a combined 12 years of state wrestling experience not to mention, football and cross-country there isn't much Pierz head coach Skip Toops can say to his three state qualifiers.
Other than the talking is done and get to work.
Senior Jack Andres will be competing in his fifth state tournament. This will be Reese Kapsner's fourth state tournament and for Carson Huls, this is his third state trip.
"They've all be down there before and they're all seeded," Toops said. "Jake is the sixth seed. Reese is the fourth seed and Carson is the seventh seed, so if they wrestle well they have the opportunity to take home state medal. That's been the goal since the beginning of the year for those three so now is the time to get the job done."
The 126-pounder, Andres, is seeded No. 6 and will take his 39-4 record up against freshman Maverick Whitethorn of South St. Paul.
Kapsner will open against sophomore Anthony Arens of Totino-Grace and his 29-20 record. Kapsner, who was ranked fourth in the final poll and is seeded fourth, owns a 36-3 record.
"They've wrestled well all year long, but they're feeling good right now," Toops said. "They're feeling refreshed mentally and physically. They're excited to go down there, but you have to go beat good people when you're down there and that's the plan."
Huls is 38-7 and seeded No. 7 at 220 pounds. He was ranked seventh at 195 pounds and will face junior Jacob Hertzog of Waseca and his 21-5 record. Hertzog was not ranked.
"We train for this time of year all year long with how we approach it mentally regardless of what stage or venue you're on," Toops said. "We preach consistency and that's consistency in your training, consistency in your warmup and consistency in your pre-match routine. You treat every match the same and so you don't get overly excited and if you go out there and give 100 percent effort you walk off the mat with your head held high."
Freshman Connor Tulenchik will attempt to do just that. The Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus Road Crew member is 35-9 and seeded 10th at 138. He opens against Hibbing sophomore David Platt, who was ranked ninth and seeded seventh.
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Class 1A Individuals
Fifteen area wrestlers will look to capture state hardware led by defending state champion Craig Orlando of Betha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie.
The junior from Verndale is the top-ranked and top-seeded 285-pounder. He will post his 40-1 record up against Quinn Mathisen of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, who is 22-15.
Other top seeds include Staples-Motley's Owen Bjerga. The junior is 44-1 and seeded No. 3 despite being the No. 2 ranked 160-pounder all season.
"Part of it is another guy bumped up from 152 to 160 and he finished third at state last year at 145 so he kind of beat Owen out on criteria," S-M head coach Mark Carlson said. "Owen is a guy on a mission. He's looking to try to win his first state championship as a junior. That's his goal."
The goal for the other two wrestlers is similar.
Senior Blayne Dumpprope is the No. 7 seeded 138 pounder. He's 24-2 heading into his second state tournament.
Spencer Miller is the No. 5 ranked 152 pounder. He's 23-3 heading into his third state tournament. He was ranked No. 4 in the final polls.
"All three of them are seeded so we're going to try to beat our seeds," Carlson said. "They all have higher aspirations than that, but we're looking to beat our seeds so if we're seeded third we want to finish third or higher.
"Spencer has been ranked fourth in state, he's seeded fifth and he lost 3-2 to the No. 1 ranked guy so he's right there.
"All three have been down to the state tournament and know what to expect."
Also at 152 pounds is Aitkin senior Quin Miller. Entering his first state tournament, Miller was seeded No. 16 with a 27-20 record. Luke Pelarski was also seeded 16th at 138 pounds and fellow Aitkin senior Jack Gravelle was seeded 10th at 132 pounds with a 35-9 record.
"Those three seniors are scrappy kids and two of them are matched up with the No. 1 seed kid," Aitkin head coach Larry Liljenquist said. "In the state tournament if you lose your first match and then that guy loses then you're done so it's not a bad thing to be up against the No. 1 guy right away. You know they'll continue into the tournament so you'll get a second chance to be where they're at.
"And you go out and let it fly and you never know."
Aitkin also will feature freshmen Marshall Larson at 106 pounds and Carson Kullheim at 120 pounds. Both are making their state debut.
Sophomore Tyler Spolarich will be competing in his second state tournament. He was the Section 7-1A champion at 145 pounds and owns a 12-3 record.
"Tyler is a kid that will surprise you," Liljenquist said. "He hasn't really done anything yet and that's kind of what we're doing here. We haven't done anything so that's something we need to do if we want to be looked at. That's what we're trying to do."
The Crosby-Ironton Rangers have three section champions competing, but two of those were seeded unkindly. Taylor Eigenheer won the 220-pound Section 7-1A title and was ranked seventh, but will open against top-ranked, top-seeded and 40-3 Dominik Vacura of Badger/Greenbush-Middle River.
Senior Adam Christopher on the 126-pound section title and is 34-6 but will open against fifth-seeded Ramzee Molinaro of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, who is 32-6 and ranked fifth. Christopher was ranked eighth.
C-I's Nate Williams was ranked seventh and was seeded sixth at 132 pounds. He'll take his 40-6 record against Bray Olson of Kenyon-Wanamingo.
Joining Orlando from BHVPP will be No. 3 seeded Zavier Grefe at 182 pounds. Grefe won the Section 6-1A title and owns a 37-5 record. He was ranked seventh in the final poll and will face No. 3 ranked, but 14th-seeded Trave Eisfeld of Tracy-Milroy-Balaton-Westbrook-Walnut Grove. Eisfeld is 37-3.
Jason Koehn will wrestle at 126 pounds. He opens against top-seeded Canon Swanson of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
Trevor Arceneau is the Section 6-1A champion at 132 pounds and he landed the No. 7 seed with his 35-10 record. He opens against Aitkin's Gravelle, who is 35-9.
Devin Dean was a section runner up and was awarded the No. 9 seed. The senior is 34-9 and will face Spolarich of Aitkin
Those last two matches could be rematches.
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Class 1A team
The Aitkin Gobblers open the Class 1A Team Tournament against No. 3 seeded Kenyon-Wanamingo 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
On a mat nearby will be BHVPP facing No. 2 seeded Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut-Grove.
The Gobblers' Liljenquist is quietly confident his team can pull off the upset.
"I pieced together what they did at individual sections and team sections and looking at that it's probably the best draw that we could have asked for, to be honest," Liljenquist said. "The kids that they have there are really good so we'll have to hold those matches to low point situations. They have really big horses at about five or six spots so we need to hold those matches to a major decision and maybe even a decision. If we can do that we match up pretty good in seven of the weights. I think we have an opportunity there."
A loss by both the Gobblers and Raiders would pit the two against each other in the consolation semifinals.
Section 6-1A's champion Raiders were ranked No. 8 in the final poll, while Aitkin, which won Section 7-1A, wasn't ranked but received consideration.
"The momentum that we have, it's not necessarily the technique that we have or the experience," Liljenquist said. "It's the fight that we're bringing and the fight that the kids have in them. They are a scrappy bunch of kids. We've got a couple that are pretty young that made it individually and we have some young guys that are bringing the fight. That's not factored into the equation of who is supposed to win and who isn't.
"If we show up and wrestle we'll be in good shape. If we don't, it will show."
All team wrestling will be Thursday with individuals competing Friday and Saturday.