Area Male Athlete: Aitkin's Pelarski poised for more state fun

At the start of the season, each Aitkin Gobblers wrestler wrote down a team and individual goal and then hung them on the practice room wall. It was a daily reminder of what each team member was working toward this season. Senior Luke Pelarski di...

Luke Pelarski
Luke Pelarski

At the start of the season, each Aitkin Gobblers wrestler wrote down a team and individual goal and then hung them on the practice room wall.

It was a daily reminder of what each team member was working toward this season.

Senior Luke Pelarski didn't think long about his goals. They both started with state.

"For the team, I wrote to make it to state and my individual goal was to not only make it state, but to place at the state tournament. I made it down there last year, but came up short. That drove me for this year to get down there and place."

Pelarski's team goal came true Saturday, Feb. 16, when he turned into a pinning machine.


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Luke Pelarski

  • Year: Senior
  • School: Aitkin
  • Sport: Wrestling
  • Position: 138 pounds
  • Highlights: Finished with 3 first-period pins to help Aitkin win Section 7-1A title

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Pelarski opened the Section 7-1A Team Tournament with a 1:45 pin over Rush City/Braham's Carson Shockman, helping the Gobblers to a 73-4 blowout.

"Actually, he's not really a pinner," Aitkin head coach Larry Liljenquist said. "He's more likely to get a technical fall than he is to pin someone. He scores points. Thankfully at sections, he was pinning his guys. He did a great job as far as the team of getting those points and getting those pins. That is where the veteran experience comes into play. He understands what he needs to do for the team. He got that done for us."

The senior planted Deer River's Jack Perrington in 1:27 to propel Aitkin to a 59-15 semifinal victory over the Warriors.

In the championship match, with Aitkin holding on to a 10-7 edge over No. 2 seeded Royalton-Upsala, Pelarski pinned Brayden Conrad in 1:12. The Gobblers went on to win the section title with a 37-25 victory.

"I just knew that it was a crucial time for the team to get as many pins as possible so it was going to take every single point," Pelarski said. "So it was a matter of six points for a pin or five points from a tech. fall and that one point could be the difference between going to state. I knew that was my job and I had to get it done.


"I had never wrestled any of those guys except for the Royalton kid before. I knew that I could just be on the offense with every single guy. I just pushed them rather than have them control me. That was about it. I just wanted to be on the offensive."

It was a strange season for the Gobblers, who will enter the Class 1A Team Tournament Thursday, Feb. 27, in St. Paul with a 15-12 record. Aitkin was never ranked despite being the No. 1 seed for the section tournament.

Liljenquist said rankings didn't matter when it came to the final team goal.

"I don't call into The Guillotine for ranking my guys or blow our own horn," Liljenquist said. "If it needs to be blown someone will do it for us. I'd rather be an action guy and not a talker. I don't brag about what we've done. But the kids have peaked at the right time, too. I always say all those regular season meets are just practice for this time of year. The whole season is just practice."

Pelarski said that approach fits well with him and his teammates.

"It didn't let us get too big of a head and we knew that no matter what seed we got or even if we were underrated or the underdog of the tournament that we were going to have to wrestle our best no matter what," Pelarski said. "I think it actually helped us not being on the radar for most of the season."

Pelarski will likely be a high seed for the Section 7-1A Individual Tournament Saturday, Feb. 23. That's where he'll attempt to go two-for-two on his goal sheet.

"I'm pretty confident," Pelarski said. "Last year, I wrestled pretty good at it and I'm feeling good about my wrestling and training. We've had a lot of good helpers come into the room and help us with our individual stuff. I feel like I'm performing at the best of my ability right now. I'm just pushing every single day to get better, but I'm pretty confident."


Last year, Pelarski opened the Class 1A State Individual Tournament against the eventual state champion Kyle Cavanaugh in the 138-pound bracket. He then suffered a loss to Badger/Greenbush-Middle River's Owen Novacek in the wrestlebacks to end his state meet.

He concluded the season with a 36-15 record.

"His focus in the last month has gotten really good," Liljenquist said. "He's physical on the mat. I can say that teamwise, too. The team has done the same thing. Our whole team focus has really been good. We're focusing on Luke, but the team has followed.

"I would say finesse was how you could describe him earlier in the year. Now I think he's more physical. He's a lot more physical. He trains hard. He's not afraid to get tired. We'll do two-a-day training. He's not afraid to work and that's a lot about our sport. You're going to sweat and you can't be afraid to sweat."


Other notable performances

Basketball: Brady Raph, Pine River-Backus, finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Blackduck, 24 points against Red Lake and 27 points against Wadena-Deer Creek.

Garrett Westerlund, Aitkin, finished with 26 points against Detroit Lakes.


Louis Bueckers, Pine River-Backus, finished with 22 points against Red Lake.

Torry Hirschey, Pine River-Backus, finished with 20 points against Red Lake and 24 against Wadena-Deer Creek.

Jonah Prokott, Pierz, finished with 20 points against Howard Lake-Waverly.

Spencer Schaefer, Pillager, finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds against Menahga.

Payton Rondestvedt, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with 20 points against Sebeka.

Hockey: Max Phillips, Wadena-Deer Creek, scored a goal against Bagley/Fosston to become just the third Wolverine to reach 100-career goals. He added a goal and an assist against Breckenridge.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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