Male Area Athlete of Week: Class 1A’s 8th-ranked wrestler putting together a nice season for Aitkin
There is a saying in sports, “low man wins.”
For Carson Kullhem, that’s his strategy on the wrestling mat for the Aitkin Gobblers.
The sophomore and eighth-ranked 120-pound wrestler in Class 1A cruised to three wins last week, with two falls and one technical fall.
“Carson is a gamer,” Aitkin’s head coach Larry Liljenquist said. “He’s a guy who steps up to any challenge you give him and that’s whether it’s on the mat or off the mat.”
Kullhem said he tries to take what Liljenquist tells him and keep his focus.
Being ranked does not put added pressure on Kullhem. Instead, it motivates him to wrestle stronger because he feels there is a target on his back.
One of his favorite moves is going for the legs, but mainly he just tries to stay relaxed.
“I really try to focus on breathing,” Kullhem said. “My favorite move to do is probably any shots at the legs.”
Resilience comes to mind for Liljenquist when talking about Kullhem. He is someone who can wrestle in any position, but is really good at the bottom.
“He comes on strong, he never quits and gives you six hard minutes and never lets up,” Liljenquist said. “He’s a great young man and you wish you had 20 Carsons in the wrestling room.
“It does not matter what that kid is doing. He is giving you 100%. Whether you are playing chess or are in a wrestling match. That’s what makes him good. He’s a smart kid, too.”
When Aitkin traveled to Brainerd Friday, Jan. 31, it was a good test for the Gobblers against a Class 3A opponent.
After Kullhem pinned his opponent at 120 pounds, Aitkin led the Warriors 18-0 to start the dual meet. Aitkin ended up losing 45-27.
“It felt great to get big points against big teams,” Kullhem said. “I just want to stay focused in practice and hopefully get back to the state tournament as a team.”
Kullhem followed up his win over Brainerd with a win over Grand Rapids -- a 2A school.
“He steps up when he needs to and wrestles well,” Liljenquist said. “Wrestling is a little different where just because you are a bigger class does not always mean you are better.”
Kullhem owns a 26-4 record this season and eclipsed 100 career wins Jan. 24. At the Mid-State Conference tournament, he earned all-conference honors after going 5-0 and winning the 120-pound weight division.
His teammate and fellow sophomore Michael Larson, who is Class 1A’s seventh-ranked 106-pound wrestler, also won the Mid-State Conference at 113 pounds.
“It was really cool because I had really good competition there,” Kullhem said of the conference tournament. “It’s fun to have someone you practice with succeeding.”
Liljenquist mentioned Larson and Kullhem have a love-hate relationship, because they pound on each other every day in practice. Both of them are always on time and dedicated to wrestling.
“When those two are in the wrestling room you never have to tell them to work harder,” Liljenquist said. “They are going 100% for two hours in practice and their dedication is huge.”
In the Mid-State Conference tournament, Kullhem defeated Detroit Lakes’ Cade Okeson, who is 2A’s eighth-ranked wrestler.
“They always bring a good team,” Liljenquist said of Detroit Lakes. “Again, Carson is there for the challenge. You never have to tell him to work harder or go harder and that day was no exception. His gas tank is always full.”
In the classroom, Kullhem posts a 3.87 GPA. His wittiness is something Liljenquist thinks helps him.
“He is a well-rounded individual,” Liljenquist said. “He’s a great leader. He is everything you want in an athlete.”
With a career record of 106-48, Kullhem, when his career is over, can be north of 150 wins. He currently stands two pins away from 50 in his career and thinks he can still improve.
“I hope to improve on more hand control, getting into more shots and finishing a lot more shots,” Kullhem said. “Just getting more takedowns and getting more points for the team.”
Highlights: Finished the week 3-0 with two pins and a technical fall