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Wrestling: Podium finishes in the picture for Warriors

A preview of the Class 3A State Individual Wrestling Tournament.

Brainerd wrestlers going to state.
Brainerd wrestlers Dalton Barrett, left, Gabe Wagner, Easton Dirks and Damien Bentho pose for a photo Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at Brainerd High School.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — There have been larger caravans, but one could argue, none with state title potential like this year’s crop of Brainerd Warriors.

Four Warriors and Austin Litke of Little Falls will compete in the Class 3A State Individual Tournament March 4-5 at the Xcel Energy Center.

Of the four Warriors, only Gabe Wagner has state experience and none have state experience at the Xcel, which returns as the host site of the state meet after COVID-19 moved it offsite. That doesn’t mean expectations aren’t high.

“We’ve brought four guys down before, since I’ve been here I don’t think we’ve ever had five, but this group of guys, we could see some podium finishers,” Brainerd head coach Mikkey White said.

Dalton’s goal is he wants to be the Barrett that got the state championship.
Mikkey White

Easton Dircks is headed to his first state tournament. The eighth-grader was seeded No. 1 in the Section 8-3A 113-pound bracket. He opened with a bye before scoring a 12-0 major decision and then a 3-2 victory over Willmar’s Ivan Mares to advance.

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Dircks_Easton.jpg
Easton Dircks

He’ll take a 44-1 record with him into the Xcel Energy Center.

There he’ll open against Northfield’s Keith Harner, a freshman who owns a 34-12 record.

“Easton was the No. 1 seeded kid in his bracket at sections, but he still had to earn it,” White said. “He had a good tournament and you always want to be wrestling at your best this time of year and I think that’s where he’s at right now. That section tournament just reinforced that he’s wrestling really well right now.”

Dircks was ranked No. 4 in the final Guillotine polls released Feb. 24. He does have top-ranked Mason Mills on his side of the bracket along with No. 5 ranked Brandon Lee and No. 8 ranked Thomas Holmquist.

“When you look at his bracket, for him, if he can win that quarterfinal match against the No. 1 seed, I mean gosh, that would give him a really good opportunity to win the thing,” White said. “Obviously, you can’t look that far ahead, but in the big picture, that win would be huge for him and it’s a tough opponent, but it’s a winnable match.”

Wagner is making his second state trip. As a junior, he finished third at 145 pounds. In the section individual tournament, Wagner was seeded second and opened with a bye before scoring a 10-5 decision over Willmar’s Braeden Erickson. In the finals, Wagner defeated Sartell’s Ashton Lipinski 7-2.

Wagner_Gabe.JPG
Gabe Wagner

“Gabe’s confidence is high and he’s just looking really good right now,” White said. “He’s really crisp. He looked good last weekend. He’s looking good in the practice room. And I think he knows it, too. He feels good and he’s healthy.”

Wagner is 42-4 heading into state and was ranked seventh. He will open against Farmington’s Dylan Olson. The senior owns a 22-11 record and is unranked.

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Top-ranked Brad Little of Woodbury and No. 3 ranked Lipinski face off in the opening round and could be a semifinal matchup if Wagner wins out.

No. 10 ranked Jacob Whitaker of Anoka and No. 8 ranked Aiden Erickson of Hastings are also on Wagner’s side of the bracket.

“This is what went down last year, Gabe just hit a switch,” White said. “His level of wrestling, when it came down to when it really mattered, he really elevated his level of wrestling. We’re seeing that again this year. He had a tough weight class at sections. There were four guys that all legitimately should have placed at the state meet and only two are still wrestling.”

Dalton Barrett’s road to a section heavyweight title went 27-second pin, 1:15 pin and a 3-2 decision over top-seeded Tucker Hugg of St Cloud Tech. Barrett was the No. 2 seed in the bracket. The senior will take a 40-2 record into his first state tournament experience and will open against Lakeville North’s Connor Popp. The junior is 26-16.

Barrett_Dalton.JPG
Dalton Barrett

Top-ranked Will Sather of Eden Prairie is on Barrett’s side of the bracket, but he’s the only other ranked wrestler on that side

“Dalton has a good chance of doing some stuff down there,” White said “Dalton hasn’t been in this situation before so we just need him to focus on his first match. That’s a very winnable match. If we can get him through that first match, I think we could see Dalton in the finals.

“Dalton’s goal is he wants to be the Barrett that got the state championship.”

Dalton’s older brother Cade Barrett finished second at state in 2020.

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Damien Bentho had the hardest road to the state tournament. He opened the 170-pound bracket with a 4:53 pin over Sartell's Calen O’Connell before falling to top-seeded and eventual section champion Seth Newby of Bemidji.

That dropped Bentho into the wrestlebacks where he fended off St. Cloud Tech’s Andy Johnson with a 12-7 decision. He then topped Little Falls’ Hank LeClair with a major decision to force a true-second match against Willmar’s No. 2-seeded Joe Kallevig.

Damien Bentho
Damien Bentho
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Bentho won the match 4-2 to advance to his first state tournament.

“The thing that Damien has going for him is that he’s very hard to score on,” White said “He frustrates guys. If he can keep that up and not give up big points, he’ll keep himself in most matches.”

Bentho owns a 24-14 record and will open against Owatonna’s No. 8-ranked Jacob Reinardy. The senior owns a 33-8 record. No. 2 ranked Cole Han-Lindemyer of Farmington, No. 4 ranked Adam Cherne of Wayzata, No. 6 Noah Torgerson, No. 7 Gage Mueller of Waconia and No. 9 Treytin Byers are all on his side of the bracket.

LIttle Falls’ Austin Litke was seeded No. 1 at 132 pounds and proved his seed as he recorded a 1:02 pin, a 9-3 decision and then a 3:15 technical fall over Buffalo’s Matthew Carlson in the championship match.

Litke, a senior, is 31-6 heading into the state meet. He’ll open against Waconia’s Aiden Meuwissen, a seventh-grader who owns a 9-12 record. LItke was ranked seventh in the final polls. A first-round victory will likely pit him against top-ranked Jore Volk of Lakeville North in the next round.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop .

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State Wrestling
What: Class 3A State Individual Tournament

When: 9 a.m. Friday, March 4, 9 a.m. Saturday, March 5

Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

Who: Brainerd’s Easton Dricks, Gabe Wagner, Damien Bentho, Dalton Barrett and Little Falls’ Austin Litke

Related Topics: LOCAL SPORTS
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