Merten claims second at state

Milaca senior wrestler Branden Merten had one goal heading into the Minnesota State High School League Class AA wrestling tournament: to reach the finals.
He also knew there was a good chance that Kasson-Mantorville’s Sam Stoll would be waiting for him if he reached the finals at the heavyweight position of 285 pounds.
Stoll, whom Milaca wrestling co-coach Clay Hoeck calls one of the best wrestlers in Minnesota in any class, is the national record holder in consecutive pins and came into the state tournament with a 45-0 record.
Merten earned his meeting with Stoll after opening individual state tournament play with three straight wins to face Stoll in the championship bout at 285 pounds. Stoll earned three more pins on his way to his matchup with Merten, and took Merten to the mat in 1:19 for his fourth pin of the tournament to claim the state AA title.
Merten made Milaca proud on his way to being named the state runner-up, Hoeck said.
“Branden probably wrestled to the best of his ability last weekend,” Hoeck said.
Merten was focused and knew what he had to do to achieve his goal of reaching the finals, his coach said.
“The easiest way to get there is to keep winning and stay out of the wrestlebacks where there are a lot of good wrestlers hanging around,” Hoeck said.
Merten, who came into the tournament with a 37-6 record, opened individual competition with a 3-2 decision over Kevin Kneisl (29-8) of Delano. Next up was Brent Riddle (26-15) of Monticello, who Mertens pinned in 4:09.
In the semifinals, Merten went up against 44-7 Jake Lehmann of Dawson-Boyd-Lac QuiParle-Montivideo United. Merten earned a 7-3 decision and the right to face Stoll in the finals where he finished his wrestling career with the Milaca Wolves.
At 138 pounds, Milaca’s Dru Kuchenbacher lost 9-3 to Treyton Nelson of New London-Spicer in his opening dual.
“Dru got a good kid right off the bat. Losing 9-3 doesn’t tell the whole story,” Hoeck said.
Kuchenbacher, a sophomore who came into the tournament with a 31-13 record, got taken down a few times early in the match, which put him behind, Hoeck said.
At 152 pounds, 20-20 junior Aaron Moscho took on Mack Short of Simley and was pinned at the 3:58 mark. He went on to face Dereck Samudio of Albert Lea, who dealt Moscho a 5-0 loss.
“He went up first against a former state champion (in Short), and even though he lost, he wrestled a very good match,” Hoeck said. Sometimes wrestling comes down to the luck of the draw — something Moscho didn’t have last weekend.
“It was his first time at state and drew one of the best kids in the state to open against,” Hoeck said.
Milaca rounded out its participation in the state individual wrestling meet at the 182 weight where junior Austin Weidner (36-10) faced off against 44-6 junior Issac Florell of Totino Grace. Weidner was pinned at the 1:38 mark.
“Austin’s a very good wrestler who went out and wrestled a good match. He scored a few points, but not enough to get past Florell,” Hoeck said.

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