NEW ULM - After Ryan Wacker lost his first match in the 113-pound quarterfinals at the Section 3AA tournament in Luverne, his coaches convinced him that he was capable of not letting it happen again.
Three wins later in the 113-pound consolation bracket and Wacker found himself in a true-second match against top-seeded Donny Bothun of Montevideo United, who lost to Fulda/Murray County Central's Clayton Hartle in the title match.
"Before that match, I was so pumped up coming all the way back knowing I had that one match left and had the chance of going to state," said Wacker, who is 21-13 on the season. "I knew what was on the line and it just got me extra pumped up to go out there and beat that kid."
Wacker pinned Bothun in 3:28 to secure a bid to this year's state wrestling tournament, which will be held Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Wacker is the first state qualifier since Luke Schmit made it at 160 pounds in 2012.
The second-place finish at the section meet came two weeks after Wacker won the 120-pound title at the South Central Conference tournament in St. James. He said winning the conference tournament at a higher weight class gave him the confidence to push through sections at 113 to a state tournament berth.
"Ryan's one of the harder-working kids on the team, he has lifted and everything in the offseason," said New Ulm coach John Rieser. "He's one of those kids that just doesn't miss practice - he's there every day working hard, trying to get better. That's the type of kid we need in the room."
New Ulm: Ryan Wacker (113).
Redwood Valley/Cedar Mountain: Logan Zaske (Hwt).
Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial Area: No. 7 Brandon Laborde (120), No. 1 Louis Sanders (126), No. 7 Levi Marsh (132), Damon Schmalzreidt (145), Dalton Elliott (160), Sid Scott (170), Ari Harnitz (182), Shane Nelson (220), No. 6 Nick Meixell (Hwt).
Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther: No. 6 Jake Denn (195).
River Valley: Sam Baier (138), No. 6 Tim Krueger (182).
Sibley East: No. 4 Tanner Pasvogel (106), No. 3 Jason Meyer (132), No. 2 Austin Brockhoff (138), No. 2 Hunter Retzlaff (145), Mitch Wentzlaff (152), Jake Wentzlaff (160), No. 1 Nathan Rose (195).
St. James Area: Mario Garcia (106).
Wabasso/Red Rock Central: No. 2 Spencer Jenniges (120), No. 4 Jordan Schroepfer (170), Jared Welch (220), No. 1 Alex Schroepfer (Hwt).
Wacker enters the tournament with a first-round match against Scott West sophomore Ben Kelvington (29-11).
Even though Wacker managed to prevent the Eagles going two years without a state qualifier, they could have had more heading to St. Paul on Friday.
Four of Wacker's teammates placed third in their respective weight classes in the section, which meant they fell one win shy of qualifying for state.
Seventh-grader Sean Howk was the closest to earning a bid. Howk lost to Worthington's Hser Eh Pwae in a 2-0 sudden-victory decision in the 106-pound title match.
"I think both kids were a little tentative on their feet in the first period," Rieser said. "Then they basically rode each other out, couldn't get away and went to overtime 0-0 and then lost in overtime 2-0."
Marshall's Toby Semler won the third-place match and since he had yet to face Howk, the two squared off in a true-second match to decide the second bid for 106 pounds.
Semler edged Howk in a 5-3 decision, preventing him from being one of the few seventh-grade qualifiers at this year's tournament.
"I told him after the match - I know he was really disappointed with the outcome - but I reiterated how great of a year he has had and [there's] nothing to hang his head about."
Howk finished the season with a 30-7 record, which is the best on the team.
Senior Austin Brandes came close to the big dance in his final season, sparring his way to an 8-0 major decision victory against Redwood Valley's Jordan Mann in the third-place match at 138 pounds. A loss in the title match by Kirby Winson of Quad County negated a true-second match from taking place, however, since he had already beaten Brandes in the semifinals.
Juniors Sam Hoppe (170 pounds) and Lorenzo Hernandez (195) were the other third-place finishers. Both wrestled in a true-second match, but lost.
Still, the prospect of having four of his five top-3 finishers - including Wacker - back next season has Rieser optimistic for what is to come for his program.
"Things like that are definitely things to build on," Rieser said. "I'm not looking past this next week, but those are things to build on for next year."
As for Wacker, he is looking forward to his first state tournament appearance and hopes this is a sign of good things to come.
"I'm just going to have to keep trying harder and harder now that I'm going to have a target on my back for next year," Wacker said. "I'll have to keep it up."