Braaten escapes with Novak's title
St. Paul -- Sophomore Shane Novak came one point from a Class A state individual championship, but Jacob Braaten of Minnewaska Area escaped, quite literally, with Novak's title.
Novak scored a takedown 23 seconds into the match to gain an early 2-0 lead and would allow Braaten an escape for one point.
Braaten (39-3) had control of Novak but a quick reversal gave Novak a 4-1 advantage. He let Braaten out for another escape and the first period ended 4-2 in favor of the Eagle wrestler.
A Braaten reversal late in the second period knotted the score at four, sending both grapplers to the final two minutes for the title.
Braaten was down to start the third and he escaped for his fifth point and what would prove the state championship winner.
"I kind of got sloppy," Novak said. "(Braaten) knew what I had after the first couple periods. He was being smart and grabbing my hands. He was wrestling smart."
Novak just missed a takedown 54 seconds into the final frame and shot desperately for takedowns as the clock ticked down, but his title was not to be.
"In the finals, his opponent put together a complete match and a moment of position became the difference," Head Coach Eric Niemi said. "A difficult but great lesson learned that I know he can capitalize on."
His runner-up finish improves on a fourth place finish in 2010 and with two years to go, Novak has plenty of time to improve and two big chances to win state.
"This year was way better," Novak said. "Last year, I was expecting a lot of myself and I kind of fell apart. This year I just let everything fly."
For the first time all tournament, Novak found himself not in control of a match. Up to the final, he managed his matches to his liking.
"You kind of change your strategy as you wrestle," he said. "Get ahead and stay ahead and do what you have to do."
Braaten defeated the Class A 112 pound favorite Isaac Novacek in the quarterfinals. Novacek was last year's 103-pound champion.
Novak controlled each of his three opponents leading up to the title match.
In the opening round, he defeated Mick Roemer of Wabasha-Kellogg/Alma 7-5. The score was closer than the match.
In the quarterfinals, Novak got a 1-0 lead on United South Central's Dylan Herman (32-6) and road out the match in command mode to win by the same score.
In the semifinals, multiple blood stoppages, due to a Novak bloody nose, added to the suspense of a 6-3 Novak victory over Kimabll Area's Quinten Berres.
Berres (41-5) had pinned his two prior opponents leading up to the match and came to the mat fired up. He left dejected after Novak sent him packing to the consolation round.
Berres finished sixth after being defeated by Mitch Andrews of Border West.
Novak had a tough act to follow after watching the 103-pound title match.
Cameron Sykora, (42-4), of Border West, an eighth-grader, electrified the crowd winning the 103 title by fall over Martin County West sophomore Trevor Schultz, (29-8).
Novak finished the year with an impressive 37-6 record.
"Novak had a very balanced attack in his first three matches showing he could score on his feet, ride and escape from the bottom," Niemi said.
Hofland, Pesola winless
Seth Hofland and Noah Pesola were knocked out early packing early from the state championship.
Hofland (32-11) faced Caramon Hansen of Kimball Area, (35-7), in opening action of the 152-pound class. Hansen got up early and often on way to a 19-5 commanding victory.
Hofland is a senior this year and ends his wrestling career at state.
"Hofland finished his career for Mills where he wanted to be and he really had to work hard to get there," Niemi said.
Pesola (24-15) met a similar fate versus Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's Shawn Johnson. Johnson (36-5) would tally double-digit points en route to a 17-6 victory.
Johnson went on to finish in third place.
In wrestlebacks, Pesola was blanked, 7-0, by Ryan Larson of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. Larson (41-7) lost to Johnson twice, in the quarterfinals and the third place match for a fourth place finish.
Pesola is only a sophomore and has plenty of time to prepare for trips the next two years.
"During the regular season, Pesola had victories over some competitors in the tournament, including a place winner," Niemi said. "He was introduced to a new level of competition that will be crucial for his future. From a coaching standpoint the state tournament really shows your strengths and identifies your weaknesses, you recognize what sets your team back, adjust and move on to next year. This season has been full of positives and an all-state finish is definitely one of them."