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Yellowjacket wrestlers ready to defend title

Perham's Gabe Belleufille works for the pin against Fergus Falls in a recent match. Jason Groth/FOCUS

The target continues to be on the back of the Perham Yellowjacket wrestling team. The two-time defending Section 8AA Champions begin defense of their title as the No. 1 seed in the section and the fourth ranked team in Class AA. The Yellowjackets begin a busy day of wrestling at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls, Minn.

“We are excited. You work all year long for this date and you circle it on the calendar,” Perham head coach Robb Moser said. “So many kids are used to being up there and they know what the routine is. Now, the waiting is the hardest part. We are excited about getting up there and we want to make some noise up there.”

Having that target on their back is nothing new for the Yellowjackets. The Yellowjackets stormed through much of the competition this season, winning 25 dual meets and six tournaments. Their lone loss was to St. Michael-Albertville, ranked in Class AAA.

“That is something you have earned over time and they have adjusted to it really well,” Moser said. “The kids expect to be the No. 1 seed and they expect that they will get everyone’s best games. We don’t talk much about it, but I think, the kids take some pride in it. It wasn’t one match, this group has been super consistent all year long. They have been very solid. It’s a typical team, we don’t have many superstars, but we are solid from 106 to 285. It’s really tough for teams to get a run on us.”

The consistency shows throughout the Yellowjacket line up. The Yellowjackets have 12 wrestlers that have won more than 20 matches during the season and one with more than 30. That list does not include state placewinner Ben Nelson, who has battled an injury for most of the season, yet has amassed a 13-2 record. Ty Moser earned 31 wins during the season, leading the way. Gabe Bellefeuille, Dylan Fudge, Jack Fudge, Evan Guck, Patrick Johnson, Dawson Kellogg, Gage Paurus, Zach Peterson, Leighton Rach, Jonathan Staebler and Owen Werner picked up more than 20 wins during the season.

One of the keys has been the depth throughout the lineup for the Yellowjackets. Moser said they have been fortunate in that they may not have the depth all the way throughout the lineup, which is hard for any team.

“We are fortunate in that we have some young guys that are willing to pop in there in our lower to mid weights,” Moser said. “That’s been a good thing to build for the next year. You get a couple of young kids that get a few varsity matches in, now for the next year and for the year after that they are not wet behind the ears. No one wants to get hurt, but at the same time, it’s good to get lots of kids varsity experience.”

It will be the final section tournament for six senior wrestlers as well. Ben Nelson enters with a 13-2 record, after missing time due to injury. Patrick Johnson recorded 21 wins, while Roo Schmitz grabbed 16 wins, after missing time due to injury and Jonathan Staebler amassed 28 wins on the season. Gage Paurus picked up 25 wins during the year, while Evan Guck grabbed 27 wins.

“It’s been really fun to see that they have all made impacts in different ways,” Moser said. “They have all added differently. We are really blessed. It’s going to be tough to replace them next year, but you worry about that one day after the state tournament.”

The Yellowjackets have been anchored by a group of sophomores, who are spread out through the lineup. Leighton Rach is 23-9, while Dylan Fudge boasts a 24-3 record. Zach Peterson is 24-4 and Ty Moser sits at 33-1.

“Those sophomores have wrestled in quite a few of things. Although they are sophomores, we treat them like seniors, like they know what they are supposed to do and know how to prepare. We expect them not to have those up-and-down moments that underclassmen normally will have,” Moser said. “We have been very blessed with some of those guys. The other thing is they are spread out. We have kids light as Leighton Rach at 120 and guys as big as Ty at 195. When you have that many of your sophomores spread out like that, it’s good for your team. It also takes the pressure off of our seniors a bit.”

The Yellowjackets will face either Fosston/Bagley or Sauk Centre/Melrose in the quarterfinals. The first round matches are set to begin at 11 a.m.. Ottertail Central takes on Fergus Falls, while United Clay Becker takes on Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie. Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus opens with Morris/Hancock/Chokio-Alberta in the other first round matches.

Thief River Falls earned the No. 4 seed and is a potential semifinal opponent for the Yellowjackets. The Yellowjackets defeated Thief River Falls twice during the regular season. Detroit Lakes earned the No. 2 seed, while Bemidji captured the third seed.

“If we get to the semifinals and have to wrestle Thief River Falls up there, I think, you are foolish if you discount them. They always bring their A game in sections,” Moser said. “They have our attention. In the bottom bracket, I don’t know what to expect with Bemidji and Detroit Lakes. Detroit Lakes got them earlier, but Bemidji has been wrestling better of late. We can control, what we can control. We know what our matchups are and we have seen all three of those teams.”

The Section 8AA team tournament begins at 11 a.m. with the first round, while the quarterfinals begin at 12:30 p.m. The semi finals are slated to begin at 4 p.m., with the championship round beginning at 6 p.m.

Jason Groth

 Groth is a Minnesota Newspaper Association award-winning Sports Editor of the Perham Focus and the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Groth worked in Grand Rapids as the Sports Director at KOZY/KMFY radio for two years and prior to that he was the Sports Editor/Writer for the Grand Rapids Herald-Review for seven years. 

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