Three different paths to the Class 2A state individual meet were taken by three different Detroit Lakes wrestlers during the Section 8-2A tournament Friday and Saturday in Fergus Falls.
For senior Zach Baker, his return to the state meet was a hard-fought one, while sophomore Parker Jackson earned his second berth after a year's layoff.
Laker heavyweight James Huwe took a shortcut the long way to his state debut, climbing through the wrestlebacks as just a freshman.
The Lakers had nine placers in the Section 8-2A individual tournament, with Baker, Jackson and Huwe starting their state quest Friday inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul at 9 a.m.
Baker cruised through his first three matches en route to the 138-pound championship match, with a pair of pins and a decisive 11-2 win over Crookston's Nathan Merten in the semifinals.
But Baker fell to Perham's Luke Sailer in the title match 9-5, which eventually set up the dreaded True Second match for the right to move onto state.
"It was a thrilling championship match, but (Sailer) just figured me out after I beat him the last two times," Baker said.
After realizing he would have to endure another match in the True Second bout, Baker had the task of picking himself up and preparing for United Clay Becker's Mason Swegarden.
"The key for me was when Parker (Jackson) came up to me and said he wanted me in state with him," Baker said. "That pumped me up."
Baker and Swegarden are both aggressive, offensive wrestlers and neither had wrestled each other for two years.
Baker built a two-point lead after a takedown in the third period, then was able to ride Swegarden out for the 9-7 decision.
"It feels good getting back to state," said Baker, who ended the regular season ranked No. 7 in the state and is 39-5. "I practiced all year for this, now I will give it all in state and hopefully place."
Baker's first-round opponent will be Section 7-2A champion and No. 5 ranked Quade Zupko, a senior out of Chisago Lakes Area with an impressive 42-1 record.
After missing state last year as a freshman, Jackson entered his sophomore season hungrier and more motivated than ever before.
He had a very good season, racking up a 39-3 record and a No. 8 ranking at 145 pounds.
Jackson took it one step further in the section meet by winning the weight class, which ended with a huge 5-1 win over Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus' senior Drey Loge, who is the No. 2 ranked wrestler in the state and was previously undefeated at 39-0.
The DL sophomore was just 1-3 against Loge before the 145 championship match. The title gives Jackson an easier path at state, but more importantly, it gives him a huge boost of confidence.
"I went into the section meet feeling pretty confident and thinking I could do pretty well," Jackson said. "Beating Loge has given me a lot of confidence and it should help me in state."
Jackson opens against Section 5-2A runner-up Monticello junior Jake Berthlaume, who is 31-7.
Jackson has higher aspirations in state, as he enters with one appearance there and is coming off one of the biggest wins of his prep career.
"I need to continue to wrestle tough like I did against Loge and not taking anyone lightly," Jackson said. "My goal is to definitely place and hopefully place in the top four."
Making state as a freshman isn't a rare thing, but making state as a freshman heavyweight is.
Huwe is just one of two freshmen who will be wrestling at state in the heavyweight division, with the class usually dominated by juniors and seniors.
But don't tell Huwe that.
"I just started getting a lot of matches under my belt and got better," Huwe said. "I got eight matches (on varsity) my seventh grade year, 30 my eighth grade season and now 44 this year."
Huwe will enter the state meet with a 33-11 record and having survived the long trail of the wrestlebacks during the section meet.
The Laker heavyweight was seeded second and bolted through the first two rounds by pins. But in the semifinal match, Thief River Falls' junior Chris Kucera upended Huwe 5-2, on his way to an eventual section championship.
Huwe climbed through the wrestlebacks with two straight pins.
He then stuck top-seeded Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus' Jarred Adkins, who was ranked No. 9 in the state, in the True Second match.
"I was devastated after losing (to Kucera)," Huwe said. "I just needed to get back on track in the wrestlebacks and after winning my first match there, I knew I had a good shot."
When Adkins was upset by Kucera in the title bout, Huwe gained his chance for his state berth and he took full advantage of it by turning the top-seeded heavyweight on his back in the second period.
"I knew I was going to make state in the near future, but it's nice making it as a freshman," Huwe added.
Huwe's first-round opponent will be Section 2-2A champion Watertown-Mayer senior Davion Franklin, who is 28-4 and ranked No. 7 in the state.
Other Lakers who placed in the section included Luke Payne (fourth, 120 pounds), Jarett Nosal (fourth, 152), Jeff Gailfus (fourth, 160), Brandon Dahring (sixth, 170), Jason Griego (fifth, 185) and Cameron Fritz (fifth, 192).
Section 8-2A individual meet in Fergus Falls, Friday-Saturday, Feb. 22-23.
DL results (*state qualifiers) - 113: Payton Jackson (DNP) 2-2...120: Luke Payne (4th place) 3-2...132: Logan Twigg (DNP) 0-2...138: *Zach Baker (2nd) 4-1...145: *Parker Jackson (1st) 4-0...152: Jarett Nosal (4th) 3-2...160: Jeff Gailfus (4th) 3-2...170: Brandon Dahring (6th) 3-2...185: Jason Griego (5th) 2-2...192: Cameron Fritz (5th) 1-2...HWT: *James Huwe (2nd) 5-1.