Detroit Lakes sophomore Isaiah Thompson broke new ground claiming an individual state championship and led a six pack of Laker wrestlers to the tournament where the combined efforts proved to be a high point for the program.
Thompson’s victory came the weekend after the Laker gymnasts set their own new mark winning a fourth straight state championship making for eight exciting days for DLHS athletics.
Detroit Lakes qualified for state wrestling as a team in 2004 and 2005, but sending six individuals tied a program record. Thompson made it special by capturing the school’s first-ever individual state title.
“His weight class was kind of wide open,” head coach Rob Ullyott said. “Sometimes you get down there and the weight classes are dominated by one or two guys, maybe a returning state champ or a couple high place winners from the last year. It was fairly well-balanced, there wasn’t a state champ returning. I think there were three, four, five guys who had a chance but we liked our chances. I thought our style of wrestling was going to match up well with some of the people he was going to see.”
While there were plenty of media notes that the Lakers had not produced a state champ, it was not something that was a big stressor to the coaching staff or the wrestlers.
“It’s not something, to be honest, it hasn’t been haunting us by any means,” said Ullyott. “I don’t focus on we’ve got to have it, but at the same time, it sure was nice to get a state champ here.”
Thompson saves his flare for the mat or the football field or the track, he does not mince words or even produce many in interviews. He lets his actions do the talking and he spoke loud and clear making his way through the 170-pound bracket at Xcel Energy Center leading to a smile with his arms extended in victory after the final match.
“Isaiah is such a great kid,” said Ullyott. “He didn’t have much to say when we were done. You win a state title, that’s a big deal, obviously.”
Thompson took an early 5-0 lead near the end of the first period and managed the match to claim the state championship.
“When Isaiah got his lead he wrestled very conservative, didn’t put himself in bad position,” Ullyott said. “Didn’t want to make the bad mistake that would give his opponent a chance.”
After rehabbing from a torn ACL in May of 2017, senior Braydon Ortloff rallied through half a season off the mat and half on to reach the state semifinals one point away from putting two Lakers into championship matches.
“Anytime you miss half a season, it’s not going to help you any,” said Ullyott.
Ortloff came into the season knowing he was going to be unavailable until after Christmas and was frustrated in having to wait to get back to wrestling. That did not change how he prepared or how he went after the back half of the season.
“He worked his butt off and did a great job,” Ullyott said.
Ortloff finished his career with a record of 139-46 after going 26-3 this season. Unfortunately, he ended his career with two of those losses: an 8-7 defeat to Peyton Mortenson of Dawson Boyd/Lac Qui Parle/Montevideo in the semis and recording a fourth place finish after being pinned by familiar foe Josh Bernier of Thief River Falls. Bernier and Ortloff split two matches earlier in the season.
Ortloff finished his season much like it began: battling an injury.
“Braydon tweaked his knee down there,” said Ullyott. “That impacted him and I think he was also a little disappointed. I have to give Braydon credit. A lot of guys who have these high expectations and things didn’t go his way in the semis. They get down in the dumps and they really don’t care anymore. I really thought Braydon reached deep and gutted that match out and got himself in for third.”
Fabyon Greer (33-9) and Austin Baker (39-6) had long roads to get to the final four in their respective weight classes after losing their first match at state.
For Greer, it was about making the little adjustments that are necessary to be successful in the postseason.
“He adjusted his style of wrestling a bit,” said Ullyott. “The last month of our season we always change things up. It’s all about competing harder. Sometimes that means not only conditioning, but you have to up the ante with your aggression. Some guys adjust to that and some don’t. It kind of takes you out of your comfort zone a little bit.”
Greer is a pleasure to watch and uses his talents to fly around the mat typically dominating his opponents. He found a stiff challenge in the opening round and was sent to wrestlebacks after a 3-1 defeat.
“We’ve been preaching to Fabyon, his strengths are his speed and quickness,” Ullyott said. “This year, especially, he learned a lot about wrestling. His position on the mat has improved tremendously. We’ve been preaching to him, ‘you’ve got to open up.’”
Greer wrestled pretty conservative, almost tentative that first match at state. He was not tentative after the match.
The very first thing Fabyon said was, ‘I just didn’t open up,’” said Ullyott. “I said, ‘You don’t even have to hear me say it.’”
Greer almost didn’t get a chance having to watch the wrestler he lost to, Tanner Kroells of Delano, battle back from a four-point deficit late to win in overtime and keep Greer’s season alive.
“You go from 30 seconds of being out of the state tournament to wrestling all the way back to third place,” said Ullyott. “I think he saw that as another opportunity; he had nothing to lose and boy, did he open up his offense after that. We saw the Fabyon that we were waiting for and I thought he peaked at the state tournament.”
Greer won four straight matches, including a rematch with Kroells for third place. This time, it was Greer dominating in an 8-3 victory.
Baker was in the same boat after a tough overtime loss in the first round and having to watch to see if his tournament and high school career were finished.
Baker won four matches in a row in wrestlebacks to meet the his opening round nemesis Walker Weege of Annandale-Maple Lake.
“For Austin to come back with a medal this year was a great accomplishment,” said Ullyott. “This year, he took a step in the maturity area and just did a great job down there.”
Weege handed a second loss to Baker in the third place match, but Baker finished his career with a stellar record of 122-66.
Freshman Brody Ullyott was the youngest DL wrestler to qualify for state and got a bye in the opening round of the 113-pound bracket.
He also gave his dad and head coach a jump in excitement seeing his son wrestle at the biggest tournament of the year.
“It was fun,” Coach Ullyott said. “He’s not a flashy wrestler but he worked very hard. I asked him if he ever expected to get to state this year. He said, no, but he really improved a lot.”
Ullyott (29-16) set the tone for his sophomore season finishing one match away from a placing match this season.
Sophomore Blake Weber had tough luck at state having to face an uphill matchup to open the tournament with little hope for a second match if he lost.
“He had just a terrible draw,” said Ullyott. “He wrestled an underrated Kasson-Mantorville kid.”
That kid was Robby Horsman (42-9) who ended up placing third at 120-pounds as the No. 8 seed. After defeating Weber, Horsman had to face the No. 1-ranked wrestler and needed a big upset to keep Weber’s tournament hopes alive. That was a tall task against Jake Svihel of Totino-Grace, a premier wrestler in Minnesota, and the eventual runner-up.
“Weber had a really great season,” said Ullyott.
Weber finished with an impressive record of 39 wins and eight losses.
Ortloff and Baker depart to graduation along with Payton Jackson. All three wrestlers have been in the lineup since eighth grade leaving holes of experience and grit that will be hard to fill next year.
“Payton is the guy who put in a ton of time in the offseason,” Ullyott said. “He was running all over for extra mat time at camps and everything. He’s your Mr. Wrestler when you want a guy who is really committed to the sport. Payton put in the time.”
Ortloff and Baker were match workhorses that the Lakers could count on in any situation. Ortloff brought toughness to the entire team. Baker was flashy and exciting on the mat.
“We only lose three guys but those three guys are pretty big holes for us to have to fill,” said Ullyott.
Having the level of success those seniors helped bring to this team, along with a defending champion, bodes for a bright future.
“We’re very excited about the upcoming years,” Ullyott said. “We’ve got a lot of depth down to that seventh grade class and we’ve got to work on the elementary a bit more here. Our middle school and ninth grade classes are pretty deep. The key for us is to keep getting better and keep giving kids opportunities to develop.”
Thompson breaking new ground in Laker history with two more years to wrestle is a huge bonus for recruiting new wrestlers and bringing momentum into 2019.
“It never hurts to bring a state champion and say, ‘see this guy.’” said Ullyott. “That’s for sure. We think that should sure help, there’s no doubt about that.”
Ullyott believes a number of factors have helped DL ascend to new heights in wrestling, besides the energy and work put in by the kids.
“I think we’ve created a lot of interest in our programs,” he said. “We’ve got some quality kids and they draw people to our events. We’ve got great support group in our community, active parents, an active booster. I think that’s for any sport. If you bring a quality product I think they’ll come.”
Getting to the next level is going to entail more from all parties involved.
“I think what it takes is a huge effort by your school, your community and your coaching staff,” he said. “It takes consistency. To build that kind of program, takes the crowds coming here to support the kids and the coaching staff being a veteran staff and having enough coaches. The school making sure the facilities are adequate for what you need. All that stuff is part of creating that type of program. I don’t claim to be a Kasson-Mantorville or a Simley, but I think we bring a quality program out there for our kids and our community. Every year we’re taking a good step in the direction of taking another step up a rung on the ladder to be one of those programs that can challenge at the section and state level. We still have a ways to go.”
Editor’s Note: This is part two of two detailing seven days in Detroit Lakes athletics that produced unique state champions on back-to-back weekends. Part one can be found here.