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Chris Murphy, Published February 28 2013

Spuds fall in Class 3A wrestling quarterfinals, finish 5th

ST. PAUL – Not only was Moorhead’s wrestling team the new kid on the block at the Minnesota Class 3A state team tournament Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center, but Spuds coach Skip Toops had a new look to him for the team’s first trip to state since 1981. He was freshly groomed.

“I had to shave and get a haircut,” Toops said. “I can’t look like a bum for the state tournament.”

Moorhead didn’t look too shabby itself, as the Spuds (15-5) took home fifth place. Toops, in his second year coaching the Spuds, has groomed a new tradition at Moorhead.

In Toops’ first season, Moorhead sent a school-record five individuals to the state tournament. In this his second season, the Spuds – once again – sent five individuals to the state tournament, and qualified as a team for the first time in over three decades.

Thursday, Toops had something else to add to the list: Victory at state. After falling to No. 2-seeded Apple Valley 55-9, the Spuds defeated Woodbury 51-21 in the consolation semifinals and Willmar 36-22 in the consolation championship.

“It doesn’t just start with me,” Toops said. “It goes back to these kids and their coaches at the youth level. We wanted to come down here and prove to the rest of the state that Moorhead belongs, and I think we did that.”

It was the seniors, leaving Moorhead knowing they built something, who locked up a guaranteed placement at state in the win over Woodbury in the semifinals. It was tied 21-21 before four Spuds seniors recorded pins to bust it open. After a pin for Joe Carpenter at 170 pounds, AJ Wheeler – eight days off of surgery on his right knee from a meniscus and MCL tear – recorded a pin at 182. Seniors Chase Morlock and Tom Wychor added back-to-back pins to seal a spot in the consolation championship.

There was a simple reason why Wheeler – who has basic training for the Army National Guard in the summer and intentions to play football at Concordia College in the fall – risked his knee.

“The team needed it,” Wheeler said. “We needed to get it done. It feels great to start the tradition, knowing that you’ve done something that hasn’t been done in 32 years and giving these guys an opportunity to come back next year and keep it going.”

The seniors struck again versus Willmar. Trailing

16-9, Carpenter got a pin to cut the lead to 16-15. After a pin from sophomore Samuel Grove at 170, Wheeler won a decision to give the Spuds a 24-16 lead. Morlock and Wychor followed Wheeler with back-to-back pins to seal fifth place.

“It’s great to set the tone for the following years,” Morlock said. “It shows teams that we belong down here.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548