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Steffens breaks loose, places sixth at nationals

Mitch Steffens earned a sixth-place trophy at the nationals.

Mitch Steffens is on his way.

The quick, hard-driving sophomore who started practicing with the varsity in the sixth grade just added "All-American" to the record he is writing for himself as one of Wadena-Deer Creek's best wrestlers.

The Wadena-Deer Creek 112-pounder is coming off a sixth-place finish in the National High School Coaches Association Wrestling Championships held March 24-28 at Virginia Beach, Va.

Steffens earned All-American status by placing in the huge tournament's top eight with a 4-3 record. His trip to the nationals included a 5-1 decision over a two-time state champ from Georgia. He also wrestled state champs from New Mexico and Arizona.

More than 2,000 wrestlers from 47 states and two European countries competed in championships. They were split by grade with wrestlers competing in freshman, sophomore, junior and senior divisions.

Wrestlers could only qualify for the national tournament by earning a trip to their state tournament. Steffens placed second in the Section 6A tournament in February to earn his first berth in the Class A state meet. He was ranked in the Guillotine's Top 10 during the season and won WDC's only match at state.

Finishing in the top eight at the national meet places Steffens in fast company. Only six Minnesota grapplers qualified for All-American honors in Virginia Beach. Curt Maas of Medford and Brett Pfarr of LeSueur-Henderson took second and fourth in their respective sophomore divisions, 135 and 145.

Surprise and satisfaction went hand-in-hand for Steffens at the nationals.

"I didn't think that I was going to do as well as I did," Steffens said. "When you go out on that mat you don't who you are going to have. You just go out there and wrestle."

Steffens won his first four matches at the nationals beating wrestlers from New Jersey, Alabama, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Steffens lost his first match to New Mexico's Eric Montoya in the championship semifinals. The 9-0 setback sent him against California's Hermil Edquivel who posted a 4-1 consolation victory over Steffens. Arizona's Trey Andrews took fifth place away from Steffens with a 4-0 decision.

Wadena-Deer Creek head coach Norm Gallant believes that Steffens overcame his toughest opponent -- confidence -- in the Section 6A Individual Tournament. The WDC sophomore placed second to Mitch Andrews of Border West in the 112-pound weight class for his first trip to state. When Steffens gave his first round opponent at state, Medford's state-ranked Zach Keller, a terrific match before losing 2-0, Gallant knew his wrestler was walking off the Xcel Center mat a winner.

"He lost 2-0 but it was like a light came on," Gallant said.

Steffens wants to beat some of his older brother's records over the next two years. Kenny Steffens was a Class A state runner-up for WDC in 2007 and finished his prep career with more than 150 victories. Mitch is closing in on the 100-victory mark as he prepares for his junior season.

The high school wrestling season is now over but Steffens is competing in a freestyle wrestling program in Perham two nights a week. He also plans to hit some summer camps.

Steffens was not the only area wrestler to make his mark at the national tournament. Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale sophomore Colin Turchin finished 2-2 at 285 in the sophomore division. New York Mills freshman Shane Novak was 3-2. Both wrestlers finished just one place away from the Top Eight.