Several North Branch wrestlers had a very satisfactory weekend, picking up hardware in two individual tournaments.
On Friday, Jan. 18, the Vikings hosted their annual invite, with the home team having five wrestlers finish in the top three of their weights. Brandt Bombard (126 pounds) and Brandon Swanson (285 pounds) each took home the championship buckle, with Josh Logan (132 pounds) and Trevor Anderson (152 pounds) each earning second. Ashton LaBelle (120 pounds) rounded out the top finishers, placing third.
As a team, the Vikings finished fourth out of eight teams.
The following day, the Vikings traveled to St. Croix Lutheran Academy for the Crusader Invitational, with the team taking third out of 13 teams.
North Branch had four champions at the invite, with LaBelle, Bombard, Logan and Swanson each claiming the crown. Isaac Maki (182 pounds) also finished well, taking second place.
Of special note was the way Swanson achieved his two championships. All of his victories in the tournaments came via a pinfall, with the longest match only going into the second period. In fact, all of the senior’s 25 victories this season have been by pins.
The Vikings broke through with their first dual-meet victory of the season, scoring 135.075 points in a win over Princeton on Thursday, Jan. 17.
The Vikings were led by Paige Bauer’s 35.225 all-around, which was good enough for first place. Bauer scored the team’s two 9s for the meet, earning a 9.25 on vault and 9.225 on floor.
Two days earlier, North Branch fell to neighbor Chisago Lakes 137.5-132.95. Bauer was again the top scorer for the Vikings on three of the four events, plus the all-around. The team’s top event was the floor, with Bauer’s 9.225, Bekah Fish’s 9.0 and Angie Fish’s 8.9 pacing the Vikings.
The Vikings welcomed back senior Zach Gazda from a knee injury last week, and the senior’s presence paid immediate dividends as he led the team to a 62-57 overtime win over St. Francis. This was the first time since 2011 the Vikings have beaten the Saints.
Gazda’s contributions to the win amounted to him scoring 17 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking four shots. Drew VanEerden led the team scoring with 18 points, while adding eight rebounds. Carter Whitman rounded out the scoring leaders with 11 points.
Two days prior, the Vikings suffered a disappointing defeat, losing to rival Chisago Lakes 53-43. After a slow start, the Vikings rallied to take a 28-23 lead at halftime, but a Wildcat run of 23-9 in the second half cost North Branch the win.
VanEerden led the Vikings with 14 points, with Colby Knutson not far behind with 13 points.
To close out the week, North Branch fell to last year’s section champions Hermantown 87-72. The Hawks’ three-point shooting prowess was too much for the Vikings to overcome, as Hermantown sank 16 3s in the game.
The Vikings tried to match the Hawks’ outside offense with their inside game, but to no avail. VanEerden did amass 31 points, and Gazda added 17 points in the losing effort.
North Branch fell three times last week, losing to Chisago Lakes 59-54, St. Francis 62-41 and Hermantown 73-51.
In two of the losses – against the Saints and Hawks – North Branch was able to keep the score close at halftime, trailing by less than 10 points each time. But second-half struggles prevented the team from rallying for a win.
In the Wildcats game, it was just the opposite as the Vikings got into early foul trouble that resulted in a 16-point halftime deficit. The team did rally, drawing to within three points, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
Freshman Paige Peaslee continued her double-double streak, picking up 14 points and 11 rebounds against Chisago Lakes, 14 points and 12 rebounds against St. Francis, and 15 points and 11 rebounds against Hermantown. Her points were tops for North Branch in two of the three games, with Megan Bunes’ 20 points leading the Vikings against the Wildcats.
North Branch’s light schedule for the week, which featured only one game on Saturday, Jan. 19, didn’t prove to be helpful as the Vikings lost to Buffalo 2-0.
The Bison controlled the entire game, outshooting the Vikings 42-24, with goalie Jake Turek trying to keep the game close with his 40 saves.
The loss drops the Vikings’ season record to 12-4-2 on the season.