Two Tartan Titans will be among those grappling on the big stage this weekend during the Minnesota State High School Wrestling Tournament.
Alex Johnson and TJ Ohara will be returning to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to wrestle in the Class AAA individual tournament.
But when they take to the mat on Friday at 1 p.m., Johnson and Ohara will be representing two different aspects of the Titan wrestling program.
Johnson, a senior and co-captain, will be ending his wrestling career this weekend, while Ohara, a freshman, will be taking another step on his way to a “bright future.”
Johnson began wrestling in kindergarten and said wrestling in the state tournament is a great way to end his career. He got his first taste of the big stage last year, but was eliminated in the first round. He returned to the Titans this year emerging as a team leader and co-captain.
“Johnson earned his title of captain because he works hard,” wrestling coach Dan Recchio said. “When other guys are in the room, very few work as hard as he does—and that’s his edge when he wrestles. He’s got a gas tank. He keeps going and going and going and he wears guys down.”
Johnson finished the regular season with a “disappointing” 16-15 record in the 145-pound weight division, but as he did last season, the senior turned it on when he had to and won the 4AAA section tournament.
Last season, Johnson drew the eighth seed in the section tournament, lost in the first round and then wrestled all the way back to take second, which sealed a state berth.
This season, he was the fifth seed and went on to beat No. 4 seed Matt Allen (24-6) of Roseville, No. 1 seed Colin Hertz (22-16) of Stillwater and won the section title by pinning No. 2 seed Ryan Dickhausen (19-18) of Woodbury.
“I feel like I’m peaking right now, which is ideal,” Johnson said. “Now I just want to get out on the mat, wrestle hard and get a good six-minute match.”
Johnson has a knack for turning it on at the right time, Recchio said.
“His success in crunch time is because he works hard,” the coach said. “Because he works so hard, he is able to beat guys who are better technical wrestlers.”
Johnson will have to pull off a huge upset to advance from the first round Friday afternoon, as he is set to face off with Zach Rohr (34-4) of Hastings, who will be making his fifth appearance in the state tournament.
“Johnson’s draw sucks,” Recchio said. “He is wrestling in one of the toughest sections—after wrestling Rohr, who has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the state all year long, he will probably wrestle the No. 2 guy in the state at 145 pounds.”
But in the 135-pound weight class, Ohara (34-2) got a solid draw to make some noise during his third appearance at the state tournament.
Ohara has been a wrestler since second grade, and has competed in the state tournament since he was in seventh grade.
“I’ve had a good year, but I’ve also had some bad matches where I could have done better,” Ohara said. “It’s all about learning from those matches, thinking it over and working on what I should have done better.”
Ohara’s sights are set on the podium this time around, and he is “definitely capable of doing that,” Recchio said. “TJ is a lifer. He wrestles all the time, all over the country with great success.”
Ohara’s two losses this season were both against ranked wrestlers and he “hasn’t been handled by anybody,” Recchio said. “He can wrestle with anyone out there."
“TJ is a great scrambler and has a tremendous feel for the mat,” Recchio continued. “He might not be the best technical wrestler out there, but in high-intensity situations—when things are moving around—he’s got a natural knack to put himself in the right spot.”
Ohara wrestled his way into the state tournament by pinning all three of his opponents—John Chatterton (9-24) of East Ridge, Shane Shepherd (13-19) of White Bear Lake and Mark Akpaka (25-12) of Minneapolis North—in the 4AAA section tournament.
He is set to face good wrestlers this weekend, “but he is 34-2 for a reason,” Recchio said. “He’s capable of beating just about anyone in his bracket.”
This time around, Ohara said he hopes to be calmer in the electric atmosphere of the Xcel Energy Center.
“I just want to get out on the mat, go all out and have some fun,” he said.
The state individual wrestling tournament starts Friday at 1 p.m. For more information about the state individual wrestling tournament, visit www.tstuff.com.
“We’re hoping to be wrestling on both Friday and Saturday,” Recchio said. “The goal is to keep these guys alive as long as we can—and hopefully have someone standing when they’re handing out medals.”