State Wrestling: Balow claims title in dominant fashion
ST. PAUL - Lake City's Will Balow left no doubt in anyone's mind who the best 182-pounder in Class 1A was after Saturday.
After pinning top-ranked Collin Huckbody of Walker-Hackensack-Akeley/Nevis in 3 minutes, 12 seconds in the semifinals, Balow faced another daunting task in the championship match against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa's Patrick Rooney.
It didn't matter that Rooney was ranked 2nd in the state with a perfect 43-0 record. It didn't even matter that Rooney led the match 2-0 through the first period.
Like he was throughout the state tournament, Balow was an overbearing force on the mat, putting up 10 points in the third period to win the 182-pound crown in a 13-4 major decision.
"The way I see it, the state tournament is first place or bust. And I did it," Balow said. "It's surreal to know I wanted this so long and I finally got it."
Winning it all at his third trip to state, Balow is the first Tiger to win a championship since Zach Loppnow won the 285-pound title in 2008.
Going a perfect 4-0 in the 182-pound bracket, the closest anyone got to knocking off Balow was in the first round and the quarterfinals, when he won in 6-1 and 5-0 decisions, respectively.
In the semis and the championship match Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center, no wrestler could slow down Balow's momentum as he went for his first state title. Prior to Saturday, Balow finished fifth at 160 pounds as a sophomore.
"I don't think he left any doubt after (the semifinals and championship match)," said Lake City head coach Lonnie West. "He pinned the No. 1 guy and he majored the No. 2 guy. He worked hard all year for that."
After trailing Rooney 2-0, Balow gained control of the match with a near-fall to make it a 3-2 match entering the third period.
From there, Balow took command with a takedown to go up 6-2 with 1 minute, 42 seconds left. With a 6-3 lead, the only scare Balow experienced in the third period came with 54 seconds left as Rooney nearly put Balow in a pinning predicament. But the Lake City junior had no trouble staying off the mat, getting a takedown for good measure with 39 seconds left.
"I was scared there," Balow said of nearly being put on his back. "I kept thinking I didn't want to go down that way. It was scary for a split-second."
Over the final 30 seconds, Balow ended his dominant display with another takedown and a near-fall attempt to make it a 9-point victory.
"I'm always going over my goals before a match, and it's been my top goal all year to be a state champion," Balow said. "I just can't believe it."
Around Christmas time, there was some concern for Balow as he dealt with an ankle injury. Though his ankle was taped throughout the tournament, nothing could slow down Balow as he bulldozed his way to becoming a state champion.
"He's still not 100 percent, but he's mentally as tough as any kid I've coached," West said. "He's got the heart of a lion. ... Best part: he's coming back next year."