Gophers commit Hunter Lyden returns from rib injury to win state

Hunter Lyden could hardly get out of bed a couple months ago. He had to roll a special way to slide off the mattress. Tying his shoes was barely doable.

About five matches into the wrestling season, the Stillwater junior suffered a dislocated rib on the left side of his body.

“Where that costal conjunction is, it like shifted out, and tore some muscle on the way out, then shifted back in,” Lyden said.

Ouch.

The injury cost Lyden most of his season. But he returned in time to wrestle this postseason, albeit through pain. Rib injuries aren’t exactly easy to push through.

“It’d shut down everything. It’d shut down your breathing. Like everything would just tense up and stop,” he said. “It honestly was nothing easy, at all. It was nothing like any past injury, with an elbow, where you can kind of baby it. But a rib, it’s in everything you do. It wasn’t the easiest.”

Only around this week would Lyden say he started to feel “healthy” — and that’s a very relative term.

“I’m not fully healthy,” he said, “I was starting to wrestle without it hurting the whole match.”

Yet he pushed through all of that to win the 170-pound title at the Class 3A individual state meet Thursday in St. Michael, besting Farmington freshman Cole Han-Lindemyer 11-4. The title is Lyden’s second straight.

“Rewarding,” said Lyden, who committed to the Gophers in early November.

He admitted he had doubts this season — not in his ability, but as to whether he’d recover in time to compete.

“I’m glad I fought through it and kept the right mindset through the whole season,” he said, “and kept working like I was going to wrestle and got the opportunity to, so I took it.”

Between his injury and a global pandemic, Lyden wasn’t sure he’d get this chance.

“It means a lot to actually have the opportunity,” he said, “and capitalize on it to do what I wanted.”

Do the struggles make this state title more satisfying than the first?

“I wouldn’t say that, considering I tore my ulnar collateral ligament in my arm last year for the team part,” Lyden said. “I was supposed to get Tommy John surgery, and I wrestled through that, so I don’t know. Two state titles, two non-healthy, it feels pretty good to fight through them and still get the win. I’m excited to wrestle one here healthy.”

NO DISRESPECT

Forest Lake senior Derrick Cardinal moved up to 132 pounds this season after winning state at 126 pounds in 2020 and was instantly ranked third in the state.

A three-time state champion … ranked third?

Cardinal was slotted in behind Stillwater’s Reid Ballantyne and Lakeville North’s Zach Hanson.

Cardinal took a little exception to that. He proved the rankings incorrect Thursday, winning his fourth straight state title in a 3-2 overtime victory over Hanson.

“It feels really good and satisfying to prove everyone wrong,” the South Dakota State commit said. “That win over Zach proves that I should have been No. 1 the whole time.”

Cardinal said the Lakeville North sophomore wrestled “a really smart match” — one of the best matches someone has had against Cardinal all season.

The victory was Cardinal’s 240th of his career — a school record. He said he’s blessed to have the coaches, teammates and parents who have brought him along and given him the opportunity to be special.

“It feels unreal right now,” Cardinal said. “It’s all about staying healthy. You never know when something is going to happen.”

He knows that better than most.

Back in December, Cardinal said his back seized up, and he lost all feeling in his legs.

“Ever since then, I’ve been dealing with that,” Cardinal said.

He felt good Thursday until about halfway through his match with Hanson, when his back tightened up. He started to have a little trouble moving, but that didn’t stop him from getting the title-clinching escape in the extra session.

“I just pushed through it,” he said, “and got it done.”

BALLANTYNE WRAPS CAREER

Reid Ballantyne won his match in Stillwater’s team semifinal loss to St. Michael-Albertville on Thursday morning. And that was the final match of Ballantyne’s career.

The Ponies senior and four-time individual state champion injury defaulted both of his matches in the 132-pound bracket. Ballantyne, who planned to retire from competitive wrestling after this season, has battled a number of injuries, particularly, of late, with his back.

NEW PHOTO, PLEASE

The banners that hang in the Stillwater wrestling room honor the program’s state champions. Roman Rogotzke won his first title last year as a junior, so he has a banner.

“And I absolutely hated my picture,” he said.

A coach emailed Rogotzke asking what photo he’d like to use. But Rogotzke rarely checks his email. So the coach selected an image from his Flickr account.

“It was not a good photo,” Rogotzke said.

Replacing it was all the motivation Rogotzke needed to repeat as a state champion this season. He did so Thursday, topping Forest Lake’s Tyler Raway 6-3 to take the 195-pound crown and cap a season where he fought through a concussion, a back injury and an elbow injury he never got looked at by doctors.

“Just in case I’d have to like sit,” he explained.

Rogotzke will wrestle for South Dakota State next season and carries goals of national titles. He plans on getting to 240 pounds for college if he can and is already well on his way.

He estimates he was up to 210 pounds already by the time he was on the bus ride home Thursday, 15 pounds above where he weighed in for state. He planned to be 225 by Friday evening.

“Going to eat some pizza right now,” Rogotzke said.

As for that new banner photo?

“I’m going to send him one before he even asks this year,” Rogotzke said.

CHAMPIONSHIP SWAGGER

Lakeville North junior Jore Volk noticed something a little different about himself this season.

“I’m more confident,” he said. “Before every match, I tell myself that I’m going to win the match and that I’m the better wrestler.”

And he usually is. Thursday was no different, as Volk topped St. Michael-Albertville’s Landon Robideau in the final for the second straight season to win his second straight title, this time at 120 pounds by a 3-1 tally.

“I just went into the match knowing that I could get the job done again,’ Volk said. “Just sticking to my pace the whole match and being confident I’ll get the job done again.”

Volk admitted that heightened confidence came, at least partially, from winning last year’s state title.

When do the thoughts of a three-peat enter his mind?

“Tomorrow, I’ll get back to work,” Volk said.

Tomorrow? On second thought.

“I’ll take a couple days off,” he said, “then get back into the room in a week or two and get back to setting my same goals of winning state next year.”

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