No escape from Royal machine
By PATRICK SLACK
On Jan. 29, Mitch Lange bumped up to 170 pounds to take on ranked opponents from Aitkin and Browerville.
Nine days later, it was up to 182 to secure an easy fall against West Central Area.
A week prior, Lange was crushing a top-10 foe from Holdingford at his natural 160-pound weight class, recording his 150th career win in the process.
So it went all winter long for the Royalton-Upsala junior.
The Royals placed him on the mat against their opponent’s top wrestler.
And like clockwork, Lange stepped off with his hand raised in victory.
By season’s end, Lange put together a 42-3 record and a fourth-place finish in the state, with two of his three losses coming to two-time state champion Madelia-Truman senior Adam Cooling, each by just one take down.
Hunting for competition
In all four regular season individual tournaments the Royals competed in, as well as individual sections and state, Lange wrestled at his customary 160-pound weight class.
But when it came to duals, he went wherever the team needed him, which was usually up a class. Or two.
Lange moved up in 19 of the Royals’ 21 duals, going a perfect 14-0 at 170 and 5-0 at 182. In his two dual wins at 160, he earned a pin against conference rival Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, before earning his 150th career win with an 18-2 technical fall against a ranked opponent from Holdingford.
So what has enabled Lange to maintain his dominant edge while moving up in weight: speed, strength or technique?
“All of those,” Royalton-Upsala head coach Kevin Presler said. “Add to that a confidence that comes from knowing he’s trained harder than most.”
“I definitely spend my time in the weight room, but technique is very important to become successful,” Lange said. “You also really need a good work ethic to push yourself when it’s tough.”
Individually, Lange overcame being seeded fourth to sweep through the prestigious Paul Bunyan tournament in Brainerd the second weekend of the season, helping him surpass previous program record-holder Rod Hackett’s 130 career wins.
A few weeks later, he earned a trip to the finals at the 64-team Rumble on the Red in Fargo, N.D., then secured his third Park Region Conference title, where he won the award for most falls in the least amount of time, leading up to the postseason.
While few wrestlers could challenge him on the mat, he had no shortage of practice partners pushing him to get better throughout the winter.
“I had great practice partners this year,” Lange said. “Young coaches would pretty much beat me up in practice, but at the same time make me better. With open weights above me, I usually would get the shot at the tougher opponent (in duals).”
“Mitch is very good about being a good partner to drill with, learn from and improve his teammates,” Presler said. “When he needs to be challenged in practice, it is coaches and volunteers for the most part.”
Semifinal run has Royals thinking big
The Royals opened the season with seven losses in a row, just struggling to fill out their lineup on a consistent basis.
By the end of the season, though, Royalton-Upsala took top-seeded Holdingford down to the final match in the Section 7A team tournament semifinals.
“It was good to see that, seeing the determination to do that and maybe putting some fire in the team’s eyes to reach goals next season,” Lange said. “I think a lot of people think wrestling is an individual sport, but having a good team makes the sport much more enjoyable and fun.”
For his part, Lange went up against 170-pound All-Area selection and previously undefeated Holdingford junior Jordan Gombos, picking up a 13-5 major decision.
“We are still trying to get back to where we were just a few years ago,” Presler said. “A trip to the state team tourney is at the forefront of our coaches’ and leaders’ minds. Having at least one wrestler that is among the best in the state is really important to turning that from just a dream to an attainable goal.”
“Mitch is a quiet leader,” he said. “He leads by example. That is his nature. However, he has become more and more assertive with his classmates and more and more approachable to the younger wrestlers as time has gone on.”
Knee injury not a deterrent
The Monday before the section individual tournament, Lange caught a bad break during practice.
Drilling with St. Cloud Apollo state champion Mitch Bengtson, another wrestler fell into the side of Lange, causing a grade II MCL sprain to his left knee.
Still, Lange powered through the Section 7A individual tournament, taking the 160 title with a pin and major decision.
But the real test loomed ahead, going up against the cream of the crop at the state tournament.
Even so, Lange wasn’t going to scale back his expectations of competing for a spot atop the medal stand.
“Not at all,” Lange said. “I may not have reached those expectations, but after the first day of my injury and some fear, it was time to get back to work. I received great encouragement from coaches to not change any goals and fight on.”
“Human nature is to scale back and expect less and perhaps we did,” Presler said. “Mitch did his best to disregard those thoughts and comments.”
Lange showed no ill effects in his first-round bout, picking up a 12-1 major decision over Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena junior Daven Staples, setting up his second showdown of the season with Cooling.
Like the first meeting, one take down spelled the difference, as Cooling narrowly came out on top again, breaking a 1-1 tie in the third en route to a 3-2 win.
Although a chance at a title was gone, Lange rallied all the way back through the consolation bracket to earn fourth place, his first time placing at state.
By the end of the tournament, Lange had won four of six grueling matches crammed into an intense 36-hour stretch.
“It was tough with all the soreness, especially with a bummed knee,” Lange said. “Although that isn’t something you think about during state, you just have to suck it up and wrestle. It was special to place, being it was the first time I ever have.”
Lange will get another shot at moving up the medal stand next year.
And with the Royals’ career win record already locked up with 164, Lange will also have a chance to join the elite 200-win club.
“He will rewrite the program’s record books,” Presler said. “He should end with the most take downs, pins and wins in our program’s history.”
“Wrestling is just like any other sport,” Lange said. “If you are wanting to excel, that means extra work and offseason training. There are definitely goals for next year. You always need to have something to work for.”