Some pumped their fists in the air.
Others flexed their muscles.
One even did a back flip.
Mitch Lange didn’t feel the need for a showy celebration, though. He just reached for his glasses.
A quick look at the scoreboard showed he wasn’t dreaming, that everything he had worked for had actually come true.
He was a state champion.
After entering the finals with 203 career wins, the Royalton-Upsala senior saved his best win for last.
Paired up against St. Charles senior Andrew Dayland, Lange won the Class A 160-pound state title in exhilarating, and exhausting, fashion, with a 10-8 triumph at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, March 1.
It didn’t look like Lange would have much need of any late heroics at the start, as he opened the match on fire on his feet.
Lange got in on a double-leg shot shortly after the whistle and finished quickly up the middle to go up 2-0.
Not long after Dayland worked his way free for an escape, Lange was in on another double, this time powering through Dayland for his second takedown before a minute had expired.
Dayland got up to his feet again, only for Lange to get in deep on an outside single.
After tiptoeing along the edge to keep Dayland inbounds, Lange finished back toward the middle of the mat with 28 seconds left in the period.
This time Lange held Dayland down, finishing the first with a sizeable 6-2 lead.
“I thought I wrestled well, coming out with the fire to win,” Lange said. “I was definitely sore and exhausted when finals came around, but that’s just not something you think about – you go out there and get after it.”
The flip went to Lange, who chose down and got free in 30 seconds to tack a point onto his lead, now at 7-2.
Then things got interesting.
Just 15 seconds later Dayland showed signs of life, picking up a takedown on his first shot attempt of the match to cut the gap to 7-4.
Instead of being able to cruise the rest of the match, Lange had a fight on his hands.
“The thought did occur, like it was actually happening, I can win this thing,” Lange said. “It was a bad mindset to have because I wasn’t as aggressive and didn’t attack.”
Lange escaped quickly, but Dayland got right back in on a single for another takedown, pulling within 8-6 with 45 seconds to go in the second period.
Dayland then released Lange and resumed the attack, coming close to a third takedown as time wound down.
Lange managed to force a scramble, though, clinging tightly to Dayland’s leg and rolling through until the wrestlers faced opposite directions, allowing him to maintain a 9-6 advantage heading into the final period.
Dayland chose the neutral position to begin the third, opting to forgo a chance to possibly earn an escape in the down position and instead look to win the match on his feet.
“I would have prefered that he chose down,” Royalton-Upsala head coach Kevin Presler said. “I think Mitch would have rode him for quite a while and perhaps turned him. He has a lot of near falls against tough kids late in matches.”
Following a shaky second period, Lange tapped into his energy reserves early in the third, nearly scoring with another double.
While Dayland fought it off and prevented any points, with the attempt Lange was able to take a half minute off the clock, his new best friend.
“The time seemed to tick off the clock very slow,” Lange said. “I was just waiting, and every time I’d look only a few seconds had passed. It was scary at the end.”
It got scarier when Dayland pulled within a point on a takedown with 59 seconds left near the edge of the mat.
Dayland let Lange go immediately to make it 10-8, giving himself a chance to tie with one last takedown.
That takedown never came, though, as Lange worked another 30 seconds off the clock with a shot of his own, then staved off a weak attempt near the edge by Dayland.
“He could have probably finished one or both of those, but realized the clock was more important than scoring,” Presler said.
With 27 seconds left after a restart, Lange dove for a leg and held on, draining the clock to eight.
Dayland made one last-ditch attempt, but came up empty.
Lange had won.
“It was hard to believe I actually accomplished becoming a state champ,” Lange said. “It was just a lot to take in, and besides I don’t like to show off. I just went for my glasses so I was able to see everyone there and take it all in.”
Lange’s title was the first in Upsala history, yet came as no surprise to Presler, who thought it possible as soon as he saw him.
“The first day I saw him wrestle,” Presler said. “Mitch was a sixth-grader working out with our middle schoolers. When they were running the halls with the varsity, Mitch would speed up so my son Ben, our senior captain, wouldn’t lap him. He has worked for this. Everyone in our practice room knows why Mitch is a state champion.”
The path to the top not easy
Lange didn’t have an easy road to the finals, either, drawing 34-1, fourth-ranked Pine Island senior Sam McPhail in the first round, Feb. 28.
Lange shrugged off all of McPhail’s shot attempts and capitalized on his own, recording a 7-2 decision to move to the quarterfinals later that evening.
He had a much easier time of things there, pounding Red Lake County Central junior Cameron Lundeen with a 16-1 technical fall.
That set up a clash between the top two ranked wrestlers in the semifinals, March 1, with No. 2 Lange squaring off against previously undefeated and No. 1 ranked Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg junior Zachary Carlson.
Lange came out clicking on his feet, building a big lead early on, then fending off a late takedown by Carlson to advance to that night’s finals.
Not just the singlet
Lange, making his fifth career appearance at state, was joined this time around by his brother Kyle, a sophomore.
Which was great … except for the laundry mishap it created.
“The first day of the tournament I wore my brother’s (Kyle’s) singlet,” Lange said. “I noticed it was loose and must have been the wrong size. We must have mixed them up in the wash at home. I switched with him later in the evening so I’d have the right size for the last day.”
Three others compete for Royals
Also competing for Royalton-Upsala at state were sophomores Michael Petron, Brad Kroll and Kyle Lange.
Petron won his first match 8-4 before dropping his next two, while Kroll and Kyle Lange were knocked out after one bout.