Salo wins true section match at super section

By Chad Koenen


When Bren Salo watched the clock hit zero on March 20, the New York Mills junior pointed to the sky. It’s been a whirlwind year for the NY Mills 170 lbs. wrestler, and Salo knew there was someone watching from above to give him an extra boost in his true second match.

“That was for my brother. Wearing that SISU singlet I felt he was there with me.”

Bren Salo

Salo’s older brother Wade passed away last summer from cancer. In addition to his brother, his dad Dean is also going through cancer treatments, but has been able to support his son’s quest for a return to the state wrestling tournament this season. 

Bren Salo competed at the state wrestling meet on Saturday. Salo’s brother Wade passed away from cancer last year and following his win in the true second match at the super sections he pointed to the sky in honor of his brother. 

While his brother was watching down from above, Salo was able to secure a 7-4 decision over Ryan VanLuik, of Minnewaska Area. Waiting for him at the edge of the mat was his uncle Doug Salo who greeted him with a big hug.  His uncle is a longtime assistant coach at NY Mills and was sitting alongside the mat when his nephew punched his ticket to the state wrestling tournament quarterfinals at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle. 

The SISU singlet also holds an importance to the NY Mills and Finnish community as it is a concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness and is held by Finns themselves to express their national character. Several of the Eagle sports teams have taken the SISU saying to heart in recent years, including the softball, baseball and wrestling teams. 

In addition to this year, Salo advanced to state as an eighth grader. 

Salo lost both his matches at the state tournament, but not before proving the SISU concept still reigns true today. 

The NY Mills junior was joined at state by perennial state entrant Dane Niemi. The 138 lbs. junior made his fourth straight state tournament, and entered the state quarterfinals with a perfect 24-0 record.

“I am looking forward to competing again. Everybody is tough there,” he said prior to the tournament.

While he has competed in four straight state tournaments, this season was a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In years past, the top two wrestlers in each section advanced to the state wrestling tournament. However, this year the top four wrestlers from each section joined the top four wrestlers from another section. The tournament was billed as a super section/state qualifying tournament. The top two wrestlers advanced to state in a competitive tournament against some of the best wrestlers in the state. 

Niemi won a 1-0 decision over Tyler Jensen of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa to capture first place at the super section and punch his ticket to the state tournament. He was one of just eight wrestlers, as opposed to 16 in years past, to advance to state at 138 lbs.

“To me it was just another tournament. Do the best your best and do what you can do,” he said of the super sections.  

Niemi finished the state tournament in fourth place, but was just seconds away from advancing to the finals. A late take down call went against him and gave his opponent a 3-2 decision. Niemi dropped a tough third place match to end his junior year in fourth place at state.