High School Class AAA Preview

Section 1

Teams that comprise Section 1 are as follows: Albert Lea Area, Austin, Faribault, Farmington, Northfield, Owatonna, Rochester Century, Rochester Mayo, Rochester John Marshall, and Winona/Winona Cotter. Joel Messick is the new head coach for Rochester Century. This section has 15 returning state entrants, three returning placewinners, including one finalist, Landen Johnson of Owatonna. The team race will come down to three teams: Farmington, Northfield, and Owatonna. Teams that are clear underdogs are Albert Lea, Rochester Mayo, and Winona/Winona Cotter.

Owatonna has a lot of talent returning. The Huskies have nine returning starters, all with winning records with wins from 23 up to 48 wins from last season. Landen Johnson was a finalist last season and Cael Robb placed 4th in St. Paul. Junior Yves Evillard surprised some by punching his ticket to the state tournament. I’m sure head coach Adam Woitalla wasn’t surprised at all. Seniors Owen Thorn, Matt Seykora, Chase Dallman, and Kaden Nelson should bring a ton of experience. Juniors Jacob Reinardy and Kanin Hable will also add to Owatonna’s success.

Coach Geoff Staab’s Northfield Raiders will be a strong team again this season. They will be led by state entrants Chase Murphy, Beau Murphy, and Sam Holman. Nick Lopez and Gavin Anderson will provide their senior leadership. Junior Jake Messner recorded 45 wins last season and should be contending for a win in all of the Raiders duals. Underclassmen Nickolas Mikula and Jayce Barron will need to perform if Northfield is to win the section title.

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High School Class AA Preview

Class AA: A Different Adventure

A lot of things will be different this wrestling season, but in Class AA, a lot of things will remain the same. COVID-19 precautions will make for a season unlike any other, but at the end of the day, look for Simley to once again dominate the competition. The Spartans return seven state finalists and twelve starters from their 2020 state championship team. Four of those finalists won individual state titles. Simley simply looks unbeatable. It seems the only chance they would have of not winning the state title is if there is not a state meet this year.

The global COVID pandemic is going to change what this season looks like. No decisions have been made about the post-season at this point. Anything from a normal tournament series to no section or state competition is possible. For the fall sports, no individual or team state tournaments were held. Girls tennis had team sections, but not individual sections. Anything is possible. I think it is likely that we could have a team state tournament but no individual state tournament. The Minnesota State High School League has indicated they will make decisions about the wrestling post-season at their December 3rd board meeting.

We do have more answers regarding the regular season. Competition will start on December 10th and finish up by February 13th. The big news for this season is that there will not be any Friday or Saturday tournaments. Only dual meets or triangular meets will occur. That is a big change from years past. For the last thirty years, tournaments have been where our wrestlers and teams have sought out the level of competition they are looking for. With only 16 competition dates and 32 total matches per wrestler, this year will certainly give this season a retro 1970s feel.

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High School Class A Preview

Section 1A

Favorites: GMLOS Bulldogs and Chatfield Gophers

Dark Horses: Dover-Eyota Eagles and Zumbrota-Mazeppa Cougars

The Bulldogs of GMLOS look to be a big favorite as they have everyone back from their 23-5 dual meet campaign. No one graduated from their team; they have ten section placewinners, including eight state qualifiers, of which three were state placewinners. They will have 13 others back with a wide range of experience. Look for the Bulldogs to continue to build on their state tourney experience, where they did drop a pair of very close duals. If they continue to improve through the course of the season, they could be a challenge for anyone in Class A. Their key leaders should include Anthony Romero (44-4) 2nd State, Noah Sayles (43-6) 5th State, Cameron Sneed (33-12) 2nd Section, Rece Voigt (41-11) 2nd Section, Daniel Smith (20-8) 6th State, Donavon Felten (41-9) 3rd Section, Christian Jacobsen (42-7) 3rd Section, Lucas Winfield (29-18) 2nd Section, Cohen Wiste (39-6) 2nd Section, and James Jacobson (22-23) 2nd Section.

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Driven to Win by a Hatred of Losing – Chase DeBlaere

Athletes say they hate to lose more than they like to win, so it is often almost like a cliché. I don't always believe it. I feel like some athletes say it because it is what they think they are supposed to say. When I talked to two-time state champion Chase DeBlaere, I didn't get that feeling. When DeBlaere told me how much he hates losing – I believed him.

Wrestling is in DeBlaere's DNA.

"My dad wrestled in high school in Arizona," DeBlaere said. "By the time I came around, he got me into wrestling. We moved to Michigan, and I started wrestling."

DeBlaere didn't just stroll onto a mat and start winning. He found out about losing early.

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Training Schools and Camps Wrestling With COVID-19

By Brian Jerzak

Businesses around the nation have all had to deal with several changes during the last six months. The business of wrestling has had to adjust too. While high school and college programs have had many challenges, so have wrestling training facilities. How are these training facilities dealing with our new reality, and how are they planning for an uncertain future?

I talked with four wrestling training school owners and one wrestling camp director/coach to find out their thoughts on wrestling with COVID-19.

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High School Coaches Wrestling With COVID-19

By Brian Jerzak

The 2019-20 high school wrestling season just got in under the wire before the sports world came to a screeching halt. Since that week in March – while we are nowhere near back to normal – the sports world has slowly come back. Some have been able to compete, while others wait – impatiently – for their time to get back to competition. Based on timing, the high school wrestling world has not lost any competitions, but as we have all seen, we do not know what is going to happen two days from now – much less two months from now. How have high school coaches approached an offseason like no other, and what – if any – plans have they made going forward?

I talked with the head coaches from four of Minnesota’s top high school wrestling teams to find out their thoughts on wrestling with COVID-19.

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The Sound of Silence

By Brian Jerzak

Sometimes silence is a terrible sound. During the 2020 Class AA state wrestling semifinals, the more than 12,000 parents, fans, athletes, coaches, referees, and staff members sat in complete silence. Mats were not reloaded as matches finished. The only sound was a referee's whistle as the surrounding matches were completed. Even before the mats cleared, all eyes focused – not on a match - but on a corner mat where there had been no wrestling for several minutes.

When the other matches completed, the only sound I could personally hear was the sound of a couple of grown men quietly sobbing behind me. We all sat in stunned silence - staring at the group of emergency responders working behind some makeshift walls held up by workers.

I have no idea how long the Xcel Energy Center remained silent. The cheer that went up when Becker's Brayden Weber gave the crowd a thumbs-up as he was being rolled away by the paramedics was more powerful and heartfelt than any during the entire weekend.

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A Program and Community on the Rise – Stillwater Wrestling

High school wrestling is a sport of numbers. Get that last takedown, extend the margin of victory, work hard for the pin, fight off your back; it all helps your team win. All those numbers lead to team victories. Numbers drive youth, middle school, and varsity success as well. The more wrestlers that try the sport, the better chance of finding the right kids to help the team. Stillwater head coach Tim Hartung has numbers in all the right places. Possibly the most important number is his number of community members that have gotten involved in Stillwater’s rising program.

Growing up in Wisconsin, Hartung’s start in the sport was an escape, an escape from doing his daily chores.

“We grew up on a dairy farm, and my uncle asked us if we wanted to come with our cousins to a local tournament,” Hartung said. “My brother and I looked at each other – anything to get us out of chores, and we are in.”

It didn’t take long before Hartung was hooked.

“We were strong farm kids, so we did well right away, and my love of wrestling grew from there. I liked the physicality and the sense of individual accomplishment. Being out there all by yourself and beating another competitor – it was a feeling that was so different and rewarding from other sports.”

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