A Special Moment, A Special Place – Hastings Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

If you follow wrestling in Minnesota, unless your WiFi has been out the last few weeks, you know about the drama that unfolded on day one of the 2023 state wrestling tournament. In the Class AAA team finals, the Hastings Raiders were down 32-9 against the number one ranked St. Michael-Albertville Knights with five matches to go. The Raiders had already lost to the Knights twice in the regular season – by 25 points and then by 29 points. What happened over the next thirty minutes shocked the world – at least the Minnesota wrestling world.

"Ian Pepple led our pre-match prayer before that match," Hastings head coach Tim Haneberg said. "He said, 'we are about to shock the world.' Thinking about it still gives me chills."

Pepple would start the improbable comeback by winning 3-1 – over a guy who majored him twice in the regular season. Two matches later, Derrick Steinke – who was pinned by his man at The Clash – turned the tables on another match by getting a second-period fall.

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Readers’ Choice: Wrestling Rivalries

One of my favorite things about athletics is the rivalries. The Vikings against the Packers, enormous in my baseball-crazed house, the Twins vs. the White Sox, the Gophers against Iowa – in any sport but for my money, football and wrestling, and some personal favorites from my youth that still gets my blood boiling: Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota in hockey (go Bulldogs), Milaca against Foley in anything, but especially wrestling, and Milaca against Princeton regardless of the sport.

As noted a few times, wrestling is saturated with great rivalries. A few months ago, I thought it would be fun to ask you – the reader – who you thought were the best high school wrestling rivalries in Minnesota. I decided to post a question on my Twitter page. What is the best high school wrestling rivalry in Minnesota? The rivalry that got the most votes would be the subject of my next story for The Guillotine. I got a great response from across the state. Here are the results:

1 Simley vs. Kasson-Mantorville
2 Albert Lea vs. Owatonna (tie)
2 Minneota vs. Canby (tie)

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Community Raised – Dan Wagner and New Prague Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

I haven't talked to many coaches of successful high school programs – wrestling or otherwise – that haven't had great support from their community. Wrestling programs around the state are littered with alumni – both paid and volunteer – rolling with the kids on the mat or raising money to help pay for those mats - doing what they can to help the program they grew up loving.

The New Prague wrestling program has a very similar story – with one key difference. Not only was the Trojans' wrestling program raised by a passionate wrestling community, but so was their head coach.

Dan Wagner was born and raised in New Prague. He got involved in wrestling early.

"Dr. John Berg had started a youth wrestling program before my time," Wagner said. "My dad asked me if I wanted to try wrestling, and that is where it started. I didn't have much wrestling background in my family, but New Prague was a small town, and the doctor in town was running some youth practices."

Success on the mat didn't come immediately for the future coach.

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Following In The Footsteps – Koy Buesgens

By Brian Jerzak

New Prague senior Koy Buesgens has a chance to enter some rare air when it comes to high school wrestling in Minnesota. He has an opportunity to become a three-time state champion. Like most successful wrestlers, Buesgens' parents have played a huge role in his success. For Koy – his dad – unintentionally gave his son even more motivation to become one of Minnesota's best.

"Winning a state championship was always one of my goals," Buesgens said. "One, because winning a state championship is awesome, but two, my dad took second at State, and I always have wanted to one-up him."

The former state finalist introduced his son to the sport early.

"I was born in Tennessee, and when I was four years old, my dad introduced me to wrestling," Buesgens said. "He was a wrestler at Belle Plaine high school. So, I just wrestled in the little community program. Then we moved to Minnesota, and it continued from there."

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Thinking Globally – Skylar Little Soldier

By Brian Jerzak

Well before Hastings' junior Skylar Little Soldier knew there would be a state championship to be had at the Xcel Energy Center, Little Soldier had her sights set high. She wasn't thinking of dominating at the state level; she was thinking globally.

"Ever since I was a kid, I would tell my parents I was going to win an Olympic gold medal. That has always been the goal."

The seed was planted for her Olympic goal because of her little brother.

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No Longer The Hunter – Zach Hanson

By Brian Jerzak

There is a saying out there that goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. For most athletes, second place in the state wrestling tournament would be considered a wildly successful season, and most athletes don't get anywhere near that close to a state championship. After two straight second-place finishes at State - for Lakeville North's Zach Hanson – close no longer counted, and he wouldn't be happy unless he was on top of the podium.

"Winning a state title (last season) was a relief," Hanson said. "There have been no slouches in the state finals in Minnesota. (St. Michael-Albertville's) Cole Becker was a great opponent. We had wrestled earlier in the season, and it was a quadruple overtime match. You couldn't tell which way it would go, but getting that takedown in overtime was the most relieving moment I have felt in a long time. Just to know I had finally done it and proven I could do it. Now this year, I can focus on improving and not worry about results as much as I used to."

Hanson entered his senior season as the hunted, not the hunter.

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Building Culture By Building Family

Richard Schlotfeldt and Andover Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

When Richard Schlotfeldt took over the Andover wrestling program, it wasn't something he had planned. Although he had been involved in wrestling since he was a young boy, becoming a coach – much less a head coach – was not on his radar. He had worked at the University of Minnesota for years but was ready for a change.

"I liked what I was doing at the 'U,' but I didn't think it was something I could do until I retired, so I thought I would try something different," Schlotfeldt said. "A friend recommended teaching. At the time, there was an opening at Andover High School. After teaching for a year, I thought I would help with the youth or wherever they needed help in the wrestling program."

Some persuasive voices in the community and Schlotfeldt's own family moved up Schlotfeldt's coaching timeline.

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