High School Class AA Preview

Class AA: It is a Numbers Game

Numbers do not win wrestling meets. Winning only comes on the mat, but the numbers Simley brings back as they aim to defend their 2019 state title are pretty impressive. Seven state place winners return for the Spartans. That is seven of the fourteen weight classes in which long-time coach Will Short will be able to pencil in a state placewinner.

Kasson-Mantorville, the state team champions in 2017 and 2018, will be back to challenge Simley with three returning state champions of their own. Both teams are grouped together again in Section 1AA, so the state title may once again be decided in Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center on February 15. Here is a look at the “Dirty Dozen”, the top twelve preseason teams in Class AA:

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High School Class A Preview

Section 1A

Favorites: Dover-Eyota Eagles and GMLOS Bulldogs

Dark Horses: Chatfield Gophers and Goodhue Wildcats

The Eagles look to be the favorites with nine section place winners, including one state qualifier and seven others with a range of experience. They graduated four seniors last spring, including three section place winners, two of which earned state honors. The Eagles put up 14-8 dual meet marks last season. They are still a young team overall, so look for them to continue to improve throughout the season. They were a top-four seed and were defeated by Caledonia in the quarters in a very close dual meet. They should make a strong challenge for section honors. Their key leaders should include Taylor DeFrang (41-8), who earned fourth place state honors, Gavin Gust (38-10), Brody Kellen (38-10), Trenton Theisen (23-17), Reece Lemke (20-18) and Tyler Shea (20-22).

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Weighty Decisions

By Brian Jerzak

Lakeville North senior Bryce Benhart didn't have to wrestle his senior year. A lot of high school athletes that I have talked to in a similar situation decide not to continue to be a multi-sport athlete. They choose to focus on the sport they will be playing in college. What makes Benhart's story even more interesting is very few high school athletes – while in similar situations – had as much at stake as the Panthers' senior. Well before the 2018-19 high school wrestling season has started, Benhart knew he had a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska waiting for him.

Despite the obvious chances he was taking, the benefits of continuing with wrestling, the opportunity to become a state champion and a brief conversation with one of Minnesota's most successful high school wrestlers convinced Benhart to decide to get back on the mat for one more season.

"I started both wrestling and football in third grade," Benhart said.

Benhart was motivated to be the best football player he could be from an early age.

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It Just Keeps Growing – Marshall Wrestling

By Brian Jerzak

With numbers beginning to dwindle, the Marshall wrestling program was starting to slide. Although never considered a state power, the Tigers had competitive teams and some solid wrestlers, but around the time head coach Justin Bouwman took over, the program was starting a decline. To start the program on the road back, Bouwman threw himself into the youth program, and once the youth got some footing, there was no stopping them. Tigers' wrestling has reached a level never seen in the programs' history.

"It was about getting out and being seen – talking to high school kids, talking to junior high kids," Bouwman said. "I was getting in with the youth program. I had a young son, so it was easy for me to jump in right away and it was easy to put my face and brand on things. I think the parents liked that I was involved and through word of mouth people started to get involved. We started to get numbers in the youth program, and it just kept growing.”

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The Wrestling Con Job

By Brian Jerzak

Before his junior year, Quad County's Bryce Schmidt had only played football and baseball. He had never even set foot on a wrestling mat. By the end of his senior year, he was walking out on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in the state tournament. His unlikely journey might never have happened if Schmidt wasn't conned into trying wrestling.

"My friends who encouraged me to wrestle played football and they were going to take this picture," Schmidt said. "They told me to come be in the picture. I didn't know what it was about, so I just did it. They called it the Wrestling Pic. It was all the wrestlers who played football and me. They said, ‘you are in that picture, so you have to join wrestling now'; I got conned into that."

Schmidt went along with his friends but had almost zero exposure to wrestling before the winter of his junior year.

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You Can’t Take Wrestling Out of the Wrestler

By Brian Jerzak

You can take the wrestler out of the wrestling room, but . . .

As a senior in high school, Ron McClure placed fourth in the state tournament for Hopkins. A few years later as a senior at Minnesota-Duluth he would find himself in the Division II national title match. His second place finish would cap off a two-time All-American career and years later a place in the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame.

After nearly twenty straight years of constant wrestling, McClure needed to step away from the sport he loved, but not away from athletics. He found himself back in a gym coaching, but nowhere near a wrestling room. He spent nineteen years coaching girls' gymnastics, a sport – going into it – he knew very little about. McClure was able to become an effective gymnastic coach by leaning on his wrestling knowledge and learning how the two sports complement each other. After nearly twenty years coaching gymnastics, he decided to step away from that sport. Now McClure has come full circle. You can take the wrestler out of the wrestling room, but you can't take wrestling out of the wrestler.

If not for his mother, McClure might have ended up in the ring instead of the wrestling mat.

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Lloyd Versus Robb

A championship match and a friendship years in the making

By Brian Jerzak

Shakopee's Alex Lloyd and Owatonna's Peyton Robb have come full circle. As the clock wound down in the 145AAA individual finals, Robb held a one-point lead over Lloyd. With under a minute to go in the third, Lloyd hit a takedown and was able to ride out Robb for the final few seconds to win the title. For both juniors, the match was bittersweet. After the referee had put Lloyd's hand in the air, both wrestlers embraced in the center of the Xcel Energy Center – possibly for the last time in competition.

The first time they wrestled each other they were in elementary school. It would become the first of many times the two would lock horns in competition and in the practice room. Shortly after their first meeting, they would become training partners and best friends.

"The first time I met him it was at an elementary school tournament," Robb said. "He won a one-point match."

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Speaking From Experience

Former Vikings’ center Sullivan encourages kids to wrestle, play multiple sports

By Brian Jerzak

As a freshman in Connecticut, a young John Sullivan watched from the stands as his high school lost a dual meet to one of his school's rivals. One of the matches Greenwich High School lost that night was at heavyweight. Sullivan felt if he went out for wrestling he could help his school beat that rival next time they faced off. Soon after filing out of the gym that night, the future Minnesota Vikings center joined the wrestling program. What he got out of just over three years of wrestling helped shape him into the athlete he has become. Competing in multiple sports is a path he encourages other kids who want to reach a high level in athletics or life to experience.

"We were wrestling a high school called Danbury High School that had been the dominant team there for a long time," Sullivan recalled. "I watched their heavyweight beat ours, and I thought ‘I think I can beat that kid.' I ended up going out for the wrestling team that year."

While watching his high school team lose might have been the spark to get him interested, the future Notre Dame football star's competitiveness added fuel to the fire.

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