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Doug Wolter: After lengthy break, Minnesota West teams get back to business

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Wrestling is a tough sport. It’s physically hard on coaches as well as players.

Everywhere you go, coaches like to get down on the mat with their wrestlers to teach them what they need to know. Veteran Minnesota West wrestling coach Bob Purcell does the same, but his body doesn’t respond with the full range of motion it used to.

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Maybe that’s because Bob, in his 42nd year of coaching and 17th at West, has had eight knee surgeries. He’s also had elbow surgery, shoulder surgery and gotten his nose fixed. In March, he’ll have his hip replaced.

You can’t necessarily chalk all of that up to wrestling. But some, at least.

Minnesota West’s wrestlers are returning from Holiday break Monday to practice for the first time in more than two weeks on the home mats. An undisciplined unit could get dangerously out of shape in two-plus weeks, but Purcell doesn’t worry about his Bluejays at all.

“I trust this group totally. My experience just allows me to trust ’em. You can’t set goals and not work for them,” said the coach this week.

Purcell says he enjoys giving his wrestlers Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, knowing that if he can treat his charges the way coaches of other sports treat their players, they enjoy the experience more. He does, however, expect them to go to their high schools to work out.

That, in itself, is a good thing. High school coaches enjoy seeing their top graduates return to their local mats. It reminds them, and their current crop of wrestlers, that they did a good job of teaching their graduates self-discipline. The high school matmen obviously benefit, too.

Purcell tells his college wrestlers to enjoy a great Christmas meal, secure in the knowledge that they’ll do their workouts before or after.

“The way it is for wrestlers, if you tell them they can eat, they’re happy to (work out) if they can have that great meal. They’re thinking, ‘All I have to do is work out and I can go eat!’”

The Minnesota West wrestlers await their first post-Holiday competition Jan. 10 at home against Northland Community College. Then on Jan. 11 they travel to Willmar for the Ridgewater Open.

Bluejay sophomore Ben Goodwin of Lincoln, Neb., is ranked No. 2 nationally at 174 pounds. What helps to make him special, says Purcell, is his outstanding work ethic and willingness to take coaching. Goodwin’s focus might also hearken back to last season when he went a disappointing 1-2 in the national tournament and wasn’t able to place.

Early in the 2013-14 campaign, he struggled with a hip injury and missed one of the scheduled meets. He needed the rest, got it, and is getting ready to be his best when it matters most.

Purcell is also high on a second Lincoln matman, 157-pound freshman Jared Nickman, who placed second in a Dec. 14 Chicago tournament. Local fans might also want to keep an eye out for 125-pound freshman Kareed Williams, a St. Paul product who is getting better every day.

Good on the road

The Minnesota West men’s basketball team returns to action Friday and Saturday for the Central Lakes Classic in Brainerd. At 8 p.m. on Friday, coach Justin Heckenlaible’s Bluejays play Central Lakes. Then at 2 p.m. Saturday, Vermilion is the opponent.

The Jays don’t mind being on the road. Heck, why should they?

“We’ve had a lot of road games,” said Heckenlaible. “We’ve won five of our last six and we won four road games in a row.”

Sophomore guard Jackson Seitzinger leads the men with a 14 points per game average. With 6-4 freshman forward Derek Buysse leading the team in rebounding and 6-5 freshman center Blake Fischer improving in the middle of the zone, the Jays are maintaining their presence amidst all opponents.

They are 8-3 overall and the big battles within the Southern Division are coming up soon.

“There’s going to be a battle every time out. There is no easy opponent in our division this year,” Heckenlaible said Monday. “Every game is going to be competitive. Everybody in the conference is very even and very good.”

Regarding the Bluejays, Heckenlaible says there’s room for improvement offensively, but his players are converting crucial shots. The team’s 2-2-1 half-court, three-fourths-court trapping defense has been exceptional. Though the Jays can’t be regarded as a tall team, they’ve forced opponents to execute their offense and they’ve rebounded reasonably well.

Early in the season, Heckenlaible told his players not to worry about giving up three-pointers — give greater attention to the lane. So far, the philosophy is working.

On Monday, the Bluejays had their first practice since Dec. 18.

Scoring threats

And finally, a word or two about the Minnesota West Lady Jays.

Head coach Mike Fury pronounces himself “pretty satisfied” about where his team is at after 11 games. They are 8-3 with a 4-2 road record.

“Hopefully, it’s a good omen for the rest of the year,” the coach suggests.

If there’s one thing that Fury might be just a little surprised about, it’s the Lady Jays offense. The team is averaging more than 80 points per game and four players are averaging double figures. Tiffany Gehl is scoring 21.9 points per game, Lindsey Drooger 16.5, Lydia Kemper 15.4 and Kristen Andersen 13.4.

“We’ve just been running the floor very well and are finding each other,” Fury declares. “We can find a pretty good shot pretty quickly.”

Because the Lady Jays have good size and good movement, they create mismatches.

Defense and rebounding is still a work in progress, but, hey, you can’t have everything until you work for it.

The women compete at 6 p.m. Friday against Hibbing in the Central Lakes Classic, then play Vermilion at noon on Saturday.

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Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and six grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He self-publishes short stories in his spare time.
(507) 376-7328
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