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Prep wrestling: JCC heads parade of talented area mat teams

JACKSON — Randy Baker began building successful high school wrestling programs in Jackson in 1984.

And he’s still at it. The Jackson County Central Huskies under Baker earned a state Class A championship in 2013 — the team’s fourth consecutive championship and seventh overall.

Can they do it again in 2014?

“I’m sure we have a chance. Our goal is to do the best we can,” Baker said recently.

Considering the fact that Baker has already proven — time and time again — that “best we can” sometimes morphs into state championships, rival area wrestling teams had better take notice. This winter, the Huskies will return four athletes who placed last year in the state individual tournament. Jordan Biehn went 31-11 and placed fourth at 120 pounds. Paden Moore was 38-6 and placed second at 145 pounds. Luke Norland was 26-7 and placed sixth at 152 pounds. And Keegan Moore was 34-4 and placed third at 160 pounds.

State champions Eliot Jurries (132) and Darick Vancura (170) have graduated, but along with the other four key returnees the Huskies return solid performers in Dalton Wagner, who wrestled at 106 pounds last season as a seventh-grader; Ryker Vander Woude, a freshman this year who wrestled at 106 and 113 last season; and senior Jack Ziemer, a 220-pounder/heavyweight.

“I have some young kids that got a lot of experience last year that I think are capable of stepping up,” Baker said.

Baker explained that the Huskies may not be as balanced from top to bottom as they were last season, so part of his task as a coach will be to get the softer weights plugged. To return to the top, he’ll again rely on an experienced crew of assistant coaches and supportive parents — not to mention the wrestlers themselves.

“I’ve had a lot of kids willing to work hard,” Baker explained the program’s success. “It doesn’t just happen.”

JCC opens the season Dec. 6 at home against Southwest Conference opponent Pipestone Area. Here’s a brief look at other area high school teams (the Worthington Trojans will be previewed next week):

After going 29-5 in duals last season en route to a state Class AA tournament berth, the Adrian Dragons return several key wrestlers. There’s no let-up with the Dragons this winter. In fact, head coach Gregg Nelson, when asked if AHS could be as successful as last season, remarked, “I think we might be a little better.”

Returning to the fold in 2013-14 are state individual tournament entrants Skylar Hieronimus (sophomore, 106-113 pounds), Ryan Elias (sophomore, 120-126), Matthew Slater (sophomore, 160-170), Tony Lynn (junior, 138-145) and a cousin of Matthew, Jesse Slater (junior, 170-182).

The Dragons graduated only three experienced seniors. There are 21 athletes out for wrestling among grades 7-12. Nelson says the team is a little short in the younger grades, but with another year of experience under the belts of the returnees, prospects for the varsity appear bright.

Adrian will compete in Class A this year, in Section 3.

Joining the Dragons in Section 3A will be the Windom Area/Mountain Lake Cobras, who were runners-up Section 4A last February. Brad Schlomann has stepped down as head coach and in his place are co-head coaches Travis Elg and Nick Kulseth.

With four state qualifiers back for another go, the Cobras are coiled and ready. Wyatt Stevens (junior, 106-113) placed fourth in the state tournament at 106 pounds last year. Joe Fischenich (junior, 120-126) placed fifth at 113 pounds. Jared Willaby (junior, 132-138) placed sixth at 126 pounds. Vincent Johnson (senior, 195-200) is another returning state qualifier.

“Good numbers and good experience return,” said Elg this week. The team’s goal is to make it to state.

With just two regulars graduated and 12 experienced varsity matmen ready to go, that goal may be within reach.

Luverne joins the ranks of area teams hoping to achieve success. The Cardinals went 11-8 last season and lost a close sectional match to Southwest Conference foe Worthington. There are 24 athletes out for LHS wrestling today, with a bunch of young ones joining the ranks.

“They’re good scrappers,” says head coach Craig Schneider.

Heading the list of returnees are Spencer Oeltjenbruns (senior, 170-195), Cody Hess (senior, 120-132), D.J. Reker (junior, 220-HWT) and Adam Fodness (sophomore, 120-138). Reker returns as a state qualifier.

Pipestone Area returns one wrestler who placed in last year’s state individual tournament. He’s Brady Bos, the head coach’s son, who is now a senior after compiling a 35-8 record in 2012-13 with a fourth-place finish at 152 pounds in the state Class A meet. Coach Brian Bos says Brady is “one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever been around,” a strong physical specimen and technically-sound wrestler who leads by example and “goes hard all the time.”

The Arrows posted a solid 16-7 record last year as a team, and besides Bos can boast of a good nucleus of returnees. Among them is senior Walker Kor, who recorded 20-plus wins in 2012-13 and who will perform in the 145-pound range this winter. Also back is senior Allan Hachmann (160-170 pounds), a 20-win athlete. Michael Suda, an eighth-grader, achieved 35 wins last season and will wrestle in the 113-pound range.

State entrant Ben Loosbrock graduated from the Fulda-Murray County Central team, but head coach Dan Blankenship does return sophomores Clayton Hartle (120 pounds), Ben Blanchette (126 pounds) and Nate Beech (145-152) along with juniors Tanner Nelson (152-160) and Dylan Nelson (170-182).

The Warriors rarely won a team match last season and they’ll be a fairly young team in 2013-14. There are no returning seniors who won letters and the team is thin in the heavier weights. Blankenship admits that he’ll have a difficult time filling all the weight classes, but success will be measured on how well the team improves during the season.

Further to the north, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove enters the season hoping to improve from a 4-20 campaign. Wabasso/Red Rock Central went 27-1 last season, with its only loss coming to Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg in the Section 3A finals. The Rabbits placed four at the state individual tournament and only one of them — Tanner Rohlik, who was third at 145 pounds — has graduated.

Back for another campaign are senior Spencer Jenniges (40-5 last season, second in state Class A at 113 pounds), senior T.J. Fulton (33-10, fourth at 132) and senior Alex Schroepfer (39-5, fifth at heavyweight).

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 seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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