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Prep wrestling: Opportunity knocks for Trojans

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Worthington High School wrestling lettermen for 2013-14 are (front row, from left) Hser Eh Pwae, Jeffrey Camacho, Anthony Luft, Hser Moo Pwae, Zach Bruns, King Blanchette, (back) Peter Abraham, Cody Michelson, Vince Riley, Joey Mills, Blake Schroeder, Carson Hagen and Zach Kempema. Not pictured: Joe Pavelko.

WORTHINGTON —Carson Hagen believes that if he’s to get to where he wants to go as a high school wrestler, he’s got to be more aggressive. His teammate, Anthony Luft, is determined to improve on not just one or two things, but “everything.”

You are entering the world of Worthington Trojans wrestling. It is a place where it’s not acceptable to be satisfied. It’s a world where even the best wrestlers among them —Hagen and Luft —seem to prefer talking not about what they’ve already accomplished, but what they hope to accomplish with more work.

The Trojans, who compiled a 10-11 record last season and lost to Dawson-Boyd/Lac qui Parle/Montevideo 41-27 in the semifinals of the Section 3AA tournament, open their 2013-14 season tonight at Windom in a triangular meet with Windom Area and Luverne. The Trojans graduated no seniors from last year’s team, and expectations are high.

“They know this is a great opportunity to show we’re one of the best in the section,” said head coach Mark Prunty this week. “And, of course, our goal — once the year goes on — is to be the best in the section.”

This year’s squad is led by Hagen and Luft, both who were impressive at last year’s state tourney. Luft was especially impressive, winning the state championship at 120 pounds and completing his junior year with a 38-1 record.

“If it’s possible, I think he’s even more motivated than he was last year,” Prunty said. “He knows that, since he won a state title, that there’s a target on his back.”

So Luft did more weightlifting and running in the summer, determined to be fully prepared for all those wannabe’s dreaming of knocking him off his pedestal. Prunty says fans will see a more physical Luft this year, and one conditioned at least as well as he was last March when he won it all. Prunty says Luft is “one of those kids who seems to be able to score when he needs to,” and he’s putting in the time to get better when he’s in the down position on the mat.

Lest anyone believes he might have grown complacent during the offseason, Luft wants to explode that myth right away.

“People think you’re just going to slow down and that you already got what you wanted,” the senior said in practice recently.

So when he was asked what he needed to improve on in the offseason, his answer was as quick and as decisive as one of his takedown moves.

“Everything. Everything needed work,” he explained.

Luft is ranked No. 1 in the state at 126 pounds — one spot above where he was ranked heading into last year’s state tournament — and he professes to be only slightly unsettled at how his life has changed after winning a state championship.

“People kind of look at you differently. It’s good and bad,” he said, smiling. Then he added, “It makes you more determined if (other wrestlers) want to take you down.”

Hagen was only a sophomore last year when he earned a fourth-place finish in the state tournament at 195 pounds. He posted a 32-7 record.

Prunty says the biggest difference for Hagen between last season and this season is his growing confidence. Hagen was mostly a defensive wrestler last season, said his coach, but he learned to be more offensive at the state tourney. Very strong, with good hips and balance, he is very difficult to score on, and very difficult to move.

“After about the second tournament (last year) I started to do well,” Hagen describes his sophomore year. “And it just kept going from there.”

He entered the 2013 state tilt ranked 10th in his weight class and is now ranked third. He agrees that it’s important for him to step up the aggression level.

“I had real close matches last year, and they really shouldn’t be that close. This year I’m looking forward to getting a lot more takedowns,” he said in practice this week. “My shot was good in practice, but when I was on the mat I was really reluctant and didn’t take as many shots as I should have.”

Other key Trojans this season include Zach Kempema, Blake Schroeder, Hser Eh Pwae and Joey Mills.

Kempema, now a senior, placed third in the section at 160 pounds last year. A good technician on his feet, he is a powerful matman who has proven he can wrestle with the best wrestlers in the state. As a senior, Prunty claims, “This is his time.”

Schroeder is another senior and, like Kempema, a vocal leader on the team. He was sixth in the section last year at 170 pounds (a finish that could have been higher had his performance not ended early due to a possible concussion). As a wrestler, Schroeder uses his leverage well, and he’s working to become more aggressive on his feet. He is difficult to score on.

Pwae, a sophomore, produced 31 wins as a second-year wrestler in 2012-13 and placed third in the section. He’ll be at 106 again this year. His twin brother, Hser Moo Pwae, finished with a record around .500 last year at 113 pounds. His inexperience cost him some wins, but with his added experience now, his future looks promising.

Mills, a senior, is another Trojan fairly new to wrestling who Prunty hopes will make an impact in 2013-14. Mills will compete in the 145-152 range this winter.

Other returning lettermen include juniors Peter Abraham and Joe Pavelko, sophomores King Blanchette, Zach Bruns, Jeffrey Camacho and Cody Michelson, and freshman Vince Riley.

“The key to our success this year is going to be not just the success of our section place winners, but the improvement of our young wrestlers. That’s what we’re working real hard on this year,” said Prunty.

Prunty points out that toward the end of last season, some of the Trojans’ more inexperienced wrestlers stopped giving up the big points they’d given up earlier.

“This year we look for those kids not just to keep the matches close, but to pull out the wins,” Prunty said.

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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