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Doug Wolter: Luft set to embark on next challenge

One of my favorite Daily Globe photos from the 2013-14 athletic year was taken at the Minnesota state wrestling tournament, and it shows Worthington High School senior Anthony Luft being declared a state champion for the second time in his outstanding career.

Luft holds up two fingers on his right hand and two fingers on his left hand in the sign of “V” for victory.

But what he’s really doing is reminding the world that the 126-pound Class AA title that he’d just won was the second state championship of his career.

It is extremely difficult to win a state wrestling championship. It’s harder than that to win two of them.

“There’s a lot of pressure to win that second one,” said Luft’s coach, Mark Prunty. “Because, mainly, if you don’t come home with another state title, people are going to ask you what happened. And besides that, everybody is gunning for you.”

Luft’s uncommon wrestling ability, his determination, his passion for the sport — not to mention his impressive array of moves built up over many years of attention to detail — made him a very popular potential recruit among college coaches. But a wrestler can only go to one place, and in spite of offers from Minnesota State University-Mankato, Augsburg College and several other fine wrestling schools, Anthony chose Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

For local fans, the choice of Southwest Minnesota State is a good one. It’s close enough for the Worthington dynamo’s family, friends and former teammates to follow him.

“It was probably the hardest decision of my life,” Luft testified on Wednesday.

Key to his ultimate decision, he said, was which destination could best mold him into a college champion. It came down to Southwest Minnesota State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Augustana.

He liked SMSU for its “up-front” coaches. The team seemed very unified, he said, in that they got along well together and had the same positive focus. He also believes SMSU is making good progress as a program.

Anthony’s dad, Mike — who is also an assistant with the WHS wrestling program — likes SMSU for its educational opportunities as well as its wrestling option. After all, college isn’t just for sports.

Nevertheless, I asked Mike to assess Anthony’s on-mat skills.

“His intensity. His focus. He can pin somebody from any position on the mat. His arsenal is so deep. When you’re wrestling with him you can never be complacent because in a split-second you can be on your back and pinned,” Mike said.

In 2013, Luft won the first of his two high school championships while competing at 120 pounds. He finished 38-1 that year.

In 2014, he won at 126 pounds with a 41-2 record. In his championship match against Cordez Arredondo of Simley, Luft had to fight back from a 7-5 deficit with only seconds remaining in the third period. He scored a takedown to put the match into overtime, then won it with another takedown in the extended period.

But it was in the state semifinals last March where Luft says he enjoyed his favorite moment. That’s where he pinned a guy who had beaten him during the regular season.

Anthony Luft is not, by nature, a demonstrative individual. When I spoke with him before and during the 2013-14 wrestling season he impressed me with his deliberate, well-thought out answers to my questions. The message that came through was that here is a young man who is very determined, very focused, and very well schooled in his chosen craft. Quiet by nature, he was thoughtful in his statements, speaking as an individual who has been to the top, knows everything about what it takes to get there, and also about what it takes to return to the pinnacle.

He struck me as a young man confidently in control of the fires that burn within him — the kind of individual you just don’t want to bet against.

As a wrestler, Luft is not the type to be outhustled or outsmarted. He is a prolific takedown artist. Prunty says he is constantly putting new moves in his arsenal.

To demonstrate his point, Prunty recalled a moment from four years ago when he showed his Trojan wrestlers a new move. Apparently, it is not the kind of move often, if ever, repeated on the mat. But Luft remembered the move four years later, and used it in the state finals.

“I don’t know if he used the move at all this year. But he pulled it out for the state tournament,” Prunty said.

That’s classic Luft.

“He is not content to win matches using the same move over and over again. When you watch him in the practice room, he gets taken down because he’s trying new things. And that’s the way it should be.”

The college wrestling world is full of former high school matmen who forge successful careers mostly due to physical strength. But in college, being strong is not enough. To win at the next level, you need to be a technician. You need to know the moves and know them well.

It’s the technical aspect of wrestling — the knowledge of moves, and the confidence to use any of them at any time — that makes Luft not only a treat to watch, but gives him that championship edge.

Prunty calls him a “wrestling junkie,” in part, perhaps, because Luft puts in all the extra work that comes with being a champion. Many Worthingtonians have grown accustomed to seeing him jog around Lake Okabena. He works very hard in the weight room, too. So he enters his matches more knowledgeable than his opponents, more creative, and better conditioned, too.

Mike and Anthony sat together in the Daily Globe newsroom on Wednesday night, and when the columnist asked Anthony at what point in his life he became serious about wrestling, the quiet, unassuming high school senior had no specific recollection. But while he answered the question, his dad began to shake his head knowingly.

“I know exactly when that was,” he said. “It was when he was eight years old and I took him to his first state wrestling tournament. I brought him out there to watch, and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m gonna be out there one day, dad.’”

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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