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College wrestling: Minnesota West features solid building blocks

WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West wrestling program is in new hands this year, and the guy holding the reins has good material to work with. "I'm really excited about the group we have. It's a good core to build on," said first-year head coach Br...

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The Minnesota West wrestling room is seeing plenty of activity leading up to the 2017-18 season. Bluejay wrestlers gearing up for the campaign include (front row, from left) Wallace Michels, Hser Moo Pwae, Hser Eh Pwae, Keon Naranjo, Jared Loberg, (back) Trent Rogich, King Blanchette, McKinley Bush, Zach Rucktaeschel and Jajuan Brown. Not pictured is Cody Michelson. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)
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WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota West wrestling program is in new hands this year, and the guy holding the reins has good material to work with.

“I’m really excited about the group we have. It’s a good core to build on,” said first-year head coach Bryan Cowdin.

Longtime Worthington wrestling fans are familiar with Cowdin. He’s a former two-time state champion from Worthington High School who went on to become a two-time collegiate All-American. For the past two seasons he has assisted veteran Bluejays coach Bob Purcell, and now that Purcell has officially retired from the coaching ranks, it’s up to Cowdin -- along with assistants Nate Stamer, Jessie Regalado and Don Wasmund -- to get the 2017-18 outfit up to speed.

The Bluejays open the season on Saturday on the road at the Rochester Open.

Expectations are high.

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“Our goal is to finish in the top five (nationally). We have some tough individuals, and some other guys who can write their own destiny depending on how hard they work in the weight room,” Cowdin said.

As of midweek, nearly a dozen matmen were in camp, including several who saw state tournament competition in high school.

Keon Naranjo is a freshman from LeSueur-Henderson, a 125-pounder and two-time Minnesota state tournament entrant. Trent Rogich is a freshman heavyweight from the same high school with fifth- and third-place finishes at the state tourney.

Two others who placed in the state tournament during their high school years, ex-Worthington Trojan twin brothers Hser Eh Pwae and Hser Moo Pwae, took a year off from wrestling after graduation. Now they’re in the Minnesota West wrestling room and penciled in at 125 and 133 pounds, respectively.

“That year off might have been good for them,” said Cowdin about the finely-chiseled brothers. “They’re gonna out-work everybody in the weight room. They’re both pretty much what you want in a wrestler.”

Another area high school standout, freshman McKinley Bush, was a state qualifier from an excellent Pipestone Area high school program. He’ll be competing this year at 149 pounds.

Wallace Michels (157 pounds) of Norwood-Young America was a two-time state prep entrant. The freshman collegian is described by Cowdin as “raw but physical” with a unique technique.

The Jays also have 165-pounder Zach Rucktaeschel, a four-time South Dakota state high school qualifier from Webster who placed twice at the big meet.

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Two other former Worthington High School wrestlers are King Blanchette (197 pounds) and Cody Michelson (174). Both are sophomores.

Jared Loberg is another 174-pounder, a freshman from St. Michael-Albertville. Jajuan Brown is a heavyweight from Detroit, Mich.

Cowdin says he wants passionate wrestlers, and he says the 2017-18 competitors can be as successful as they want to be.

“I like it,” the new head coach says of his roster, “but you gotta keep it steady and keep building on it.”

Stamer, a 1992 Worthington High School grad, agrees that hard work is the key. College wrestling is different than it was in high school, he said, in that success depends entirely on the individual.

“It’s on you” in college, said Stamer, who sees the assistants’ job as motivators.

Even so, he admits, he likes what he sees. “Super excited. We’ve got four All-American caliber wrestlers, I’d say.”

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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