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Doug Wolter: In Adrian and Luverne, it's all about wrestling and hockey

You may be relieved to know that head coach Gregg Nelson isn't worried that his Adrian Dragons wrestling team is peaking too soon.Despite beating three state-ranked teams on one night on Dec. 10 and placing a solid third at the 15-team Jackson To...

You may be relieved to know that head coach Gregg Nelson isn’t worried that his Adrian Dragons wrestling team is peaking too soon.
Despite beating three state-ranked teams on one night on Dec. 10 and placing a solid third at the 15-team Jackson Tournament on Dec. 12, the Dragons are nowhere near to performing at optimum levels.
“We’re not even close,” Nelson said on Wednesday. “We wrestled well, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know where we should be at. We don’t get too excited about stuff until the middle of January.”
The 2015-16 Dragons are senior-dominated and determined to make a run at the Minnesota state Class A tournament. On Dec. 10 they showed up well in beating Canton - the top-ranked Class B team in South Dakota - along with No. 2 Parkston and another top-10 team, Tri Valley, all on the same night. Then two days later they scored 192.5 points to place third in the Jackson Tournament behind Minneota (222.5) and Shakopee (216).
Impressive as those results were, Nelson says his team still has a long way to go. “We’re not in the best shape yet,” he said.
Minneota is ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Class A. Adrian is No. 6. The Dragons will need to go through Minneota to get to state.
“They’re going to give us fits. They’re missing a couple of kids on top (the heavier weights) that were pretty solid. They’ve got good kids in there, but not as great as last year. They’re still very solid,” Nelson said.
Adrian, of course, is solid too. Six of its wrestlers - Greg Kern (120 pounds), Skylar Hieronimus (126), Ryan Elias (138), Logan Rogers (152), Matt Slater (170) and Dylan Gyberg (220) - are individually state-ranked.
Graduation didn’t hit AHS hard.
“We’re basically the same team. They’re just a little bigger and a little older,” said the coach Wednesday.
The Dragons will get the chance to see Minneota again before the section tournament. Nelson hopes his fighters will be in better shape and injury-free when they test themselves against the Vikings the next time.
Meanwhile, Nelson keeps his optimism in check.
Says he: “I’m a worst-case scenario guy ... You plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
Luverne boys hockey
team happy to be pushed
Two years ago when the Luverne high school boys hockey team reached the state tournament, they went in undefeated. They took their first losses at the state tourney, which was a bit of a shock. They sustained an even bigger shock last year when they were beaten by New Ulm in the section tournament.
In 2015-16, the Cardinals - determined once again to get to state - aren’t afraid of losing. They’ve lost twice this year, to strong Twin Cities opponents St. Paul Academy (5-4) and Orono (4-1), but that’s OK according to first-year head coach Kullen Schroht.
The experience of losing can be a benefit. You’ve got to have wins, but you’ve also got to schedule teams that push you, says Schroht, “to see how good you are mentally.”
Before Luverne’s boys hockey program progressed to the caliber that it’s at now, many southwest Minnesota hockey fans believed that this region would forever stay second-rate. With Luverne’s success, that myth has been exploded for everyone to see. If the Cardinals can climb to the level where the top Twin Cities programs are at, why can’t - with hard work and strong community support - can’t other outstate teams?
Luverne certainly has strong community support behind its hockey program. The town sprung for a brand new locker room two years ago and it also keeps its ice through July and gets it ready again by September. Local skaters, who absolutely love the sport, take advantage of the opportunity.
Schroht says the town’s bantam skaters are going strong, and there are plenty of talented hockey players among the younger kids, too.
“I don’t think you’re going to see us fly under the radar any more,” he said Wednesday.
LHS sophomore Jaxon Nelson - a future Minnesota Gopher - is a leader on the current varsity squad. Five seniors who have already experienced a state tournament bring added leadership. Other sophomores, like Kasyn Kruse and Nick Harder, already have a year of varsity seasoning. The Cardinals don’t appear to be skipping a beat.
“Right now there’s a buzz in the air. We do believe that we’re close to where we were,” Schroht maintains.
But he adds: “We’re still trying to find that lineup that makes us scary.”
Scary? Maybe he means “scarier.”
New format, extra team for Trojan Holiday Classic
Basketball teams from all over the Daily Globe coverage area have little time to dwell on their Christmas presents this year, because holiday tournaments are all over the place.
The 18th annual Daily Globe Trojan Holiday Classic will be a little different this year than in the past, but in a good way. Rather than the traditional four-team tournament that winds down to one champion in varsity and JV action, there will be five teams this year and the tournament will be a round-robin affair.
Perham has opted out. We’ll miss the Yellowjackets because they’ve been very competitive in recent years in varsity games. In 2014 they lost in the finals 69-46 to Mankato West. They were runnersup to West again in 2013, and placed second to Worthington in 2012 and again to Ellsworth in 2011. PHS won it all in 2009 and 2010.
So that’s five straight years Perham has been in the Holiday Classic championship game.
Two-time defending champion Mankato West returns. Worthington will be back again, of course, and Sibley East also returns. Two new teams, Murray County Central and Fulda, join the 2015 tournament to make it a five-for-all.
The addition of area teams MCC and Fulda add to the intrigue. The Rebels, led by Daily Globe first-team All-Area pick Grant Rohrer, are clearly one of the area’s top teams. Fulda is young but talented and anxious to impress.
Tournament dates are Dec. 29 and 30.

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.
What To Read Next
ST. CLOUD -- The Minnesota West women’s basketball team eased to victory over host St. Cloud Tech on Saturday, 93-40. But it was St. Cloud Tech getting the better of the West men’s team, 84-64.
WORTHINGTON -- Morris-Benson started well in both games, sweeping the Worthington Trojans girls and boys hockey teams on Saturday.
The Worthington Trojans earned their highest ever place at a Minnesota Class A True Team meet with a score of 174.525. Big Lake won the meet with a score of 176.2.
Friday night high school sports roundup: