Doug Wolter: JCC wrestling team is aiming for the top again
The Jackson County Central wrestling team is top-ranked in the state, and it's gunning for another state team championship
A typical game is played within the game of competitive sports. Teams with legitimate cravings for high post-season honors are supposed to temper their expectations. If it’s a high school program, coaches and athletes like to say they don’t talk about winning a state high school championship at the beginning of the season.
The idea may be in the back of their minds, and maybe they DO talk about such things privately. But such talk isn’t for public consumption. It’s considered bad form, an embarrassing display of chutzpah that is best kept under wraps.
Things are not like that this year for the Jackson County Central Huskies wrestling team. Yes, the Huskies talk about winning a state championship. Head coach Nate Hanson freely admits it.
And, to be honest, it would only be embarrassing if he and the Huskies pretended differently.
You see, JCC is ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Class A according to The Guillotine wrestling publication. The Guillotine also has seven Huskies ranked among the top five at their respective weight classes.
Jackson County Central is coming off a 2022 state championship where in the big tournament it defeated Maple River 52-9, West Central Area 41-27 and Royalton-Upsala 45-23 for the state Class A crown. JCC is perfectly situated to win the championship again, so why say anything different?
So, yes, winning another state title in 2023 is the goal, according to head coach Nate Hanson. All he adds is that the focus (not the goal, but the focus) is to wrestle hard in practice every day in order to get the job done.
It’s a veteran-dominated team, and six of the seven ranked Huskies are seniors.
Junior Nolan Ambrose, who won a state individual title at 113 pounds last season, is ranked No. 1 this year at 132. Senior Thomas Freking is ranked fourth at 138. Other seniors Logan Butzon (third at 145), Dylan Withers (fourth at 170), Matthew Haley (fifth at 195), Caleb Vancura (second at 220) and Cameron Scholten (fourth at 285) round out the list of Huskies standouts.
“They’ve been doing it their whole life. These guys are all wrestlers. Some guys wrestle, but these guys are all wrestlers,” said Hanson, making an important distinction.
Jackson County Central will miss two graduates, Kie Anderson, who won a 120-pound state title last year, and Payton Handevidt, who won the 160-pound state crown. But frankly, they won’t be missed quite as much as they otherwise would, because there are so many exceptional matmen still on the team.
“It was a special season last year, so it will really be difficult to top that,” Hanson admitted this week.
But it looks as though last year can at least be matched.
This winter’s JCC team is particularly strong in the heavier weights, as the state rankings suggest. But there are also a handful of less-experienced wrestlers on hand to give the team balance.
In fact, Hanson says there are three seventh graders who will see varsity action.
“There are some fresh faces and some new challenges that way,” he said. “But we also have nine seniors.”
Imagine being a talented junior high kid getting the chance to learn from the kind of seniors JCC has in the wrestling room. How can you lose?
“They’re good young wrestlers, but inexperienced at the varsity level,” Hanson said about the young ones, then turning his attention to the older ones. “Almost all nine of them (the seniors) have been in our program since kindergarten.”
You gotta wonder about one thing, I guess, when you consider the JCC wrestling team of 2022-23. And that is, might they become complacent? There are no section rivals judged to be anywhere near JCC’s caliber.
Well, they weren’t complacent in 2021-22, were they?
“It was similar last year, in our section,” Hanson said. I think we gave up eight points in the whole section tournament.”
One difference from last season is that the new Huskies juggernaut has four nationally-ranked teams to compete against. On Jan. 20 in Jackson, they’ll take on nationally-ranked rivals from Simley, St. Michael-Albertville and Osage, Iowa. Then on Feb. 3 at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, they’ll face another one: Brandon Valley, S.D.