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Numbers good, optimism high for WHS wrestlers

WORTHINGTON -- There are smiles on the faces of the Worthington High School wrestlers again. Numbers are good and expectations are high. That little business at the end of the 2015-16 season, though not perhaps entirely forgotten, is not importan...

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Doug Wolter/Dailiy Globe Returning letter winners for the Worthington High School wrestling team include (front, from left) Ethan Pavelko, Jacob Prunty, Erik Artiga, Damon Schutz, Kent Lais, (back, from left) Nic Putnam, Mason Byrne, Vince Riley, Brandon Kempema and Brayden Donkersloot.

WORTHINGTON -- There are smiles on the faces of the Worthington High School wrestlers again. Numbers are good and expectations are high. That little business at the end of the 2015-16 season, though not perhaps entirely forgotten, is not important as the Trojans gear up for glory in 2016-17.

With a new season about to begin, it seems almost unfair to bring up the past. But the Trojan wrestlers’ recent -- and highly unusual past -- was uniquely unfortunate. At the Section 2AA team finals against Wabasso/Red Rock Central, the Trojans appeared destined for a state team tournament berth, leading in the team score, 26-22, and in control of the heavyweight match with only seconds to go.

But in a decision that will live in infamy for WHS fans, the mat referee called a controversial fifth stalling warning against the Worthington heavyweight, disqualifying him and giving six points to W/RRC. All the accompanying protestations and arguments went to no avail. Worthington’s state tournament berth was snatched away like the football Lucy annually snatches away from Charlie Brown in the Thanksgiving TV special.

With the start of a new wrestling season, however, optimism reigns.

“The past is the past, and we just have to look forward,” said veteran WHS head coach Mark Prunty at a recent pre-season practice session. “The positive thing is this team, they know the hard work and dedication it takes to get to a section final. So I think they’re anxious to get back there again.”

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A solid group of seniors and juniors lead the Trojans this year. There’s promise in the younger grades, too, with lots of seventh-and eighth graders going out for the sport along with some underclassmen ready to make a name for themselves.

“Replacing the (graduated) seniors is tough. Our freshmen and sophomores have been waiting in the wings to be on varsity. And a lot of those kids have had success in their junior varsity careers,” Prunty said.

The experience begins with three seniors -- two-time state qualifier Nic Putnam (220 pounds), 2016 state entrant Vince Riley (182) and Brandon Kempema (182-195), who was fifth in the section last year. Putnam is a powerful wrestler who makes few mistakes, keeps his position well and is difficult to score on. The long and lanky Riley uses his leverage smartly, is strong on top and is improved on his feet. The short and stocky Kempema is powerful on his feet.

Putnam is coming off a 32-13 won-loss record as a junior. Riley was 33-11 and Kempema 19-10.

Another senior, Frank Rogers, did not get varsity experience last year but should challenge for a starting spot.

Also on hand is the coach’s son, Jacob Prunty, who was 32-1 as a sophomore. Smart, flexible, and able to score from a variety of positions, Prunty defeated several elite opponents last season and figures to be a force at 120 pounds or thereabouts.

Juniors Mason Byrne (170) and Ethan Pavelko (138-145) are also back. Byrne was 20-15 last season and Pavelko was 13-19.

Sophomores Braden Donkersloot (145-152) and Alex Magana (126-132) also provide valuable experience.

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The Trojans ought to get a pretty good idea where they stand early in their Tuesday opener (Dec. 6) at Clara City, when in a triangular meet they face Wabasso/Red Rock Central and Quad County. W/RRC is ranked No. 7 in the state Class AA pre-season poll. Worthington and Quad County both received votes.

Coach Prunty is obviously pleased at the numbers the Trojans will have on the mat this season. With so many kids out for wrestling in the early season, the coaching staff has been able to split the wrestlers into two groups. With the younger, more inexperienced wrestlers, coaches are concentrating on teaching new things. With the experienced group, it’s mostly about conditioning, timing, and developing good habits.

“It’s hard to break a habit in January,” said Coach Prunty.

Related Topics: WRESTLING
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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