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PREP WRESTLING: Huskies look to repeat as champs

ST. PAUL -- If the Jackson County Central wrestling team is to defend its Class A team state title, it will have to do it three times as quickly. There is a new format this year for the state wrestling tournament, which has condensed the team com...

ST. PAUL -- If the Jackson County Central wrestling team is to defend its Class A team state title, it will have to do it three times as quickly.

There is a new format this year for the state wrestling tournament, which has condensed the team competition from a three-day event to a single day of wrestling.

"I think it makes the whole experience different for kids," JCC head coach Randy Baker said. "I personally don't like it as well -- the kids are up there for one day and they're sent home, and that's their state tournament.

"I don't think they play two basketball games in a day or two football games in a day, but they are wrestling three team matches in a day."

The change in scheduling means that there will be only one weigh-in at this year's event, whereas in past years teams were able to change their lineups around for each day of competition.

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Another new circumstance for the Huskies is that they are entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the eight-team tournament after entering as the No. 4 seed last year.

Baker is confident that being the top-ranked team in the tournament won't create too much of a different atmosphere for his team.

"I'm sure being seeded No. 1 and that type of thing we've got a target on our back," Baker said. "I don't know if that really matters a lot -- we're going to take one dual at a time. I'm sure the other teams have got to worry about the team they're facing rather than worry about us."

The first opponent JCC will have to worry about will be Pierz, whom the Huskies haven't wrestled before in team competition. The match will be today at 9 a.m.

The team is more familiar with its potential second-round opponents -- Zumbrota-Mazeppa and No. 4 Minneota.

"We had a close win over Zumbrota-Mazeppa and we know Minneota is pretty tough too," Baker said.

The Huskies beat Z-M 42-36 on Jan. 29 and haven't wrestled Minneota since last season, when they lost in a regular-season matchup but beat the Vikings in the second round of the state tournament.

The semifinal matches will be held at 1 p.m. today, giving the teams at least a brief respite between matches.

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The teams that don't make it through the first round won't have as much time to rest -- they will begin competing in the consolation bracket at 11 a.m.

The state championship match is scheduled for 7 p.m.

In the top-half of the bracket, No. 2 Kimball Area will compete against Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial in the first round and the No. 3 Frazee Hornets face off against the Border West Buccaneers.

The Huskies won 52-14 against LC-WM on Jan. 28, and faced both Frazee and Border West in the state tournament last year -- beating the Hornets in the final -- but Kimball Area is an unfamiliar opponent.

"You've got to respect Kimball because they beat Minneota and Frazee early in the year," Baker said. "You've got to think they're pretty good."

JCC is well poised for a run at another state championship, which would be the fifth state title for the program. The Huskies also won in 1999, 2000 and 2008 as well as last year.

The team returns two individual state champions from last season -- senior Bronson Steuber (125 pounds) and junior Cooper Moore (160 pounds) -- and also returns two third-place finishers from last year in sophomore Darick Vancura (130 pounds) and senior Jordan Phibbs (heavyweight).

Phibbs enters this year's tournament ranked as the state's No. 1 wrestler at 215 pounds.

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"We have a pretty experienced lineup," Baker said. "Most of the kids have been wrestling for a while and have pretty good experience. We have pretty good balance throughout the lineup."

Despite the pedigree on this year's team, Baker knows that the Huskies' chances at a repeat championship will likely come down to its depth all the way through the lineup.

"A lot of times it isn't your best kids necessarily that win or lose tournaments for you, it's your other kids," Baker said. "Every team has probably got a few stars on it -- those guys do their job, but it comes down to the other guys. Can your average or better-than-average guy beat their guy that's average or better-than-average or pretty good? Can you win those matchups?"

Baker is unsure how the full day of wrestling today will affect the five individuals on the team that will be wrestling in the individual tournament.

"I just look at it and say, 'Well, if I was going to a national tournament and I was in college the way they do it, I wouldn't wrestle three dual meets the day before I start trying to win the national or state title,'" Baker said.

JCC has faced some more adversity this year than last year in terms of injuries, and will be focussing on keeping as healthy as possible throughout the competition.

"We've been battling more than our fair share of injuries, so I think that's key for us to be as healthy as we can be," Baker said. "We're getting closer, but I wouldn't say we're 100 percent by any means. I think a number of teams probably have their dings."

In the face of all the changes that the Huskies will encounter this year, the only thing that matters is finding a way to keep one thing constant -- the result.

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