Prep wrestling: Trojans are tough and aiming high

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington High wrestling team has some high expectations going into the 2015-16 season.How could it not?The Trojans enter the season on the heels of their first state tournament appearance in 18 years. From that squad, they b...

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ZACH HACKER/DAILY GLOBE The Worthington High wrestling team has 14 returning letter winners this season. They are (front row, left to right) Jacob Prunty, Jeffrey Camacho, Hser Eh Pwae, Hser Moo Pwae, (middle) Zach Bruns, Ethan Pavelko, Brandon Kempema, Cody Michelson, King Blanchette, (back) Torey Rogers, Mason Byrne, Vince Riley, Nic Putnam and Ty Veen.


WORTHINGTON - The Worthington High wrestling team has some high expectations going into the 2015-16 season.
How could it not?
The Trojans enter the season on the heels of their first state tournament appearance in 18 years. From that squad, they bring almost everyone - with a few notable exceptions - back to make another run. But just getting to state isn’t the goal; they want to make some noise once they get there.
“Obviously we have a ton of kids coming back from our state tournament team,” said long-time WHS head coach Mark Prunty. “It was a great thrill for us to get to state last year, but they want more. They want to get up there and win. They’re coming into the season very motivated. They know now what it takes to get to state, so they’re working hard to achieve that.”
Worthington earned the No. 10 preseason ranking in Class AA, according to The Guillotine. It has four returners ranked in the top 10 in their respective weight classes, including three defending individual state qualifiers.
Senior 113-pounder Hser Eh Pwae has made two straight trips to state and enters the season ranked fourth. Last year, he reached the podium with a sixth-place finish at 106 pounds. His brother, Hser Moo Pwae, fell just one match shy of the medal round at state and is ranked No. 5 at 120 pounds. Nic Putnam, ranked eighth at 195 pounds as a junior, made his first state appearance at 220 last season and dropped a tough, 2-1 overtime decision in the opening round.
“Eh and Moo and Putnam got a taste from the individual side last year,” Prunty said. “They’re all starting the year ranked and I think that’s well-deserved. We’re looking for them to not only do a good job for us on the mat but also be leaders in practice.”
Joining them among those in the preseason rankings is 106-pound sophomore Jacob Prunty. He finished his freshman campaign with a perfect 36-0 record and is ranked second entering the season. Prunty and the Pwae brothers had a knack for getting the Trojans out to fast starts last season.
Coach Prunty expects more of the same this year.
“It might take a little time for the guys to settle into their weights,” he said. “Of course, they’re young men and they grow. But ideally we’ll start with the same three as last year.”
To say the Trojans come in with experience might be a bit of an understatement. In fact, they bring back 11 of the 14 wrestlers who made up their lineup at the state tournament. Aside from the three state qualifiers, they also welcome back five Section 3AA medalists from a year ago - four of whom took third place in their weight class.
Most of those grapplers fall in the middle weights, an area the Trojans saw vast improvement as the season wore on last year.
Senior Jeffrey Camacho took third in the section at 132 pounds last year. King Blanchette, a senior, was third at 138 while junior Mason Byrne reached the podium at sixth. Senior Cody Michelson and junior Vince Riley both took third at 160 and 170, respectively. Junior Brandon Kempema (160), sophomore Ethan Pavelko (120) and senior Zach Bruns (145) also did plenty of damage in the Trojans’ regular varsity lineup last year.
“We have a lot of senior leadership,” Coach Prunty said. “We maybe have even more balance than we had last year.”
The only real question mark facing Worthington this year will be how it replaces a few studs in the upper weights who were seniors in 2014-15. The Trojans graduated 195-pounder Carson Hagen - who was undefeated until the individual state title match as a senior before losing to the top-ranked wrestler in the nation. They also lose 182-pounder Joe Pavelko and Trevor Wietzema (285), both who took third in the Section 3AA Tournament as seniors.
Coach Prunty said some of the returners from the middle weights might be able to move up a class or two as the season progresses to help out in the upper weights. The Trojans also have some experienced reinforcements back in the fold. After a year off, seniors Torey Rogers and heavyweight Ty Veen are back with letter-winning experience to help a back end of the lineup that will be anchored by Putnam.
“We’ll be looking at our kids to put the team first,” Coach Prunty said. “Some of them might grow into heavier weights.”
Still, despite loads of optimism, the Trojans aren’t putting the cart before the horse. They know Section 3AA brings its own set of challenges to even reach the state tournament.
United and Quad County, the teams Worthington beat in the section finals and semifinals, respectively, and Fairmont bring back almost everyone from their lineups as well. Then there are also squads such as Redwood River Valley, Luverne, Fulda/Murray County Central and Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove that look to be on the rise.
If all that weren’t enough, a talented Wabasso/Red Rock Central team is joining Section 3AA this season. Last year, the Bobcats beat Worthington 39-24 in an early-season dual.
“It’s not going to be an easy road,” Coach Prunty said. “But if we continue to improve and stay healthy, I think we’ll be in the mix.”
After reaching the state tournament but taking a couple tough losses once they got there, the Trojans are determined. Keeping that mindset might just be what puts them over the top in getting back and advancing.
“Last year our goal was to make state and we did it,” Coach Prunty said. “Now it’s a matter of maintaining that intensity and focus. We cannot get complacent. We need to remember what got us there. We need to always get a full team effort and work extremely hard.”

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