An extended football season, which culminated in a Minnesota state Class AA championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium, might mean the Pipestone Area wrestling program could start slowly this year. But not to worry: The Arrows are still mighty dangerous.
“I think it’s going to take a while to get our bearings and get our lineups set. But I think by the end of the year we’ll be hard to beat,” said PA head coach Brian Bos, who led the 2016-17 squad to a state Class A team tournament berth.
In looking at area team’s prospects for 2017-18, the Arrows are certainly at or near the top of the list. Bos returns two 2-time state champions -- both who waded through last season with unblemished records.
Both are seniors this year. Hunter Burnett, who won the 120-pound Class A title last season, is penciled in at the 132/138-pound range now. Michael Suda, the 126-pound state champ, may wrestle early at 132 pounds before moving down to 126.
Both are ranked No. 1 by The Guillotine wrestling publication, Suda at 126 and Burnett at 132. The Arrows return a third state-ranked matman in senior Garrett Ploeger, who is No. 6 at 170 pounds.
The Guillotine does not rank Pipestone Area among the state’s top 12 teams for 2017-18, and Section 3 rival Minneota is ranked No. 7. Another tough rival, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove, is listed in the “lean and mean” category along with PA.
But Bos isn’t conceding anything.
“We’re the defending (section) champs and until somebody beats us, that’s the way it is,” he said.
Bos concedes the Arrows will need to be creative this year in filling in all the weight classes, at least early in the season. But he’s confident in the finished product.
“That’s where we were last year, where all 14 weights were pretty darn good,” he said.
Two other area wrestling programs with strong histories -- Jackson County Central and Adrian -- have struggled recently with numbers. JCC is coming back. Adrian may be still be a year or two away from getting to where it wants to be, but head coach Gregg Nelson promises that the cavalry is on the way.
The town’s youth program, which lacked the usual numbers in recent years, is showing good health today. In a couple of years, many of those kids will be joining the high school program.
In 2017-18, however, the Dragons -- who have none of their wrestlers ranked by The Guillotine -- lack experience. No seniors are on the team. Only one junior is on the squad. There are 21 kids on the team, however, which is up from last year.
Junior Chandler Combs (132-138-145), and sophomores Logan Taylor (106) and Scott Edwards (HWT) will headline this season’s team.
Jackson County Central will have more depth. Senior Jacob Tvinnereim, a varsity performer since the eighth grade and a 3-time state tournament entry, is coming off a strong football season and is ranked No. 3 by The Guillotine at 152 pounds. He was fourth at state at 138 pounds last season.
“He’s a hard worker. He’s a leader for us. He makes very few mistakes. He’s aggressive, he’s very good on his feet,” said veteran head coach Randy Baker.
Other Huskies looking for good seasons include eighth-grader Peyton Handevidt (106), sophomore Ethan Hendrickson (126-132) and senior Zach Poelaert (132-138). In all, nine section place-winners return to the team.
Later in the 2017-18 campaign, Baker hopes to be able to fill all the weight classes.
“If we get ‘em filled out, we’ll be able to compete,” Baker predicted.Lean, mean and ranked
As always, southwest Minnesota is seeded with outstanding wrestlers far and wide.
Windom/Mountain Lake weighs in with junior Alex Borsgard (ranked No. 5 at 145 pounds) and sophomore Brett Willaby (7, 120). Willaby placed fourth at 106 in last season’s state Class A individual tournament and Borsgard was fifth at 132.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove leads with Derrick Ellington (5, 126), Anthony Axford (7, 145) and Jace Paplow (5, 182).
Wabasso/Red Rock Central features Mason Irlbeck (4, 106), Jared Schroepfer (7, 152) and Nick Altermatt (3, 182). W/RRC will also be working this year without longtime coach Gary Hindt, who retired at the end of last season after compiling an 8-7-214-6 record over 49 seasons.
In Class AA, the Worthington Trojans hope to have enough stuff to make a return state tournament team trip. The Trojans are ranked No. 12 among state AA squads according to The Guillotine, and feature state-ranked wrestlers in Jacob Prunty (4, 126) and Mason Byrne (8, 182).
Luverne freshman Hunter Baker is ranked eighth at 106 pounds.
Another AA school, Fulda/Murray County Central, is young, with just one senior, one junior, one freshman, and 10 eighth- and ninth-graders on the early-season roster.