BY DOUG WOLTER
WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington Trojans wrestling team competed in the Minnesota state Class AA team tournament last March, proving once again that in arguably the toughest high school sport of all, it helps to be in great shape.
“We always focus really hard on our conditioning,” said senior Mason Byrne, who is hoping to make an individual trip to the state tilt this year. “We always focus on being the best conditioned team so we can win matches in the third period.”
It’s all part of veteran head coach Mark Prunty’s master plan.
“That’s a big part of our success the last two or three years, the conditioning,” he explained.
You don’t need to be an experienced senior to know that it’s just about impossible to perform at a high wrestling level without superior conditioned athletes. Many’s the time that a talented matmen wilted in the third period because he hasn’t run enough laps, or hasn’t toed the line in practice.
But the Trojans have been successful not just for their conditioning, but for their attention to their given roles. A top-flite competitor might need to get a fall to push WHS over the top. So he goes out and gets it. A lesser competitor might need to avoid getting pinned -- or just avoid getting beaten on a major decision -- so by losing 6-2 he effectively scores a point for the squad.
Prunty’s Trojans know their roles. They know what they need to do for the team.
“To be competitive as a team, it’s really important that they understand that,” said the coach.
The Trojans open the 2017-18 campaign on Thursday with a triangular at home against Luverne and Windom/Mountain Lake. Prunty likes what he sees in the practice room, but he’s not assuming the Trojans will return to the state team tournament just because they’re ranked No. 12 in the preseason Class AA rankings by The Guillotine.
After all, section rival Fairmont/Martin County West is one spot ahead of them.
“I think the kids are excited about the season. You would think that as defending section champs, we would be the favorite. But I think that most people would see Fairmont as the favorite -- and that’s not unexpected. They have a lot of good kids back,” Prunty said.
He added: “But that should serve as motivation for us.”
Leading the Trojans into the season this year are a pair of state-ranked athletes.
Jacob Prunty, son of the head coach, won more than 40 matches last season and placed fourth in the state individual tourney -- going 4-2 with both of his losses coming by just one point. Today he’s ranked No. 4 at 126 pounds and looking, said his dad, to achieve a state title.
Byrne is ranked No. 8 at 182. He came close to qualifying for state last season, but he arrives in 2017-18 having gotten stronger over the summer. With well over 30 victories last season, Byrne is lanky and uses his leverage well.
Other key performers include senior Ethan Pavelko (145-152), senior Marcos Herrera (195), senior Kendrick Bickett (170-182) and freshman Damon Schutz (106-113). Juniors armed with valuable experience include Erik Artiga (106), Lay K Paw (126), Brayden Donkersloot (145), Preston Anderson (145) and Jacob Neuberger (160).
Pavelko, touts Coach Prunty, has been “a staple in our lineup for a long, long time.” Herrera was a section place winner last year despite being relatively inexperienced.
“A pretty good number of kids grew over the summer. The lineup we start with may look very different later in the year,” said the coach. “Our junior class, they’re going to have to step up. We’re going to rely on them more than we did last year.”
The wrestlers, themselves, appear ready.
“We should be pretty competitive again,” Byrne said. “That’s our goal every year, to get to the state tournament, and to send as many individuals as we can on top of that.”