Grapplers open with USC at home
Last year, the Blue Earth Area wrestling team finished third at the South Central Conference tournament and posted a 1-1 record in the team portion of the Section championships.
This season, head coach Randy Wirtjes, assistants Dave Pfaffinger and Tim Blagg have good reason to believe their squad will do even better.
The Bucs have 18 returning letterwinners, 13 from last year’s varsity squad of 14 that finished with a 12-11 overall season record and 3-2 in the conference.
“We’d like to think we’ll be right in the middle of things. If we can keep everyone healthy and keep our weights spread out, I think we’ll be all right,” says Wirtjes.
The head coach was talking about the Bucs chances in the conference, which he says New Ulm and Waseca are probably the favo-rites, followed by BEA and St. James.
Anchoring BEA’s lineup will be heavyweight Jake Lee.
The Buc senior was the team’s lone entry in the 2008 State Tournament, where he lost to the eventual state champion in his first match and then the No.1-ranked wrestler who was defeated by Lee’s first round opponent.
He finished with 32 wins and eight losses, placing second in the SCC and Section meets.
The Bucs varsity will sport five wrestlers that notched more than 20 wins a year ago.
Junior Dan Eckhardt was 28-9, while wrestling at 145 pounds. He was third in the conference meet and missed going to State with a third-place showing at Section.
Eckhardt was third on the team with takedowns (64) and registered the quickest pin of the season in eight seconds. In the conference meet, he took third. Eckhardt is expected to start the season at 152.
Sophomore Joe Franta was next in line for most wins with 27 to go along with 12 losses. The 119-pounder took second in the conference and fourth at Section. He led the team in takedowns with 78 and was tied for third with 14 pins. Franta is expected to be at 130 pounds.
At 215, senior Mat Willner had 14 pins and a 25-11 record. He was third on the team with 24 near falls and fourth with 61 takedowns.
Willner nabbed runner-up honors at conference and was fourth at Section.
At the top of the Bucs lineup last year, sophomore Jake Wirtjes was 22-17 at 103, followed by junior D.J. Gronewald (21-9) at 112.
Wirtjes recorded the second most near falls with 26 and had the second quickest pin in 20 seconds. He took third-place in the conference meet and was sixth at Section. Wirtjes will go up one weight to 112 and Gronewald will be at 119.
Cody Eckhardt just missed the 20-win mark with a 19-19 record. The Buc junior was third in the conference at 160 pounds. This year he may bump up to 171.
Others wrestling on varsity last year and are letterwinners include: senior Jared Resutek (16-19) 135; sophomore Collin Nienhaus (11-18) 140; senior Sinjin Bell (14-26) at 145; senior Tyler Johnsrud (10-22) 152 and 160; senior Clinton Nienhaus (3-17) 171 and 189; and junior Taylor Andrews (14-24) 189.
Vying for spots in the varsity and letterwinners will be sophomore Travis Hage-dorn and eighth-grader Jesse Alleven at 103, eighth-grader Carter Hanson (125), and sophomore Matt Dulas (152).
In the Section Meet, Wirtjes looks for Medford to be the preseason frontrunner.
“They lost only one from last year’s team and five or six of their wrestlers are ranked,” says Wirtjes.
The Section will be loaded with perennial powers that include last year’s Class A team champions Jackson County Central. United South Central, Maple River and New Richland-Hart-land-Ellendale-Geneva are expected to have strong squads.
“I think that we’ll be able to compete come tournament time and have something to say about who wins the Section,” adds Wirtjes.