BEA grapples for success
Two weeks before the first official practice some Blue Earth Area wrestlers couldn’t wait to get going.
Although not allowed in the wrestling room or to hold organized workouts, many were getting in some running and training.
Anyone familiar with Buc wrestling knows a hallmark of the program is its wrest-lers being in top condition.
So, when Head Coach Randy Wirtjes saw this type of dedication from some of his athletes it was bound to bring a smile to his face.
“It’s nice to see. They’re willing to come in on their own and get started,” he says. “Hopefully the success some of our guys had during football will carry over and get our seniors to step up a notch.”
The squad is coming off a 26-2 dual meet record last year and a second-place finish to Medford in the Section 2A team championship. The Tigers ended up taking third place at the State meet.
The Bucs won the South Central Conference title with a 5-0 dual record and were ranked as high as No. 8 in the state polls.
Despite 13 returning varsity letterwinners, Wirtjes has two large holes to fill — heavyweight Jake Lee and 215-pounder Mat Willner.
Last year, Lee compiled a 42-2 record on his way to a second-place finish at the State tournament, while Willner earned a third-place medal and posted a 43-1 season record.
The cupboard isn’t exactly bare for the Bucs.
Of the 13 returning letterwinners, seven had more than 20 wins last year and one finished with 19.
“We will have a lot of kids back, but we’ll be untested in some areas. We’ll have some battling for spots,” says Wirtjes.
Three wrestlers reached the 30-win mark.
Daniel Eckhardt most likely will top the 100-win career mark. He enters the season with 93 wins and 65 losses.
The Buc senior put together a 31-9 record at 152 pounds. He finished first in the South Central Conference tournament and fourth at the Section 2A individual tournament.
Eckhardt has the fourth-most team points last year with 144, and his 71 takedowns were the third on the team.
Joe Franta also has a chance to reach 100 wins in his career.
The Buc junior has an overall record of 67 wins and 34 losses.
At 125 pounds, Franta finished second at the SCC Meet and fourth in the Section.
Posting a 30-11 record, he led the team with 107 takedowns, was third on the team with 21 near falls and collected 140 team points to put him No. 5.
Junior Jake Wirtjes went 34-8 at 112 pounds. In the conference and Section tournaments he won the bronze medal.
Wirtjes finished in the top three in all the offensive categories. He was first on the team in near falls with 38, second in takedowns with 75, third in pins 18 and his 174 total team points were the third most.
Four wrestlers had more than 20 wins last year.
Senior Taylor Andrews finished 28-15 at 189 pounds.
He was second at the SCC Meet and fifth in the Section.
At 103 pounds, Travis Hagedorn compiled a 26-12 record. The Buc junior took third place in the conference tournament.
Senior D.J. Gronewald and freshman Carter Hanson just missed the 25-win mark.
Gronewald was 24-17 at 119 pounds, placing third in the SCC Meet and fourth in the Section.
At 130, Hanson finished with a 24-11record. He won the silver medal at the conference tournament and was fifth overall in the Section.
Cody Eckhardt finished the season last year with a 19-19 record.
At 160 pounds, the Buc senior took second place in conference and fourth in the Section.
Other returning varsity letterwinners include senior Jason Mertens, juniors Matt Dulas, and Devon Jahnke, and freshman Jesse Alleven.
In the conference, Wirtjes says Waseca, New Ulm and St. James will be among the favorites.
The Buc head coach sees Jackson County Central as the team to beat in the Section team tournament, with Medford and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva also contending for the title.
“We’d like to think we’ll be among the teams contending for the titles at the end of the season,” says Wirtjes.
Assisting with the coaching duties will be David Pfaffinger and Tim Blagg.
The Bucs open the season Dec. 3 on the road against United South Central and will then host the Dick Maher Invitational on Dec. 5.