A mixture of quality and youth
On Thursday, the Blue Earth Area wrestling team goes on the road to take on the United South Central Rebels.
Opening the 2011 season against an arch rival is enough to motivate any team, however, the match may be even more special for the Bucs.
It marks the start of 23 years of coaching for Randy Wirtjes, 10 of those as Buc head coach.
“It’s flown by and doesn’t seem possible. I can’t believe 23 years later I’d still be here as a coach,” he says. “I guess it shows I love coaching and will continue doing it as long as I enjoy it.”
Wirtjes actually has been the varsity coach for 11 years, the first year he and Dave Pfaffinger were co-head coaches of the team.
Pfaffinger and Tim Blagg, who are also in their 11th year, will be back to help out Wirtjes.
The coaching staff will have to brush up on 17 rule changes approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
In addition, 10 of the 14 weight classes have been changed.
The new weights are 106; 113; 120; 126; 132; 138; 145; 152; 160; 170; 182; 195; 220; and 285.
BEA will be trying to improve on last year’s 4-2 dual meet record in the South Central Conference and 16-10 overall.
The Bucs took third place during the SCC Meet and lost to New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva in the semifinals of the Section 2A Team Tournament.
Wirtjes says the Bucs are “very young” but there are a lot of quality wrestlers back from last year.
“We’re untested in some areas,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have three or four ninth-graders in the lineup.”
“We’ll have a nice team. We have great leadership back and I think that will help in the transition,” he adds.
On this year’s squad there are 17 returning varsity letterwinners.
Four wrestlers notched more than 20 wins last year and two competed individually in their respective weight class at the Class A State Tournament.
Junior Carter Hanson posted a 31-9 record last year at 160 pounds, winning the SCC title and placing second in the Section individual championships.
Hanson enters the season with an 88-31 record and barring injury should teach the 100-win mark.
The other state participant for BEA was senior Josh Johnson.
At 215 pounds, Johnson finished with 19 wins, 9 losses. He took second in the SCC Meet and like, Hanson, needed a true second match victory to qualify for state.
Both Hanson and Johnson were knocked out early at the state tournament.
Jesse Alleven had more than 20 wins at 112 pounds. The Buc junior was 22-18 and placed third in the SCC Meet.
Wrestling at 125 and 130 pounds, freshman Mike Ankeny compiled a record of 22-16.
The last 20-match winner for the Bucs was Kysten Zierke, with a 20-17 record at 189 pounds.
Returning letterwinners seeing extensive varsity action last year include sophomore Alec Huber (103); senior Isaac Vasquez (135); freshman Jacob Johnson (140); junior Dylan Johnsrud (145); and freshman Martin Granados (heavyweight).
Two other wrestlers battling for a varsity spot are senior Mitch Hieronimus and sophomore David Franta, if they can stay healthy.
Franta was 4-3 before suffering a season-ending injury.
Hieronimus returned to the lineup after being sidelined most of the season with an injury and finished with a 4-9 record.
Once again, Wirtjes sees St. James and Waseca as the frontrunners in the SCC. He expects St. Peter to be a decent team because of good wrestlers in the lower weights.
Wirtjes says Fairmont will be better since joining forces with Martin County West because two state qualifiers will now wrestle for the Cardinals.“Don’t count us out. Our goal at the start of the season is to be South Central Conference champs and we’re not going to back down from that,” Wirtjes says.
There are several teams in Section 2A that Wirtjes believes will be in contention for a state bid.
But, Jackson County Central remains the team to beat, with New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva a close second.
Wirtjes says Maple River also has several excellent wrestlers.
“The Guillotine has us and United South Central as darkhorses. We think we’ll be in the mix,” he says. “The kids have to stay healthy and improve during the year.”