With every wrestler back from a team that finished 4-1 in the conference and 14-7 overall last year, expectations are understandably high for Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran.
The Royals return two all-conference wrestlers, another who earned honorable mention, and two more who qualified for the state tournament, including a fifth-place finisher. But ultimately, will it be enough to supplant perennial Minnesota River Conference favorite and state powerhouse Scott West?
Only time will tell.
“I’d like to think we could (beat them), but until I see their lineup, I’m not sure,” Watertown-Mayer coach Joe Traen said. “They’ve got five or six really good kids back from a second-place team (in the state) last year. They’ve got a good start.”
Still, the Royals have plenty of returning stars of their own. That group is led by senior Matt Elsenpeter, who finished 37-5 overall last season, but fell short of a state berth during the section meet. Traen said he expects Elsenpeter to be especially hungry for his first state berth this year.
“I’m sure that’s motivation for him,” Traen said. “It’s Matt’s last chance, and I think he’ll do pretty much anything he can to get there. He’s pretty hungry.”
Also returning to the Royals this year is Aaron Sweeney, a junior this season. Sweeney finished 33-12 overall last year, and earned honorable-mention all-conference recognition.
Nick Burns was a first-team all-conference wrestler last year, and will return the Royals once again this year. He went just 14-23 overall a year ago, but was especially strong in conference meets.
Both the Royals’ state qualifiers from last year return to this year’s team. After missing much of the 2011-12 season due to injury, Torres returned on a tear late in the season, ultimately finishing 16-4 overall and taking fifth place at 195 pounds. Torres enters this season ranked third in the state at 195 pounds.
Jackson Sweeney, now a freshman, was the Royals other state qualifier last year. Sweeney lost in the state tournament’s first round at 106 pounds, but finished 28-15 on the year. He enters the season ranked seventh at 106 pounds.
The Royals also feature a newcomer this year in Davion Franklin, who qualified for state last year for Waconia at 285 pounds. Franklin, a senior, enters the year ranked No. 5 in the state at 285.
“Just from the looks of it, he could really help us,” Traen said.
A number of other Royals also posted strong records last year, including Joey Reinert (24-18), Joe Jobe (19-15), Adam Traen (18-14) and Hunter Hood (15-13). Other notable returnees who saw varsity action last year include juniors Logan Cooper and Jon Ernst, sophomore Jon Vouk, freshman Bryce Duske, and seniors Jeremiah Lyzhoft and Nate Hillmann. Senior newcomer Davion Franklin also could be a key contributor.
“We’ve got some pretty good kids in the lineup,” Traen said. “They just have to figure out and finish out the season.”
Traen said the team hasn’t officially established its goals for the season yet, but said the team certainly wants to be competitive in the conference and in the section.
“Obviously we want to win the conference if we can, which includes Scott West, and then win the section,” he said. “But just coming together as a team and wrestling as a team is a goal in itself. Keeping everybody together and healthy is important. For any of the teams on the top, if anybody goes down, it’s probably going to be serious consequences for them. I think it’s a close race, with probably four teams.”
The Royals open the season Thursday night at home, when they host St. Peter and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in a triangular beginning at 5 p.m. WMML will take on St. Peter at 5 p.m., and HLWW at 8 p.m.
The Royals will also compete the Glencoe-Silver Lake Invitational on Saturday, beginning at 8 a.m.