With seven individual section place winners returning to the Central wrestling squad this season, head coach Darrin Fox has a good starting point to put together this year’s lineup, despite the loss of a talented senior class last spring.
“I think things have been going well,” Fox said before the team’s opening competition in Winona last weekend. “We have kind of a different group this year than we had last year. We had pretty good experienced kids that we graduated last year, about 350 career wins in all or something like that. So that’s a pretty good chunk. But I’m excited about this group and I’m pleased with what they’ve done so far. Their work ethic has been really good.”
A total of 37 students are participating in the wrestling program this season, a strong number that should make the annual task of filling holes a little bit easier. While some of those individuals are in need of additional seasoning before taking to the mat at the varsity level, Fox said he hopes to have flexibility this season.
“My goal is to, instead of just having a team of 14, have upwards of 19-20 kids wrestle varsity this year. It might fluctuate, but we’ll get some kids some opportunities,” he said. “I think that once we get going a little bit we’ll see more consistency throughout the whole lineup, which I’m happy with. I think there will be a few kids who will have to get going a little bit first before we can put them at the varsity level consistently, and then we hope they can have success there.”
As for season objectives, Fox said he hopes to win a few conference matches, though that could be a tall order considering the competition.
“Scott West is going to be Scott West. Nobody has beat them in I don’t know how many years. I think Watertown has a really nice team. Sibley East does too. Those three teams are going to battle for the top, but I’d like to win a few matches in there,” he said.
As a team, the Raiders hope to get a top-five seed and make it to the final four in sections. Individually, Fox said he hopes that 10-12 individuals can place at individual tournaments, including sections.
Strong points in the team’s early season lineup include those seven returning section placewinners: 8th grader Zeke Dodge, junior Josh Hendel and freshman Davis Colley in the lower weights; senior Grant Mueller, senior Matt Ditsch and junior Jordan Kohls in the middle weights; and senior Jordan Stevens in the upper weights.
“Jordan Stevens is going to be an anchor at heavyweight for us this year. He’s in his senior year and he’s worked really hard. I know he’d like to have a state trip for his senior year and I think he’s capable of it,” said Fox.
Mueller, Ditsch and Hendel will also be leaders.
“Those are the guys that I’ll count on for consistency, but we also have Colley and Dodge and Jared Wickenhauser and Alex Meeker, Kohls and Steeven Smith. They’re going to be contributors. Hopefully we can turn the corner with some of them and get them to feel good about themselves because they [have potential]. If we can get some good things out of them that will set us up well for next year,” said Fox.
With a blend of experience and youth, Fox said the year’s team has the makings of a competition squad.
“We’re excited about the season. We have a nice mix of kids. I think we’ve started to see some of the fruits of our labor over the past couple of years, building up to where we’re at a more consistent level. I hope we can keep that going this year and have some success. At the same time, there will be some failure that will help them figure out what they need to improve on and how much better they can get.
“But I feel pretty positive about some of the things we can do. We just have to keep working hard and getting after it. If we do that good things will happen. It’s a long season, it’s a marathon and you can’t get too high or too low. We if we do that we’ll be fine.”
The Raiders opened the season with an overnight trip to Winona last weekend for an individual tournament and had some positive results to report.
Of seven varsity entrants, the team had six place winners, including second place finishes from Mueller at 160 pounds and Ditsch at 195.
Colley (126) earned a third place spot after losing to a state entrant in the final seconds of the semifinal match, and Stevens (hwt) and Hendel (113) each took fourth in what Fox called highly competitive brackets. Dodge (106) took fifth place after losing his first match, no small accomplishment.
“We had a nice tournament in Winona from a varsity perspective,” said Fox. “I thought our guys wrestled well in many areas. We left some points on the mat in other areas that we will continue to work on and we should be pretty close to full strength this week against Howard Lake and at Trinity Tournament.”
• Fox noted that Caleb Wickenhauser, Anthony Hennen, Michael Raatz and Smith all took first place in their weights in the JV tournament.