After a strong start to the season, the Central wrestling team stepped up a level in terms of competition and suffered its first two losses in a triangular at Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (LCWM) last Tuesday, Dec. 11.
The Raiders dropped a 67-9 decision to the host team in the opening match, a margin of defeat inflated by 36 points after the Raiders forfeited matches at six weights. Later in the evening the Raiders faced United South Central (USC) and came away with a 45-24 loss after giving away 30 points in forfeits.
Raiders head coach Darrin Fox said that neither outcome was a surprise given the absence of three varsity regulars from Central’s lineup along with the opposing teams’ track record of success in recent years. LCWM has gone to the team state tournament the past three or four seasons, and USC boasted a lineup with at least five ranked individuals.
“I was pleased overall. I think we did what we wanted to do when we went down there. We wrestled good competition and got some wins,” said Fox. “It was a confidence builder for us to see that we could wrestle with some kids and increase our competition level.”
Central 9, LCWM 67
The Raiders picked up just two wins in the match against LCWM. Dylan Just earned a 6-4 decision at 113 pounds, and Matt Distch pinned his opponent in the second period at 195 pounds.
Grant Mueller nearly gave the Raiders a third win at 152 pounds, but ended up with a close loss in overtime.
“I think it went about as planned. We had three of our regular starters out, which would have given us a little more confidence going into the match to wrestle a little better. But I thought our kids wrestled well that match,” said Fox. “They’re a very balanced team. But I thought our kids wrestled hard and did some good things.
“All in all, we only won a couple of matches but I was pleased with the way we wrestled. They’re No. 1 in our section for a reason. If we wrestle well enough we might have a chance to see them again in February. If we do, I can’t predict the score is going to be any closer, but I can predict that we’ll put a full team out there and hope we wrestle better than we did against them the first time.”
Despite the outcome, Fox said there is value in wrestling stronger teams, and said the Raiders must challenge themselves if they hope to continue improving.
“I think it’s good for us. If individuals want to get to the state tournament they’re going to have to beat a kid from Lake Crystal or St. James or Sibley East. We have to wrestle them, because if we don’t we’ll never know if we need to close gaps or get an idea of how to beat a kid we might see later on,” he said. “We have to raise our level of competition a little bit. That’s a good thing for our kids because hopefully they keep progressing over a couple week span and meet those challenges.”
Central 24, USC 45
Zeke Dodge staked the Raiders to an early 3-0 lead after a 4-2 decision at 106 pounds against USC, but five forfeits and a loss quickly reversed the score to 36-3 in favor of USC.
Jared Wickenhauser put the Raiders back in the win column with an 8-2 win at 152 pounds, and Mueller followed with a second-period pin at 160 pounds. Steeven Smith pinned his opponent just 47 seconds into their heavyweight match to finish Central’s scoring in contested matches.
“USC is kind of a different team because they have five individuals who are ranked in the state, who are really good, and then you’ve got a couple that are kind of on the edge,” said Fox, noting that USC recently took second place at a 32-team tournament. “I personally think if we go into that match with our regular lineup we stick right with them and win some matches here and there. It would have been pretty tight. At the same time, we went down with who we had and I thought we wrestled well.”
Like USC, Fox said the Raiders have five to seven individuals who they rely on for wins, but he hopes the Raiders can present a more challenging lineup overall as the season progresses.
“My hope is that we’re doing enough to bring the other kids along with them so that we can have a full team of competitive kids instead of seven good and seven bad. It’s a different coaching philosophy, but some of that depends on the kids too,” he said.
Looking at how the season has gone overall, Fox said the team has made strides, but needs to keep moving forward.
“My hope is that the confidence level for everybody is gaining a little bit, because we’re improving. We’re wrestling hard, but we’re still young and inexperienced at a lot of places. We’re picking up little things from every match,” he said. “We want to make sure everybody gets a chance to go out and prove some things for themselves and have some fun and keep working to get better. Hopefully our best matches come in February.”