Central wrestlers won one dual last week and lost another, but Raiders head coach Darrin Fox said he was looking at it as a 60-40 week rather than an even split.
After what Fox said were three strong days of practice, the Raiders went to Madelia-Truman on Thursday, Jan. 10 and picked up a 42-28 win over that section opponent. The following day, however, a Raiders lineup hampered by injuries suffered a 40-27 loss at Minnesota River Conference rival Tri-City United after giving up three forfeits.
Fox said that he expects the lineup to be back at full strength this week, which included a home dual against Rockford on Tuesday and features the big Thief River Falls tournament on Saturday, Jan. 19.
Central 42, M-T 28
After a seesaw struggle on the scoreboard, the Raiders came out ahead of Madelia-Truman in the first match of the week.
“I was pretty confident in the way we were going to wrestle down there, and we did wrestle well against them,” said Fox. “We were able to get kind of a nice lead to start, fell behind a bit, but then the upper weights came through for us with some big victories from about 170 on to seal the deal for us,” said Fox. “It was nice to beat a section opponent.”
Zeke Dodge had a third-period pin at 106 pounds to stake Central to an early lead, and Ben Barth (113) followed with a win by fall in the first period.
Dylan Just and Josh Hendel followed at 120 and 126 pounds, respectively, and each wrestled a full six minutes despite being undersized at those weights.
“We’re still in a little bit of a bind because we’ve got four kids who are 106 or 113-pounders who are trying to wrestle at 120 or 126. Especially when you get into January and you have other schools with bigger kids starting to work their way down, those kids are just too big for us sometimes,” said Fox. “Josh wrestled a senior who was 128 or 129 pounds. I was real proud of him because he simply said he’d go up there for the team and wrestle. He did a good job of giving up weight but keeping it close and keeping it to a decision, which was big for us.”
Jared Wickenhauser won by fall at 145 pounds, and Grant Mueller (152) won a close 2-0 decision, but Madelia-Truman pulled ahead with a 25-21 lead after the 160-pound match.
Cody Wigfield closed that gap with a 4-3 decision at 170 pounds, and the Raiders finally took the lead for good when Jordan Kohls (195) accepted a forfeit and Steeven Smith (220) and Jordan Stevens (285) both won by fall to close out the meet.
“Overall, I was pleased with how we did,” said Fox. “We still have to learn that everybody has to contribute when they get a chance, and sometimes those contributions aren’t wins, it’s just keeping it close. We’re giving up minimal pins right now, which helps us because we don’t have a full lineup.”
Central 27, TCU 40
Those empty slots in the lineup ended up hurting Central the following day at Tri-City, but Fox said the loss was due to more than just forfeits.
“Tri-City was a dual I thought we could win, but I think we were really flat. We competed hard, but overall we just wrestled flat,” he said. “I don’t know if it was a couple long bus rides in a row, or two days of wrestling in a row, but if we have kids that want to place high in the section or get to the state tournament, they’re going to have to wrestle two good days in a row. So we can’t just be happy with one day. We have to push ourselves.”
Dodge (106) again gave the Raiders a good start with a first-period pin, and the Raiders took a 12-0 lead after accepting a forfeit at 113 pounds, but two losses followed before the Raiders forfeited at three consecutive weights to fall into a 28-12 hole.
Mueller eventually put the Raiders back on track with a 6-2 win at 160 pounds. Matt Ditsch (182) posted a 6-2 decision and Jordan Kohls (195) won 7-2 to finish the scoring for the Raiders in contested matches. A forfeit gave the Raiders their final six points.
“TCU is an improving team. They’ve got some good kids. It was just a matchup where we had some opportunities but we couldn’t come through,” said Fox. “In the bigger picture, we can’t give up three forfeits and expect to win a dual match, because that only gives you 11 chances. We’re fighting that battle right now. I’m hoping that within the next week we’ll be back to full strength.”
In the meantime, Fox said he doesn’t plan to plug those gaps with younger wrestlers who aren’t ready to compete at the varsity level.
“Those weights right now are pretty loaded with freshmen and 8th graders, and I’m not going to put someone in there who’s not ready. We don’t do ourselves any favors or keep kids out for the sport if we do that to them,” he said. “I’m not going to make excuses for it because we still have 11 guys who can go out and wrestle, but it does put you behind a little bit.”
Ultimately, Fox said that at this point in the season it is more important to challenge his wrestlers than to pick up wins against lesser opponents.
“We need to ratchet up our competition a little bit. TCU is a better team than Madelia was. Madelia was better than some of the teams we wrestled before. The second half of the season is going to be tougher. You want the wins, but sometimes the wins don’t make you any better,” he said. “We’ve got to realize that if we’re going to compete for spots at the state tournament with St. James and Sibley East and Lake Crystal and Windom, we’re going to have to wrestle that stronger competition.”
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