The 2013-14 Waconia wrestling team set high expectations for this season with a talented group of wrestlers that also boasted some experience and certainly lived up to the standard.
Waconia finished the dual season 14-9 with large margins of victory over Marshall, LeSueur-Henderson, Tri-City United, Orono, New Ulm, St. Peter, and Norwood Young America.
In tournaments this season, the Wildcats won in Mora on Jan. 4, were second at East Ridge on Dec. 14, fifth in Mound on Feb. 7, and sixth in the WCC Championships on Jan. 30. At the Fargodome’s Rumble on the Red in late December, the Wildcats finished 40th as a team.
In the team section competition, the Wildcats defeated Glencoe-Silver Lake to advance to the Final Four, despite multiple injuries and illnesses throughout the year.
The Wildcats fell to Scott West in the final four. At the individual section tournament, the ‘Cats had eight place winners. Jacob Steinbauer won his weight class, advancing to state.
Competing at 145 pounds in the Class AA state competition, Steinbauer battled his way to a third place finish.
Steinbauer, Isaac Kluver, and Zach Buffington are this year’s departing seniors and were dedicated wrestlers focused on not only self-improvement, but helping others as well.
WHS head coach Kelly Wagener described Kluver as a quiet leader who set an example in practice and on the competition mat.
“He worked really hard for what he did,” Wagener said. “His leadership in the room will be missed.”
Buffington not only stepped up big this season, winning over 20 matches, but also brought a lightheartedness to the team, boosting morale.
“Good kid,” Wagener said. “He really stepped into the role.”
Steinbauer departs the team as the Wildcats’ winningest wrestler in program history, with a record of 166-48. He made three state tournament appearances, was a selfless leader and wrestler, and served as a multi-year captain and All-Conference honoree.
“All three will be missed,” he added. “It was a pretty small class, but talented.”
But their holes in the varsity lineup won’t be open for long, as there will be plenty of wrestlers vying for varsity spots next season.
“We have high, high, high expectations next year,” Wagener said.
Among those returning for the Wildcats will be Justin Schultz, Tyler Wagener, Jaden Vanderhoff, Josh Reich, Owen Hemze, Nick Green, Jed Waligoski, Dylan Gluck, and Eli Teeselink. Mason Hemze, who missed the entire season this year, also hopes to be back in full swing next season.
Besides battling for a conference title, the Wildcats also hope to make a run at Scott West in the section competition next season. The Waconia wrestling team has won the conference only three times, the latest in 2002. Before that, it was back-to-back championships in 1957 and 1958.
“We definitely think we can win it,” Wagener said.
Wagener said with next year’s team, the Wildcats should be one of the biggest teams in the conference with athletes already committing to summer camps and extra training.
“It’s a team that’s already committed to next year,” he said.
New Prague will join the conference next season, providing the Wildcats more competition and a peek at a section team during the regular season. With the Trojans addition to the WCC, the conference will split into East and West divisions, and the Wildcats will have only half as many WCC duals as this season. Wagener predicts that throughout the WCC, there will be up to five teams that are ranked preseason next year.
Next year’s schedule will also include tougher teams, throwing former state champion St. Michael-Albertville and defending Class AA champion Simley into the mix.
This season, All-Conference awards went to Green, Hemze, and Steinbauer, while Honorable Mentions were awarded to Buffington, Schultz, Teeselink, and Waligoski.
Team awards included: MVP Varsity (Steinbauer), MVP Junior Varsity (Jackson Boberg), Most Improved Varsity (Waligoski), Most Improved Junior Varsity (Bobby Fleming), Mr. Hustle (Reich), Wildcat Wrestler of the Year (Green), and the Mat Cat Coaches Award (Reich).
Steinbauer collected the most team points this season, scoring 196, followed by Green (162), Owen Hemze (142). Steinbauer also had the most wins (39), followed by Green (33) and Hemze (31). Steinbauer, Buffington, and Green were the top three with the most falls, logging 20, 19, and 18 respectively. Waligoski won the most decisions (14), followed by Justin Schultz (13), a wrestler who had a team-leading 29 reversals. Jaden Vanderhoff had 31 three-point near falls, followed by Steinbauer at 27. Vanderhoff and Steinbauer tied for most two-point near falls with 14. Reich had the most escapes, wriggling his way out 52 times. Steinbauer had 72 take downs, over Green (61), and Schultz (60).