Indeed, southwest Minnesota has always been a hotbed for wrestling. And the tradition continues.
“Absolutely,” said Karl Campbell, head coach at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove. “When you look at the history of the teams in our section, talking about Canby, Adrian, Minneota, Windom, Jackson … and then what we’ve been able to do the last couple of years. There’s a lot of history and really good wrestling in this neck of the woods. It’s something to be proud of.”
There are three classes for wrestling this season. Among area squads in Section 3 of Class AA are Worthington, Luverne, Redwood-River Valley and Marshall, which is expected to challenge for honors at the state team tourney behind such stars as senior Jaiden Bahr and eighth-grader Dylan Louwagie.
Redwood has seniors Kaleb Hanse and Chad Maddock, expected to be consistent winners at 220 and heavyweight, respectively.
Talent also abounds in southwest Minnesota among Class A teams, especially for Campbell, who lives north of Currie and teaches at Tracy, at T-M-B/W-WG. The team is ranked fourth among Class A squads and Campbell, entering his 19th season as head wrestling coach, is hopeful of another exceptional campaign.
So are fans of many other area teams.
At Adrian, Gregg Nelson has been the head coach for more than two decades. His Adrian-Ellsworth Dragons have solid experience returning.
Senior heavyweight Scot Edwards was 28-2 and finished runner-up at the state meet last February. Senior Logan Taylor, who qualified for the state meet two years ago, and sophomore Brayan Anaya, who earned a state trip at 106 last season, lead the way.
“We haven’t graduated a senior the last two years,” Nelson said. “Hopefully we’ll have some good senior leadership … We’ve got plenty of big kids but we’re looking for some to emerge in the lighter weights.”
Edwards is ranked No. 2 among Class A heavyweights in the Guillotine’s preseason prep rankings. Anaya is ranked fifth at 113.
Nelson is hopeful of a final-four finish in the section.
“Jackson’s going to be solid, along with Tracy (Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove), Canby and Wabasso (Wabasso-Red Rock Central),” he said. “We’re focusing on putting the best team on the mat that we can.”
Minneota has also been a perennial powerhouse and is expected to challenge in a 3A section that also includes Murray County Central/Fulda, Granada-East Chain, Madeline/Truman/Martin Luther, Pipestone Area, St. James Area and Springfield.
The Panthers of T-M-B/W-WG have made it to the state tournament as a team the last two seasons — placing third both years — and despite heavy graduation losses Campbell said he’s optimistic.
“We think this team can surprise a lot of people,” he said.
Senior Jace Paplow of Westbrook-Walnut Grove is ranked third at 182 for the Panthers.
“He’s fantastic,” Campbell said. “He works his tail off and is a model student-athlete. A good football player. Just a good all-around kid, the kind you want others to follow.”
Fellow seniors Levi Ellington (7th at 132) and Trevor Eisfeld (3rd at 195), plus talented sophomore Ayden Horner (3rd at 126) are among those who cracked the Guillotine’s preseason rankings.
Eisfeld finished runner-up at 182 last season, finishing 43-4 overall.
At Windom/Mountain Lake, co-coaches Travis Elg and Nick Kulseth have especially high hopes.
“We’re going to pencil in some new guys this year but overall we’ll be a well-balanced team,” Kulseth said. “Hopefully we can get on a hot streak at the end and make a run at things.”
The Cobras are led by senior Brett Willaby, who won a state championship last February at 126.
“He’s one of a kind,” said Kulseth. “He’s a hard worker, a good scrambler, and he shows up for big matches.”
Willaby, who was 35-3 a year ago, is from Mountain Lake and played on his school’s state championship 9-Man football team.
Junior Kade Sammons (ranked 6th at 138) is another consistent winner.
“Kade is Brett’s practice partner. He’s one of our better kids coming back,” Kulseth said.
Senior heavyweight Eli Mutz, who is from Windom, is another Cobra to watch.
Jackson County Central second-year head coach Nate Hanson has some exceptional talent returning. Freshman Logan Butzon (ranked 3rd at 113), sophomore Payton Handevidt (6th at 132) and senior Ethan Hendrickson (5th at 138) are all expected to pile up the points.
“We have a pretty young team,” said Hanson, a 1998 state champion at Jackson who went on to earn All-American honors on the mat at Minnesota West and compete at Moorhead State. “I think we have a chance to compete for a section championship.”
Butzon earned a state berth as an eighth-grader and Handevidt placed sixth at state last year.
Others who should contribute mightily for Jackson include Nolan Ambrose, Sam Dunker and Bradley Buhl Jr., who starred on JCC’s fine football team in the fall and is out for wrestling for the first time.
Meanwhile, Murray County Central/Fulda and Pipestone Area feature some young wrestlers with high hopes.
Nick Henning is a second-year head coach at MCC/Fulda. He was a state champion at 189 in 2006 while wrestling for the Warriors and went on to a mat career at Augustana (S.D.) College.
The Warriors are led by sophomore Ryder Henning, nephew of the coach, who was sixth in the section last winter at 160. Sophomore Christian Kuball is coming off an excellent football campaign and should also be a team leader in the heavier weights.
Pipestone Area, led by longtime coach Brian Bos, can rely on senior Grant Budden, who has qualified for the state meet three times. Senior Eric Lange and sophomore Nate Bobendrier are also expected to be consistent winners.