Wrestling: Z-M eliminated from state competitionST. PAUL - It was the end of a whirlwind two weeks for the Zumbrota-Mazeppa wrestling team as the Cougars were eliminated from Class A state wrestling competition with two dual losses Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
ST. PAUL - It was the end of a whirlwind two weeks for the Zumbrota-Mazeppa wrestling team as the Cougars were eliminated from Class A state wrestling competition with two dual losses Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
In the Section 1A finals Feb. 18, fifth-seeded Z-M defeated the No. 1 and 2 seeds to gain entrance into state. But Thursday, the Cougars dropped their first two matches at state, first to third-seeded Minneota 44-23 in the quarterfinals and then 38-27 to Barnesville in the consolation bracket. Z-M struggled with injuries during the end of January but Cougars’ head coach Link Steffen said he knew the team could make a run at state with a little health.
“We really got stronger as the year went on,” Z-M head coach Link Steffen said. “I knew if our guys stayed injury free we could do it.”
Despite the losses, junior Mitchell Watkins said getting to state this year will make the Cougars hungry to get back next year.
“(The coaches) all knew we could get here,” Watkins said. “It’s going to be so much better for next year … now, we have a taste and everybody wants to come back. With a young team, we have that want now.”
Ninth-grader Joey Majerus started the Z-M off with a 14-3 major decision at 106 pounds against third-seeded Minneota but the Cougars gave up bonus points at 113 and 120 to fall behind 10-4 early. Mitchell Watkins grabbed a 16-5 major decision for Z-M over Cole Hennen with a nice match at 126 pounds.
Minneota garnered bonus points at the next three weight classes to take a 29-8 lead before junior Nate Bennett secured a fall for the Cougars in 1 minute, 33 seconds over Keagan Drietz at 160 pounds. Ninth-grader Dillon Downes followed that up with an 8-1 decision at 170 pounds. Z-M lost the next three matches and sophomore Shane Bode notched a fall in 5:36 at 285 pounds to finish the Cougars’ first match on a positive note. Steffen said he was pleased with getting more than 20 points against a top team like Minneota. Minneota finished third in the Class A tournament.
The match against Barnesville started with Majerus pinning Zachary Anderson in 51 seconds at 106 pounds and Watkins getting an 8-3 decision over Kyler Votava at 126 pounds to give Z-M a 9-7 lead. Sophomore Hunter Prodzinski got the best of Rylee Anderson at 132 pounds after a back-and-forth first period, pinning Anderson in 3:46. At 138 pounds, Barnesville responded with a quick pin.
Sophomore Cody Heitman got the Cougars back on track with a 6-4 decision against Jace Nosal at 145 pounds but a major decision and consecutive falls for Barnesville dropped Z-M behind 29-18. The second pin at 170 pounds was a backbreaker for the Cougars with 13 seconds remaining in the third period.
Downes, an individual state entrant, dominated his match at 182 by pinning Andrew Trowbridge in 35 seconds and junior Andy Siems recorded a 16-12 decision over Dana Berg to pull Z-M back within two points at 29-27. Barnesville got an 8-3 decision at 220 pounds to send the Cougars into the 285 weight class needing a pin from Shane Bode.
It wasn’t a new position for Bode, who put the Cougars through to state with a pressure-packed 10-0 major decision in the Section 1A finals. He attacked early against Alec Wheelright and both wrestlers tallied near falls in the opening period but Bode got caught off balance. Wheelright notched a pin to end the match.
It was another nerve-racking finish that will give Bode much needed experience moving forward, Link Steffen said.
“It’ll only help him in the future,” Steffen said. “Shane’s a great kid and he deserved all the success he got at the end of the season.”
While Z-M fought back against Barnesville, Steffen said the Cougars didn’t take full advantage of the match.
“I thought we could have wrestled the last dual better,” he said. “But I’m very happy with their performance.”
Now, Z-M will need to refocus and get ready for individual competition Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center. Majerus, Watkins, Heitman and Downes will compete in 106, 126, 138 and 170 pounds, respectively.
Watkins said he’ll take time to relax and get away from wrestling for the night in order to forget about the team competition. Steffen said the preparation for individuals was already under way before team competition even started.
“You have to have a short memory,” he said. “We told them, ‘it’s time to be greedy.’”