Wrestling: HVL foes prepare for first-round showdown
Preparing for the state tournament usually involves some kind of scouting or research. Maybe a quick glance at rankings or seeding or records against familiar opponents can help a coach come up with a tentative lineup.
There will be none of that for Link Steffen and Matt Ryan. There are no secrets between Steffen’s Zumbrota-Mazeppa Cougars and Ryan’s Kenyon-Wanamingo Knights. The two schools are less than 20 miles apart, and there is a familiarity that makes that distance seem at once greater and like its just across the street.
On Thursday, the fourth-seeded Cougars and fifth-seeded Knights will renew their rivalry once again, this time at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. And much more than bragging rights will be on the line. The winner will advance to the Class 1A state semifinals.
And that has both coaches taking a slightly different outlook on the dual.
“Sometimes it can be OK not knowing much about the other kids, it’s just wrestling,” Ryan said. “That’s not the case here. There’s more history. They know more about the kids, how tough they are, how tough they’ve been over the years, how their match went when they were in fifth grade. There’s just different factors.”
“It is weird wrestling them at the state tournament,” Steffen said. “It’s one of those deals that we’ve wrestled them so many times that it does kind of take away the experience of the state tournament. Just because we know each other so well. But it could start a new tradition, too. It’s different, but I’m OK with it.”
Ryan and Streffen do have some agreement on how the week of practice leading into state will go.
“It’s all about staying sharp from a technique standpoint, and keeping everybody healthy,” Ryan said.
“I always like this week of practice in that we get a little of everything. We get some individual stuff and some team stuff, and we kind of do a generalization on how to prepare for an individual tournament and a team tournament,” Steffen said.
Key for Z-M is the probable return of Hayden Stensland, who was injured on Feb. 18 in the team section semifinals and who did not wrestle in the finals. Steffen is hoping for Stesnland’s return, and Ryan said he’s preparing for it was well.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t worry.
“We’re hoping Hayden wrestles, that’s what we’re going with,” Steffen said. “We have to get through practice, and who knows, we might get a guy hurt or sick. Who knows? Until we’re all on the side of the mat there’s that (stress).”
When the teams line up at 1 p.m. Thursday, there won’t be many thinking back to Dec. 15 and the Cougars’ 28-27 victory.
“I would be willing to bet that half the matchups will be different than they were in December. It will be a completely different dual,” Ryan said.
One team will win, and will finish no lower than fourth in the state. The other will lose, and will have to win two more duals to get fifth. But even with a larger venue, and a massive crowd, the pressure to win might not be quite as high as it has been in the past between the two teams. Especially when the two would square off for section championships that would leave the other behind.
“Well, somebody doesn’t have to stay home,” Ryan said. “That probably takes a little pressure off. We both get to wrestle at 1 at state.”