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Wrestling: Z-M, K-W heading to state

ROCHESTER – Zumbrota-Mazeppa wasn't as dominant as its had been throughout the regular season, but the Cougars shook off an injury and beat Dover-Eyota, 35-27, and Goodhue, 36-23, on Saturday at Mayo Civic Center to raise the Section 1A championship trophy and cement their spot in the Class 1A tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Z-M, ranked third in the state and the top seed in the section field, was a heavy favorite coming into Satruday. But the Eagles nearly found the ingredients for a recipe for an upset.

Down 9-4 against D-E, Z-M turned to 132-pound Hayden Stensland to get the Cougars back on track toward a section final. Then, in the second period against Colin Jorde, Stensland hit the mat and a gasp was heard throughout the semifinal crowd.

Stensland was down for several minutes, waiting for a brace to be applied to his left leg. During that time, the rest of the Cougars were huddled behind their bench, trying to bury the moment and focus on the task at hand.

“We saw a couple of guys with their heads down, and we didn't like that,” said Cougar Caden Steffen. “Tony Brown, our assistant, he did a good job of getting us together and regrouping, that it wasn't over and we had it.”

Stensland was ahead at the time, and the nine-point swing was huge, and it put Z-M on its heels.

“It's a pit in your stomach. The team relies on everyone. It just hurts,” said Cougars head coach Link Steffen. “I said what any coach would say, that we need to get after it and not give up bonus points and get them where we can. We needed to pull off an upset to get this thing done.”

Spencer DeFrang won by forfeit at 138, with D-E's Michael Nelson picking up three points at 145.

Down 18-10, Maverick Jackson, by decision at 152, and Sam Nordquist, via major at 160, got the comeback rolling.

The Eagles got a pin at 170, Hayden Voxland (170) and Caden Steffen (182) took a combined 56 seconds to dismiss their opponents. Jacob Bennett lost a 2-0 decision at 220 to set up a winner-take-all showdown at 285.

Jarret Haglund wasted little time in sending the Cougars to the finals with a pin in 49 seconds.

And that same group would end up deciding the title bout as well, with Steffen and Bennett sealing the championship with pins at 195 and 220, respectively.

“All four of those guys, they can be and have been beaten, but they've been in the weight room all year. And you can see it on them as the season goes on with bumps and bruises happen, those are the guys that rise to the top,” Link said. “Hopefully they get to do it in individuals next weekend.”

As part of that group, Caden knows what makes 182 and up one of the best in the state.

“Our upper weights, especially in practice, it's butting heads, throwing each other against the wall, the four or five of us, there's no messing around,” Caden said. “To know the team can rely on us, it's cool.”

For Goodhue, it was a bitter end to the season, but it also came with a bit of sweetness. It had been over a decade since the Wildcats have been in that position. And to push Z-M to the end, after dominating Wabasha-Kellogg in the semifinals, 52-13, was a key takeaway for coach Josh Grant.

“We've had high goals. Years ago when we took over, the teams weren't very good and we just wanted to get to Saturday,” Grant said. “Then we were capable of getting to Saturday and we wanted to get out of the semifinals. This program hasn't been to a section finals since 2005. The goal was to win a section title, and to do that you have to be in the finals. We were hungry for that.

“I'm really proud of these guys. We're a small school and a rebuilding program and getting guys to believe that we can beat these bigger schools with better programs took a lot of buy-in. They bought in, and it showed. They can dominate and beat people up and not just scrape by.”

The state tournament begins March 2 for the Cougars, who will hit the mat at 11 a.m. for the quarterfinals. The semifinals and consolation rounds are scheduled for 1 p.m., with the third-place and fifth-place matches at 5 p.m. The state finals are at 7 p.m.

Where Z-M goes, no one knows. But, like Saturday, there is definitely a goal, to make good on the title that got away two years ago.

“That's the goal, and has been since day one,” Caden said. “We took the first step, now it's time to get rocking.”

Kenyon-Wanamingo 33, Blue Earth 28

Kenyon-Wanamingo outscored its opponents 129-16 through the semifinals of the Section 2A tournament. But Blue Earth Area would put the Knights within one weight of ending its team season. But Kaya Lindell came through with an 11-9, overtime decision at 285 pounds to send the defending state champions back to St. Paul.

The Buccaneers picked up 12-straight points from 170 through 220, making the score 30-28 in favor of K-W. Blue Earth even finished with an 8-6 advantage in matches won, but the Knights had five pins to the Buccaneers' one.

The state tournament begins March 2 for the Cougars, who will hit the mat at 11 a.m. for the quarterfinals. The semifinals and consolation rounds are scheduled for 1 p.m., with the third-place and fifth-place matches at 5 p.m. The state finals are at 7 p.m.

Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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