ST. PAUL – The senior class of 2018 was penciled in long ago as the group that would lift Zumbrota-Mazeppa wrestling to new heights.
As juniors in 2017, they delivered on that promise with the school’s first state championship.
And in their final go-around Thursday, the top-seeded and top-ranked Cougars successfully defended their place as the elite team in Class A, winning a second straight title with a 31-19 victory against second-seeded Frazee.
“It’s a surreal feeling. If you get a group of guys together … and your goal is to accomplish something and you do it with a group of your best friends, it’s a very special feeling,” said senior Caden Steffen. “We did that two years in a row.”
Z-M head coach Link Steffen added, “I’m very happy for them. There’s 13 seniors, 14 with our manager, and they’ve all been with us since kindergarten. They’ve all been wrestling all the way through. So to cap off their careers with two straight titles, I couldn’t be happier. It’s absolutely wonderful.
“And it’s their leadership that got us there, without a doubt.”
Earlier in the tournament, Z-M got wins over unseeded Ottertail Central (37-19) and fourth-seeded Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove (35-18).
While the Cougars’ bread-and-butter waited at the top of the lineup, second-ranked, 106-pounder Michael Majerus started the finals off with a pin in 3 minutes, 5 seconds over the Hornets’ Christian Carlson.
“When teams have to wrestle the upper weights, and then they have to start by wrestling Michael, many times it begins bad for them and it ends bad for them,” Link said. “They kind of get that in their mind. Whenever you can win that first one, it’s always momentum, especially with pins.”
But Frazee was able to climb back with four straight wins, taking a 13-6 lead.
Then for the second straight match, senior Spencer DeFrang found a way to swing momentum into the Cougars’ corner heading into the middleweights. At 138, DeFrang stuck Carter Shipman in 40 seconds, cutting the Hornets’ lead to one. Following DeFrang, Luke Tupper (10-4 decision) and Sam Nordquist (5-1 decision) put Z-M ahead for good, 18-13.
“It’s a good feeling knowing you did all you could and you know you got the team rolling,” said DeFrang, who also got the Cougars’ first pin against TMB/WWG in 3:06.
Up 25-16 after back-to-back wins from Hayden Stensland at 170 (15-1) and Hayden Voxland at 182 (3-0), in came Z-M’s “Murderers’ Row,” with top-ranked Caden, top-ranked Jacob Bennett and top-ranked Jarret Haglund.
Caden led things off at 195 pounds with an 8-5 decision against Gabe Drewes. Then Bennett put the match out of reach at 220 with a 5-0 decision against fourth-ranked Luke Tweeton.
“It’s a surreal moment. We were all young kids when we dreamed of this, (kindergarten)-through-six,” Bennett said. “And now that it’s come true, it’s amazing. It’s been fun.”
A year after successfully chasing the title, the Cougars had to adjust to being the team defending their title. And on Thursday, nothing was stopping the loaded Z-M squad.
“I think we enjoyed having the target on our back,” Bennett said. “We knew teams were coming after us each and every day and they weren’t going to take it easy. We came into practice with a purpose every day. Bodies were flying around and pushing us to be our best every day.”
“We knew there was a target on our back,” Caden said. “But the coaches got us wrestling tough like there was no target on our back, like there was no pressure. It’s just a mind thing. You go and wrestle tough and that’s all you can do.”
K-W 0-2 at state
ST. PAUL – Kenyon-Wanamingo's state odds took a significant hit at the start of the Class A team tournament. Before the Knights' first match against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove, some members of the fifth-seeded Knights were sent home due to a Minnesota State High School League violation.
“We put the best lineup on the mat today that we could based on who's on our roster and was healthy and eligible,” said K-W head coach Matt Ryan. “It's too bad that things didn't work out today. This is a privilege to do this and it's an extra privilege to do this at the state tournament as a student-athlete. I'm happy for the kids that got to compete today.”
The fourth-seeded Panthers took care of the short-handed K-W squad with a 63-7 victory in the quarterfinals. The Knights managed two wins: Isaiah Thompson got an 11-6 decision against TMB/WWG's Caden Johnson at 113 pounds, followed by a 12-3 major decision by Tyler Craig over Tyler Vandendriessche at 138.
In the consolation semifinals, K-W found a little more success versus Ottertail Central before eventually succumbing to the Bulldogs, 55-15. Owen Scheffler led the Knights off with a pin at 1 minute, 26 seconds over Laredo Bugbee at 106 pounds. Cole Johnson won by pin at 1:09 against Noah Schleske at 170, and Logan Quam got K-W's final win at 182 pounds with a 7-2 decision against Jace Leabo.
“It was definitely a younger group of guys today that got some mat time at the state tournament, and some kids that weren't necessarily expecting to get that,” Ryan said. “We did today what we did all year and that's go with the best lineup that we can at the time. We got some experience that hopefully we can build on for next year.”