Wrestling expectations

Once upon a time, Monticello wrestling was synonymous with power, dominance and winning. Then, for a time, that changed. Monticello struggled to produce full lineups, let alone win big matches (despite some immense individual talent) during portions of the 1990s and 2000s.

But evidenced just as much by this year’s expectations as the last two years’ state tournament trips, wrestling is back in Monticello – and this year’s relatively young, but deeply talented squad, will look to continue to lift the tradition higher.

The Magic, ranked No. 8 in Class AA to start the year, kicked the season off by hosting an eight-team invite at the high school field house Saturday. The hosts cruised to victory in three matches, with a nail biting loss to Little Falls sandwiched in between. Overall, it was good for a third place finish at the event.

“We wrestled all right,” said Coach Andrew Zigan. “We can’t complain too much.”

Monticello returns at least a dozen guys with varsity wrestling experience, but that hardly means the lineup is set for the season. In fact, the Magic used different lineups in each of their four matches Saturday.

“We have a lot of quality guys coming back, we just have to get them sorted out,” said Zigan. “Our lineup probably won’t be set until the end of January.”

In some spots, including the 106-pound weight class where Monticello is currently taking forfeits, the Magic are looking for one wrestler to step up. In other spots, the Magic have a handful of good to great wrestlers for less than a handful of slots.

Each problem is magnified in the lighter weights. At 106, Monticello doesn’t have a certified varsity wrestler, meaning they will likely be taking forfeits there through the near future. Zigan does have his eye on a couple of middle school wrestlers, and depending on their progress, the Magic are hopeful they can fill that slot by the end of the season when the importance of each match – and therefore, forfeits – grows exponentially.

But right next to the 106-pound weight class, Monticello is dealing with the opposite problem.

A bit of an embarrassment of riches.

This Saturday, Monticello had freshman Andrew Mergen and junior captain Tevin Zavadil weigh in at 113. They split matches there, with each wrestler going 2-0.

Meanwhile, two more wrestlers (Jack Bourgeois and Logan Stiller) each weighed in at 120. They rotated between 120 and 126. Both wrestlers went undefeated on the day.

From there, the Magic have a little more consistency to their lineup. There are a couple of other spots with kids rotating in, or rotating up and down from one weight class to the other, but they also have a handful of kids who are locked (and loaded) at their weight class.

In the season opening rankings, six Magic wrestlers are ranked in the top ten of their weight class. Stiller is one, although he is ranked at 113 pounds in the preseason rankings. Then, the rankings show the Magic as tough to beat in the middle of the lineup. At 138 pounds, junior Zach Beaumaster is ranked sixth. At 145, junior Jake Berthiaume is seventh. Both wrestlers are returning state entrants. Carter Barnes returns from missing much of last year to injury and is currently ranked tenth at the 160 pound weight class. Seth Gardner, just a freshman, is eighth at 170 pounds, while Brent Riddle rounds out the ranked wrestlers, coming in with a tenth place ranking at 285 pounds.

Monticello will also be looking for and receiving contributions from wrestlers such as Taylor Bouma, Austin Louison, Cooper Hanson, Mitch Hanson, Sam Secord, Connor Adrian, Jeremiah Yeats and Levi Job.

Saturday, they got a little something from everyone.

In Monticello’s first match, they used pins from Mergen, Berthiaume, Gardner, Yeats and Riddle to cruise to a 51-27 victory over Nashwauk-Keewatin/Greenway.

Monticello’s second match proved to be a lot more interesting.

After forfeiting the first match, Monticello went on a tear. The hosts scored 31 straight points against the Class AAA Little Falls squad. The run was aided by pins from Zavadil, Bourgeois, Cooper Hanson and Beaumaster. Hanson’s was especially noteworthy as he trailed 14-0 and was in danger of a tech fall when he earned a reversal and the pin for a shocking victory.

But the 25-point lead disappeared quickly. Two pins and a decision for the Flyers cut the score to 31-21 before Gardner extended it again for the Magic. The freshman’s first period pin pushed Monticello to a 37-21 lead with three matches to go.

To win, Little Falls would need three straight pins. They got them. Yeats led in the third period of his match before getting pinned, than Job went down, and in a heavyweight matchup of two state-ranked wrestlers, Conor Swanson took down Riddle in the first period to complete the come-from-behind victory.

The loss was surely disappointing for the Magic, but Zigan has learned to keep things in perspective, especially early in the season.

“Last year, we went 12-12, won sections and finished sixth in the state,” pointed out Zigan. “We’d rather lose now, make corrections, and win more matches later on in the year.”

The coach understands where his program is at. No matter what happens in the regular season, the program is reaching a point where it is judged strictly on its postseason. To push that approach even more, the Magic have again scheduled a laundry list of strong competition this season as they look to physically and mentally prepare themselves for the grind of sections later in the year.

One of the keys to the tough schedule will be learning to bounce back from tough losses. Saturday, the Magic did just that. They responded to the loss by coming back with a 63-16 thumping of New Ulm, and a 52-13 win over Bloomington Kennedy to earn third place honors.

The two victories capped an impressive first day of competition for the Magic. Seven wrestlers won at least two matches without a loss. Four (Stiller, Berthiaume, Beaumaster and Gardner) went 4-0.

The Magic will look to continue both the success and the sorting out of their lineup when they return to the mat Friday for an invitational at Big Lake High School, beginning at 4 p.m.