Determination key to Gruenes' improvement
From his first varsity wrestling match as a 106-pound seventh grader to the current season, Minneota junior Jonah Gruenes has improved by leaps and bounds.
"My first varsity match didn't go very well," Gruenes recalls. "I was a very small 106-pounder. I showed up to weigh-ins nearly 10 pounds less than the rest of the guys. I was definitely nervous seeing the obvious height, weight and age my opponents had on me."
Gruenes was pinned in that first match and lost his second match by decision before getting his first varsity win to finish the season with a 1-2 record.
Through hard work and determination, Gruenes has developed into one of the top wrestlers in Class A at 160 pounds this season. He qualified for his first state tournament as a sophomore last year, finishing with a 38-10 record.
Gruenes' first started wrestling when he was in the first grade in Madison. His parents, Mark and Jennifer, moved the family to Minneota when Jonah was in fourth grade.
"I have always been crazy about everything to do with sports, ever since I was a kid," he said. "I have been a part of wrestling, as well as baseball, basketball, soccer, and football."And he is willing to work hard to improve on whatever sport he is participating in. He plays center field on the baseball team and is a linebacker/wingback in football.
"Jonah has developed into one of the hardest working wrestlers in our room," said Coach Matt Myrvik. "He is a very unorthodox wrestler to compete against; his style allows him to really frustrate his opponents during a match. His ability to go from being out of position to being the one in control really wears on his opponents, mentally and physically."
Gruenes' lone defeat this season came against defending state champion Mason Gode of Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville, a 7-3 loss on Jan. 22. Gode is ranked No. 1 this season by The Guillotine at 160 pounds. Gruenes is ranked No. 3 at 152 pounds.
"Jonah never shies away from competition," said Myrvik. "In fact, he usually wants us to put him against the other team's best wrestler."
Some wrestlers might want to take the easy way out to obtain a win, whether by a forfeit or against an inferior opponent. Gruenes doesn't worry about his won-loss record as long as it helps the team and makes him a better wrestler.
"I always enjoy a challenge. I don't want to go out and wrestle an opponent who won't push me or make me any better," he explained. "Good competition is what helps me learn and improve. I just feel that wrestling, similar to any other sport, is what you make of it. If you decide you want to coast through and have a perfect record then that's your decision, but at the end of the season the kids who put in the work and really push themselves are the ones who come out on top."
Gruenes insists he will always put the team ahead of any individual statistical gains.
"I will step out against whoever they need me to," he said. "If that means going out and pinning a weaker kid, then that's my job. If it means going out and battling against the number one kid in the state, then that's my job."
And even though a state championship is the ultimate goal, Gruenes understands that a win or loss during the regular season does not improve or hurt his chance of reaching that goal.
"Of course, there is a time at the end of the season when everything means something," he said. "But during the regular season, I have nothing to lose. Winning a state championship makes no difference if you have a record of 50-0 or 25-10. A state championship is a state championship."
Another goal Gruenes has set for himself is being a team leader.
"I see myself as a lead-by-example type of guy," he said. "I just want to bring all the success I can to the team."
After his brief first season on varsity, Gruenes has steadily improved each season. He went 21-15 and an eighth-grader at 106 and 113 pounds and was fourth at sections. As a freshman, he was 22-12 and third at sections at 138 pounds. And last season, he was 38-10, placed second in sections, and went 1-2 at state.
So far this season, Gruenes sports a 17-1 record at 160 and 170 pounds. He is one win shy of 100 for his career.
"Jonah has improved on his feet this season from last year," said Myrvik. "He was good on his feet last year but really scored most of his points off of his defense or opponents shots. This year, he has added some confidence and some good techniques to help improve in those areas."
One of those reasons for improvement is competing is summer tournaments against strong competition.
"We look for big things out of Jonah as a teammate and as an individual," Myrvik said. "His drive and determination will be a key factor for how far he goes in the sport of wrestling."
Gruenes feels being more focused has been vital to his improvement on the mat.
"I’ve had a goal of being a state champion for years," he admitted. "I picture myself on top of the podium when times get hard and it motivates me to be better and push myself harder. As long as you have a goal in mind and something to work towards, improvement will come with time."
Gruenes also credits the support he receives with his rise to stardom in wrestling,
"Wrestling is just as much of a mental sport as it is physical, and I think many people overlook the mental aspect," he explained. "Cutting weight and beating myself up about matches I knew I could have wrestled better in are struggles I deal with daily every season.”
"My team of supporters is so wide, from my mom and dad, my girlfriend and grandparents, to my coaches and teammates. My parents have invested so much time and money into my wrestling career and I will never be able to thank them enough."