On the Bench with Byron Higgin
This wrestling season has not been Minneota's finest hour — based not on performance, but on injuries and tough breaks.
Basically, the numerous injuries and the fact several players didn't compete this year has put Minneota into a vulnerable position.
To it's credit, the Minneota Vikings have earned the No. 1 spot in the upcoming Section 3A tournament that begins Thursday, Feb. 15.
And they have doctor clearances to allow heavyweight T.J. Esping and 106-pounder Eric Carrasco wrestle.
Brant Buysse’s broken foot will not allow him to get into the action. The four surviving teams from Thursday's action will face off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 at Windom.
The Section 3A Championship will follow at 2 p.m.
The winner will enter the state tournament.
A play-in match between Adrian (8) and St. James (9) will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday in Minneota. The winner will wrestle No. 1 Minneota at 7:15 p.m.
“Our young guys have worked hard and many of them have made great strides,” said Coach Skillings.
He also is happy with the way junior Shawn Buysse has taken the leadership on the team with Brant Buysse out and Esping hurting.
“He’s really done a great job,” said the coach. Other matches will include: Wabasso/Red Rock Central (4) vs. Jackson Co. Central (5) at Lamberton, 7 p.m. Canby (3) vs. Pipestone Area (6) at Canby, 7 p.m. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (2) vs. Windom Area/Mt. Lake, at Tracy, 7 p.m. If Minneota survives on Thursday, they will wrestle either Wabasso/RRC or Jackson Co. Central in the first match on Saturday.
The other bracket will include: Canby or Pipestone Area vs. Tracy-M-B/W-WG or Windom Area/ML. Minneota has defeated Wabasso/RRC; Canby; Pipestone; Windom Area/ML and Tracy-M-B/W-WG this year.
However, they've lost 120-126-pounder Brant Buysse due to an injury, and nothing is certain with Esping and Carassco. "We're ranked No. 1 — but shorthanded," said Coach Joel Skillings. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove is ranked No. 2 — and while the Vikings beat them, they present a formidable foe.
And with at least Buysse out, on paper, that makes the match closer. Coach Skillings is expecting Tracy and the rest of the towns they represent make a solid showing. It’s tougher without Buysse, but still doable — and it may come down to the final matches.
Thursday’s matches won’t tell us much since both St. James and Adrian don’t field complete teams.
But Saturday at Windom, the race will be on and it could be interesting. Pipestone is the defending Section 3A Champ, having defeated Minneota in the finals last year.
Records of the Minneota wrestlers include:
Blake Reiss 22-13
Cole VanOverbeke 29-9
Shawn Buysse 26-9
Teddy Pesch 22-8
Austin Kloos 15-14
Brant Buysse 19-6
Kade Lozinski 19-14
T.J. Esping 25-4
Eric Carrasco 15-12
Jonah Gruenes 17-12
Kyle Banks 15-16
Layne Lozinski 12-15
Justin Johnson 5-9
Jackson Esping 10-17
Josh Laleman 14-17
Truman Wambeke 1-4
James Gednalske 0-5
Trey Gronke 1-5
Zack Fier 1-2