Team title top goal for Huskies at stateFree Access

The main goal for the Jackson County Central wrestling team at this week’s Class A state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is winning a second straight team state title.

Following that, individual gold medals are the goal.

The Huskies are the No. 1 seed in the team tournament today (Thursday) and open against West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville. Just because the Knights are unseeded doesn’t mean the Huskies are taking them lightly.

That same team nearly upset the highly-favored Huskies in the semifinals last year before JCC rallied.

“I don’t know if we overlooked them,” JCC head coach Nate Hanson said. “They like to throw; I don’t know if we were ready for that. We’re more prepared this time for what they like to do.”

Hanson said his team expects just about anything from the Knights as they try to spring a first-round upset.

“I think they will try some big moves because they probably know if they wrestle straight up they won’t win,” he said. “They’re probably going to try to throw everything they can at us.”

Hanson said the Knights provide a good first test for the Huskies.

“It’s a pretty good first-round match,” he said. “The guys have got to be ready to go.”

A quarterfinal win would advance the Huskies to face either fourth-seeded Royalton/Upsala or fifth-seeded Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in the semifinals this afternoon.

JCC beat R/U 45-23 in the championship last season and topped HL-W-W in the football state quarterfinals this past fall.

On the other half of the bracket, Caledonia/Houston is seeded second and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa is seeded third. The finals are set for 7 p.m. tonight.

“Caledonia is a really tough team,” Hanson said. “If we get there, it’ll be a very interesting finals match.”

Junior Trey Rossow said being the No. 1 seed and defending champ means the Huskies will get everyone’s best shot, but the team is ready for the challenge.

“We know people are coming for us,” he said. “We’ve got targets on our back — everybody is trying to get us. It’s going to be hard work, but we got it.”

The Huskies have a team filled with 11 state qualifiers, but also have some options off the bench.

Landon Andrews qualified for state last year and filled in well this year when injuries mounted. Seth Stai has 20 wins as a backup in the middle of the lineup.

“We have a lot of guys capable of wrestling really, really well up there,” Hanson said. “Some of those guys are better than a lot of team’s starters, even at this tournament. That gives us some flexibility.”

The Huskies have needed their depth this year as several guys have missed some time with injuries. They’re all back now, though, as the team preps for state.

“I think our team is looking good at the right time, so I think we have a good shot to win it,” junior Nolan Ambrose said, adding getting himself and Matt Haley back last week provided a boost. “That definitely put some excitement into everyone and got us going again. Once we got back, it seemed like a new spark in our team.”

“I feel like we’re healthier than what we have been and what everyone else has seen,” senior Caleb Vancura said. “We’ve been missing pieces all year and we finally got the roster up and running so we’re ready to rock and roll.”

Haley said now that the Huskies are back at full strength, they’ll be tough.

“We think we can do it. We think we’re the best in the state,” he said. “I think in Class A we’re pretty unbeatable with a full lineup.”

Hanson said the team’s talent and depth are vital, but everyone will have to focus on the task at hand if the Huskies want to go back-to-back.

“If we wrestle and compete like we’re capable of, we for sure can win it again,” he said.

Eleven individuals to wrestle in individual tournament

The Huskies will have an individual entrant in 11 of the 14 weight classes in the individual tournament, which takes place Friday and Saturday.

The goals for them range a bit, Hanson said.

“It’s a little different for everybody,” he said. “Some of them want to experience it, some want to get on the podium and we’ve probably got four or five that want to win the thing. It depends on their experience, but they all probably want to get on the podium.”

Ambrose is aiming for a third straight state title, but has two other former champions in his bracket — 2022 champ Alex Diederich of Royalton/Upsala and Hudson Burnett of Pipestone — and two-time runner-up Ryan Jensen of BBE.

“The goal is to win a third title, but I’m going to get to my attacks and wrestle my best,” Ambrose said.

Senior Logan Butzon makes his fourth straight trip to state and has a third-place and two fourth-place finishes to his name so far.

Senior Thomas Freking is seeded first at 138 pounds after placing fourth last season. Senior Caleb Vancura is the No. 2 seed at 220 pounds after placing fourth at 182 a year ago. He could face top-seeded and defending champion Ethan Boll of Crookston in the finals. The two met in the 2021 state tournament, with Boll winning 10-5 to place fifth

Senior Isaiah Rodriguez wrestles at 152 pounds after placing sixth at the same weight a year ago.

Seniors Dylan Withers (170) and Matt Haley (195) are state qualifiers for the third straight year and each is aiming for his first trip to the podium. Senior Cameron Scholten is back to state for the second straight season, with hopes of a podium finish.

First-time qualifiers are seventh-grader Kayden Eller (106), sophomore Ben Dahlin (126) and Rossow (160).

Hanson said the focus for the Huskies has to be on wrestling hard and staying focused.

“I tell the guys, ‘If you’re worried about winning the match, you’re probably going to lose. Go out and fight and let the other guy worry about winning or losing,’” he said.

That doesn’t mean they’re not looking forward to the thrill of the tournament.

“I’m excited for state,” Rodriguez said. “It’s all coming.”

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