The Hutchinson/Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart wrestling team is gearing up for a big season of changes in the Wright County Conference, as well as in its section playoffs. One thing that hasn’t changed much for the Tigers, however, is their roster or their desire to get back to the Xcel Energy Center as a team.
The 2021-22 Tiger wrestling team may not be old, but it will have plenty of varsity experience returning. The Tigers only lost two seniors to graduation last year: 170-pounder Cale Luthens, who finished fifth at state last year, and 138-pounder Tristian Lang. With only those two losses, the Tigers have few holes to worry about filling.
“In wrestling, it is typical to have young wrestlers come in and fill in at some of your lower weights. This is a unique year in that we may not need much help from our middle school wrestlers to fill any of those lower weights,” head coach Todd Card said. “We expect our ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders to step up and fill those spots that we need. We have a lot of young talent throughout our grade levels and it will be fun to watch them all develop and see where they can help the team.”
Among the top returners from its team that finished 16-13 last year are this year’s captains, Camden Kron and Riley Gill, who in the past have wrestled at 145 and 160 pounds, respectively. Hayden VanderVoort, who took fifth place at state at 195 pounds last year, is another key returner, along with Max Martin (106 pounds), Treyton Card (132), and Brady Andersen (220), who were all state prelim participants last season.
The list of experienced returners continues from there with Raydon Bipes (113), Simon Schmitz (120), Nolan McGraw (126), Parker Peterson (138), Jay Rickertsen (145), Eddie Tristan (152) and Riley Carrigan (285), who were all individual section participants this past season. And along with all these names, the Tigers have even more up-and-comers working to earn a spot on the varsity roster, wherever they may fit in.
“We had good participation in our offseason program that included some strength building, team building, and some wrestling all wrapped up into one,” Card said.
All of that experience will be useful this year when the Tigers take on their WCC rivals. Unlike past years, when the conference was split into two divisions, the WCC is back to one large conference. This was because rivals Waconia, Orono and New Prague left the WCC, leaving it with 10 teams: Hutchinson/BLHS, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Glencoe-Silver Lake/Lester Prairie, Delano, Mound Westonka/Southwest Christian, Annandale/Maple Lake, Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield, New London-Spicer, Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran and Rockford.
“The WCC will look much different in terms of wrestling this year, with dual meets against all teams in the conference,” Card said. “This should make for a very exciting conference battle, of which we fully expect to be towards the top.”
And when the Tigers are finished with their conference and regular season schedules, they’ll have another big change in the playoffs as they move to the Section 3AA Championship with all new competition from Dawson-Boyd/Lac Qui Parle Valley-Montevideo United, Fairmont/Martin County West, Marshall, MAHACA, New Ulm Area, Redwood Valley, Windom-Mountain Lake, and Quad County.
The new section won’t be entirely new to Hutch. The Tigers have wrestled against Section 3AA teams and individuals in the past during invitationals, and last year due to COVID, Section 2AA and Section 3AA were paired together for the state prelims. Either way, Card said the Tigers are looking forward to the change of scenery, but they also know it won’t be any easier.
“There is a tremendous amount of talent in that section, but we feel we will bring a little talent of our own,” Card said about the move to Section 3AA. “I see it as a nice, fresh look towards a section and teams that we know very little about. This will give us new faces and foes to contend with, and it should be exciting to see where we can finish in another section.”
While the Tigers lost in the first round of the section tournament last year, they’re only two years removed from the team’s fifth-place finish at state in 2019, and many of this year’s wrestlers still have that memory fresh on their minds. They’d like to repeat it, if they can, or do even better.
“There are a number of wrestlers on this team that were part of that team state tournament two years ago, and I think they are hungry to get back there,” Card said. “In order to make that happen we are going to need everyone to step up their game and continue to improve throughout the year.”
When Hutch went to state in 2019, it was the team’s first section title since 2003. If the Tigers don’t want to wait another 16 years between section championships, Card said they’ll have to figure out how to put the pieces of their puzzle together, and most importantly stay on the mat.
“We are going to need to balance out our lineup and figure out how to get our best kids at their competitive weights, and then we will have to be unselfish and wrestle when and where the team needs them,” he said. “It is a little early to know our depth right now, so staying healthy is always key, and then we will want to make sure that we are wrestling at our best when it matters the most.”