by Eric Oslund
The Zimmerman Thunder wrestling program is currently in a state of transition, so they will not be winning a whole lot of dual matches as a team.
They had a dual with Mora on Friday, Dec. 9, and were only able to wrestle six on their varsity squad – due to injuries and inexperience on the team. That meant they had eight weight classes which were not filled and would forfeit six points for each of them – a total of 48.
They followed the dual up with a tournament on Saturday, where they ran into the same problems as in their dual, finishing ninth out of 11 teams.
It’s a tough spot to be in because head coach Mark Hayes also does not want to just plug his JV wrestlers into those open spots. He feel like they wouldn’t benefit from that, Instead, he wants them to continue to wrestle JV matches, so they can perfect their fundamentals and he can continue to see where they need more work.
Some JV wrestlers may be able to wrestle on varsity from time to time, depending on the opponents, but Mora was not a team it would happen against.
“It’s not where I can bump my JV guys up against Mora, who I believe is ranked in state right now,” Hayes explained. “I won’t send them out. It doesn’t do them any good to just go out there and last 30 seconds on the mat. Where if I can get them a good JV match where they can go the distance, or go later into the matches, we can see what they need to work on and improve them from there. We’re approaching it that way.”
Since they will be forfeiting so many points each match, the Thunder are approaching this season on more of an individual basis. They are focusing on each wrestler as a single entity, instead of the team as a whole, and there are a couple wrestlers who are off to a pretty good start.
Joe Montplaisir won his match against Mora with a pin and then took third at the 106 weight class in the tournament. Kalib Kliever won 4-0 over his Mora opponent and followed that up with a first-place finish in the tournament for the 170 class. Justin Robinson also finished in first at the tournament, at 182 pounds, and won his match against Mora with a pin.
Evan Carr is another wrestler who stood out this weekend, finishing second in the tournament at 113 pounds, but losing his match against Mora by a score of 4-8. To be fair, though, his opponent was a wrestler who is ranked in state as an individual.
“Carr had a really nice match, especially in the third period there, Evan started to pick it up. He just ran out of time,” Hayes began. “Caleb, he had a kid who he beat last year, but I know that kid was looking for some revenge and Caleb didn’t give it to him. Caleb was coming back from an injury, so not being able to practice a lot the past few days, he still kept his focus. He’s undefeated right now, same thing with Justin Robinson. He’s been practicing hard and adjusting to things in the room, doing what we’re telling him and he’s also undefeated right now.”
There is a lot for the Thunder to build off of for the remainder of this season, and ones down the road, but the key is to weather the storm they are still in. The wrestlers all need to focus on themselves and improving what they need to improve, not how the team is doing overall.
It could be difficult for the kids to do that, but Hayes has experience going through years like this. He had to endure the same when he was rebuilding the program at Princeton.
“We have to weather the storm and just keep building from there,” the head coach said. “A lot of teams have done that. When I rebuilt the program at Princeton, it was something I had to do. You got to fight through those years where you don’t have a lot of numbers, but work on the guys you have and just improve them.
Up next, the Thunder will be hosting a quad on Friday, Dec. 16, against Mille Lacs, Gainsville and Sauk Rapids-Rice. They are all programs who are in similar rebuilding situations as Zimmerman, so Hayes is hoping to possibly get some of his JV guys varsity reps.