by Eric Oslund
There were a lot of high expectations for the Zimmerman wrestling team as they headed to the individual portion of the section tournament, but they knew it was going to be tough. Section 6AA is one of the toughest ones in the state, where a wrestler like Kaleb Kliever, who went 25-5 on the season, is given the seven seed in his bracket.
Still, at the start, things were looking good for the Thunder. Joe Montplaisir, Evan Carr and Justin Robinson were all able to make it to the semifinal rounds, but none of them would come away with wins. But that didn’t mean that their chances of making it to the state tournament were done.
And when you include Kleiver and Joe Gardus winning their wrestle backs, and Ben Schnellman coming off his bye, the Thunder had six of their seven wrestlers returning to wrestle on the second day. They would all just need a little help.
“All these guys, they’ll come back and our goal right now is to take third and hopefully the guys that beat them can beat the guys in the finals and give us a chance at a true-second match,” head coach Mark Hayes said after the first day of the individual sections tournament. “Just re-adjust our goals and that’s what we’re shooting for now. It’s like they say in poker, all you need is a chip and a chair, well all our guys have a chip and a chair right now, and we’ll see what they do with it.”
Unfortunately for the Thunder, things would not work out the way they had hoped. Robinson and Carr would both win their third-place matches, but the wrestler that Robinson lost to in the semifinals lost in the finals, which meant his night was over.
Carr would have a shot at true-second, and a trip to state, though, as the wrestler he lost to in the semifinals finished in first. The true-second match was a close one, but Carr ended up getting caught and pinned in the second period.
Despite the disappointment that the wrestlers felt when no one made it to state, it was still a successful sections for a program that continues to rebuild itself. Robinson and Carr both finished third and Montplaisir came in fourth.
“Both Evan and Joe exceeded their seeds, which was good,” Hayes explained. “Joe was a fifth and he took fourth, and Evan was a fourth and he took third.”
With the season now officially over, the Thunder must look to the future. They will lose four wrestlers who were seniors this year – Kliever, Carr, Ben Schnellman and Jacob Waalk. It’s tough to lose any amount of wrestlers when rebuilding a program, but Hayes knows that losing these may be tougher than normal.
But he also knows that they really helped him lay the ground work for years to come.
“We’re losing some great leadership from those guys, especially our two captains – Evan and Kaleb,” the head coach began. “Losing four quality guys doesn’t make things easy when you’re building a team, but what they did in practice and how they helped themselves, the leadership they showed, is a great role model for up-and-coming guys. Gives them some direction and some expectations that our guys will have to follow.”