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Paynesville Press - November 27, 2002

Wrestlers start season ranked #7 in Class A

By Michael Jacobson

A giant obstacle stands between the Paynesville's wrestlers and an 18th trip to the state tournament. The Bulldogs - ranked seventh in Class AA in the preseason rankings - will have to beat Litchfield, the top-ranked team in Class AA, to make it back to state as a team.

Though Paynesville won the conference title a year ago, the Dragons upset the top-seeded Bulldogs in last year's Section 5AA tournament and went on to take second place at state. This year, the Dragons find themselves as the preseason favorite in Section 5AA and in the state.

"We should be a solid team again," said head coach Virg Vagle, who returns for his 37th year at the helm of Paynesville's wrestling program, including his third season since retiring from teaching. "I don't know if we'll have the strength of last year when we were ranked second in the state (in Class AA)."

The Bulldogs lost five regulars to graduation last year: Jeremy Fuchs, Nathan Glenz, Max Meagher, Josh Schreifels, and Jeremy Sogge (who is wrestling for Augsburg College this winter). All five were individual state entrants during their scholastic careers, and Glenz and Sogge were each three-time individual state entrants.

The loss of these seniors (who all wrestled between 125 and 160), along with the loss of two-time state champion David Kerzman and state placewinner Joe Hiltner to graduation the previous years, leaves a less experienced lineup in the middle for the Bulldogs.

The key to the season will be how much individual wrestlers improve, according to Vagle. "Other years, we've graduated good wrestlers, too," he said.

The Bulldogs return the most experience in the upper weights. Senior Marty Engen, who became the ninth Bulldogs wrestler to win an individual state title last March, returns at 189, as does senior Ryan Glenz - a state entrant last year at 171 who beat the state champion three times and the state runner-up once.

Engen, 43-1 last year, may wrestle some matches at the new 215-pound weight class this year. (The heavyweight division will be divided into two weight classes this year: 215 and 275.) Glenz, 35-9 last year, should wrestle at 171 again.

In addition to Engen and Glenz, ranked first and third individually in the preseason rankings, senior Adam Christian, a state entrant in 2001, and ninth grader Sean Glenz, a state entrant in 2002, are ranked individually in the preseason rankings. Glenz, 29-12 last year, should see action at 125 this year, while Christian, 28-7 last year, may see time at both 130 and 135.

Engen needs ten victories to reach 100 for his career, Christian needs 21 wins, and Ryan Glenz needs 34 wins to reach this career milestone.

Other senior returning regulars for the Bulldogs are Pat Noonan (119), Justin Reeck (145), Josh Kerzman (160), and Brad Person (215 and 275). Part-time regulars expected to man a spot full time this year are ninth grader Andrew Christian, sophomore Cory Christenson, and junior Matt Kerzman.

Other leading competitors for varsity slots include junior Derrick Burris, ninth grader John Hemingson, senior Josh Johnson, ninth grader Joel Kerzman, sophomore Jack Mueller, and junior Pat Utsch. Burris and Utsch, for instance, are both expected to see time at 215 and should both benefit from the addition of a new weight class. Otherwise, there might not have been a spot in the lineup for them.

Another change in wrestling this year is the combining of the junior high program with the varsity, due to the budget cuts that eliminated separate junior high sports. In grades 7-12, the Bulldogs have 42 wrestlers. While the junior high wrestlers will warm up and do some drills with the varsity under the direction of Vagle and assistant coach Steve Fuchs, they will also practice separately under the tutelage of volunteer coaches Scott George, Rick Spaeth, and Tim Woehler.

According to Vagle, last year Sean Glenz showed the type of improve-ment needed by this year's varsity team. As a seventh grader, Glenz had a losing record individually, but last year he won more than twice as many matches as he lost. The team needs more wrestlers to make this type of improvement to challenge Litchfield for the section title, said Vagle.

Section 5AA appears strong again with Litchfield (ranked #1 in Class AA), Paynesville (#7 in Class AA), and Dassel-Cokato (#12 in Class AA). Other top teams in the section are New London-Spicer, Albany, and Rocori.

Litchfield, however, has left the West Central Conference, meaning the Bulldogs remain the favorite for another conference title, with expected challenges from Albany, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, and Sauk Centre. "I think most coaches would point to us as a favorite in the conference but to Litchfield as the favorite in the section," said Vagle.

The Bulldogs open their wrestling season on Saturday at the Foley Tournament, which starts at 9 a.m. For the varsity, the tournament will be a team dual with seedings set by coaches that morning. Junior varsity wrestlers will compete in an individual tournament.

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