Uncertainty about a middle school program and lower than usual numbers has the Brainerd wrestling room looking younger this season.
Warriors head coach Mikkey White wanted to make sure Brainerd eighth graders had a place to practice so he opened up the varsity practice room. The move was made easier by lower varsity numbers. Thus, the Warriors will go with a quality over quantity approach to this season.
“We weren’t sure if they were going to have a season or not so we talked about trying to get the eighth graders in with us and we did,” White said. “We’re eighth through 12 this year, but unfortunately our numbers are down. I will say, the guys that we have right now, in the first couple of practices that we’ve had, we have guys who have had a lot of mat time and mat experience.
“A lot of times you have your seniors, juniors and some sophomores who have had a lot of mat time and typically it’s your freshmen who are a little green. This year we have a seventh grader on the team and we have some eighth graders. Most of our young guys, you can just tell they’ve spent a lot of time just wrestling in general as well as competing.”
White said having the younger classes in the room has created youthful energy to practices. With that said, Brainerd will rely heavily on its experience.
Senior captain Kyle Eschenbacher is no stranger to the Warrior wrestling mat.
Last season he finished 35-9 with 15 pins. He was an All-Central Lakes Conference performer and finished fourth at 132 pounds in the Section 8-2A individual tournament.
“He’ll be a rock for us this year,” White said. “I can guarantee that. He’s been tough for a long time. He was right there all year last year and he won a lot of matches and scored a lot of points for us and we expect that again this year.
“I think we’ll be solid up through and around Kyle. He’ll be right in the middle of a string of guys who should be pretty successful.”
That string will include returning state meet entrant Isaiah Jillson. The sophomore advanced to state last year at 120 pounds. He finished 30-15 with 10 pins. Jillson could jump up to 145 pounds this season.
“Hands down that kid is a grinder,” White said. “We expect the same thing this year. He is a young guy and he is still a leader. He spent a lot of time to become a better wrestler and it showed. We can see improvements in him already this year. He’s come in pretty good shape and it’s going to be awesome to have those guys back-to-back probably. We’ll see how it shakes out.”
Junior Gabe Wagner was voted the team’s hardest worker last season and tied with Attlie Danielson as the top win person with 36 wins and nine losses. His 191 team points were second only to Danielson. Wagner’s season ended a match too early as he placed third in the section tournament.
“Gabe Wagner should have been in the state tournament last year,” White said. “He was on track and it’s one of those things, just like many other sports, you can work and have a great season and then if you get sick at the wrong time you’re not a state tournament entrant. If he was healthy that day he would have gone to state. He would have had a good shot at doing some things.
“We’re excited about what Gabe is going to do this year. He’s a strong kid who frustrates people. I’d call him a grinder. He just wears guys down and has a grip like you wouldn’t believe.”
Senior Jadon Petrie finished 14-26 last year, but was high on the roster with 15 nearfall 3s and led the team in reversals.
“Jadon Petrie should have won the most improved wrestler award from last year because he just keeps getting better and better each year,” White said. “He looks good this year already in just the little bit that we’ve seen them. He seems a little bit taller and so we will see. We’ll have quite a few guys at that 152-160 range. We’ll see where things shake out.”
Senior Ben Boberg finds himself in that same 152-160 weight class. Last year he was the most improved junior varsity wrestler. He finished 1-3 in varsity matches, but was 17-3 in junior varsity matches.
Forrest Gibson is a senior captain who wrestled 182-pounds last year. He placed fifth in the section tournament and posted a 27-14 record with 14 pins.
“It feels like we’ve had Forrest in our room for forever because we had him in our room as a seventh-grader for a while,” White said. “Forrest has been a big part of this team for a long time and we’re glad to have him. He’ll probably be wrestling a different weight class than he’s used to, but I think it will be to his benefit. He’s a strong, athletic kid, and he might end up in that 220 weight class or 195. I think that’s a good spot for him because of his agility and his ability.”
Junior Dalton Barrett will look to keep the family dominance going after his brother Cade Barrett placed second in last year’s Class 3A state tournament at 220 pounds. Dalton Barrett finished 9-6 last season.
“Dalton is a giant,” White said with a laugh. “He wears a size 18 shoe. He had to get them special ordered. Last year, you could tell he grew a lot and was trying to figure out how to move his body. He’s really starting to fill out now and you can tell he’s more coordinated and more in control. He’s going to have a cradle like no other. I think he’ll do well this year.”
Senior Cole Larkin enjoyed a memorable rookie year last year. In his first-ever year wrestling, Larkin placed sixth in the section and ended with a 12-18 record with nine pins.
Isaiah Germann placed fourth at 106 pounds in the section tournament. He finished last year 31-16. His brother Elijah was 14-23 last year and also placed fourth in the section.
“The Germann boys, I’m hoping they can separate and fill two spots with those guys because they’re both tough,” White said. “Those boys hate to lose and I love that in them. They’re both tough and they both put in a lot of time off the mat and it shows.”
Damien Bentho wrestled to a 17-24 record and was fourth at 170 pounds at last year’s section meet.
Mason Callstrom dropped weight and is looking at the 182-pound slot. He was 1-2 last season, but wrestled on the section team as a freshman.
Easton Dircks is a seventh grader who will likely grab the 106-pound slot for Brainerd.
“He’s been tested on a youth level nationally and has done well so it will be fun to watch him come in and see what he can do against varsity wrestlers,” White said.
Despite the low numbers, Brainerd should be able to fill all weight classes and have some depth for the first time in the larger weight classes.
With that said Willmar and Bemidji will likely continue to be the Central Lakes Conference and Section 8-3A favorites.
Brainerd will see Willmar early at their first home triangular Jan. 21.
“We like the individual tournaments and the team tournaments, but we won’t be able to have any of those this year,” White said. “I think as far as competitively, our schedule will be OK. Most of our events are Thursday-Fridays and we have a couple of Thursday-Saturday combinations. We’re going to really be able to work and build on things throughout each week. We’ll have a solid three days in a row to build on what we’re seeing. I really look forward to that. To me, it’s kind of like a football schedule where we can use a full week to really focus and get ready for your competition.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Head coach: Mikkey White, fifth season (third year as head coach, co-head coach 2 years)
2019-20 record: 5-2 CLC, 16-10 overall
Captains: Kyle Eschenbacher, Forrest Gibson, Gabe Wagner
Assistant coaches: Jim Kath, Marty Wagner, Curtis Brisk