After a lackluster 2013-14 season for the Rugby High School wrestling program, a new sense of optimism and energy can be felt in the wrestling room overlooking Charles Hanneman Gymnasium.
There are more wrestlers, more variety in weight classes and a group of hungry seniors with serious aspirations for the state meet in February.
“I definitely feel like we can compete with any team in the region, if not the state,” senior captain Bennie Mygland said.
A key component to Mygland’s confidence is the Panthers can field a dual team. Last year’s lineup was riddled with holes due to injuries and a few members quitting.
The discord appears to have disappated and third-year coach Craig Zachmeier is ecstatic about his team’s promise. Zachmeier coached one season a few years ago before returning to lead the Panthers last year.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll qualify (for state) as a dual team,” Zachmeier said. “I?foresee us winning the region or being in the top 2 individually.”
The team will need to rack up many more points than last year’s group to achieve that second goal. A more-rounded lineup will help.
The team opens the season Dec. 6 at Velva, with four open spots in the 14 classes. Junior co-captain Spencer Koehmstedt will compete at heavyweight. Koehmstedt was one of four Panthers to compete at state last season, and combined the teammates won just one match.
“I lost to the kid I lost to in regionals for third place,” said Koehmstedt, who wrestled at 195 pounds last year. “It really drove me to work harder.”
Mygland was at 152 and dropped both of his state matches, as did senior co-captain Reid Mundahl at 145. Mygland is expected to wrestle at 170 this year and Mundahl at 152 or 160.
“Bennie can be top 6, Reid top 3 and (Devon) Berg top 5, at state,” said Zachmeier, who expects at least seven of his guys to reach Region. “And that’s being conservative. Coming off a football season they had, it’s carrying into the wrestling room. The confidence they have is incomparable to previous years.”
Berg decided against wrestling as a junior, but brings back a hungry 195-pound frame. The senior was named second-team all-state as a defensive lineman this year. Mygland was named first-team as an offensive lineman. The Panthers went 9-1 in football and Mygland led the team with 172 tackles. Four of the team’s top six tacklers are wrestlers or former wrestlers.
At the light end of the RHS lineup is 106-pounder Riley Zachmeier, the coach’s son. The eighth-grader was the only Panther to win a match at state last season. Freshman Joey Berg and sophomore Kurtis Steelman will compete at 113. Seventh-grader Brady Volk will wrestler at 120. RHS is open at 126 and 132 though eighth-grader Dylan Grove is expected to drop to the latter from 138 eventually.
Freshman Kaden Jaeger is at 145, eighth-grader Collin Kraft at 152, eighth-grader D.J. Schneibel at 160 and sophomore Ethan Morin at 182.
Rugby could barely compete at dual meets last year because of so many open spots. Zachmeier made it clear he wanted his wrestlers focusing on qualifying as individuals. This year, he believes the Panthers can also compete as a team. Zachmeier also tweaked the way he plans to operate.
“I?learned how to (better) judge where we are mentally,” he said. “I?overworked them at the end of the year and it showed at state. When you get back Monday after state, you want to be ready to go again right away, and not be glad the season is over.”
The Panthers lone home meet is Dec. 16 against Velva and Stanley-Powers Lake.
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