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Wrestling: Cards are aiming big in 2022-23 season

The Alexandria wrestling team went 14-11 last season in duals and have big goals for the 2022-23 season.

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Alexandria's Mason McGrane, left, wrestles Tayten Mick of Pequot Lakes-Pine River-Backus during the Cardinals' home triangular on Dec. 14, 2021. McGrane won that match in a 14-8 decision and added a second win on the night with a pin in 3:35 against Chandler Mickelson of Perham. McGrane was one match away from making the medal stand at the Class AA State Meet and is looking for more success in the 2022-23 season.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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With a healthy chunk of its team back from a team that went 14-11 in duals and a team that sent two to the Class AA State meet, the Alexandria wrestling team has set big goals for itself in the 2022-23 season.

“We are coming off a pretty successful 21-22 season and we lost one very good senior in Mason Teaser who is now wrestling in college at Mankato,” Alexandria head coach Aldon Struchen said. “I expect we will be very competitive with the top teams in the section and conference. Alexandria wrestling has been in existence since 1959 and we have had some great teams and individuals come through it. However, making the state dual tournament as a team has eluded our program. I know the captains along with the coaching staff have set a lofty yet very realistic goal to be the first Alexandria wrestling team to qualify for the state dual tournament.”

Back for the Cardinals is junior Mason McGrane (113) who went 37-5 in his sophomore year and was a match away from winning a medal at the state meet. McGrane is ranked No. 4 at 120 pounds in Class AA by The Guillotine.

Senior Blaze Nelson is also back for the Cardinals. He went 35-9 last season and made the state tournament at 138 pounds.

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Alexandria's Blaze Nelson gets a first-period pin at 145 pounds over Lee Ellingsberg of Moorhead on Dec. 23, 2021. Nelson is a three-time state tournament qualifier who is headed into his senior season.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Freshman Nolan Fettig (106) and senior Kelly Johnson (152) were a match away from making it to the state tournament last year and should help the Cardinals towards their goals in the 2022-23 season.

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“Leadership from captains Kelly Johnson, Blaze Nelson, Mason McGrane, Cole Vatnsdal, and Landon Seward will be a big strength of our team,” Struchen said. “These guys are all battled tested and set a great example for their teammates on how to do things right. We will have strength in numbers and experience this year. The program has been growing pretty steadily and wrestling is unique from other sports in that you not only need to fill 14 starting spots, but you also need to fill 14 specific weight classes in a dual meet. We will be able to do that with quality wrestlers in all of the weight classes and outstanding wrestlers in many of them. We have a number of wrestlers that put up 30 wins last season Mason McGrane - (37), Blaze Nelson (35), Kelly Johnson (33), and Nolan Fettig (31). Senior Landon Seward is coming back with 17 wins from last year. Cole and Cody Vatnsdal are twin brothers that have dealt with injury plagued careers that are back healthy and hungry to compete.”

Fettig is ranked No. 8 at 106 in Class AA by The Guillotine.

The Cardinals have a nice mix of young and new athletes on the roster including some wrestlers who are trying the sport for the first time.

“There is a very solid group of experienced upperclassmen returning that should include 10 seniors and six juniors, and 10 sophomores,” Struchen said. “We also have some now seasoned underclassmen group that will contribute in many of the lighter weight classes. Additionally, we have some new gifted athletes that want to give wrestling a try this year.”

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Alexandria junior Kelly Johnson looks up at the time left in the first period in the midst of pinning Moorhead's Bridger Mongeau at 152 pounds on Dec. 23, 2021. Johnson is now one of the senior leaders for the Cardinals ahead of the 2022-23 season.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria has all five of its award winners back from last season. McGrane, who was the team MVP, Nelson who had the most takedowns, Johnson won the spirit award, now-junior Pablo Garcia won the Diamond in the Rough award, Seward won the most improved award.

The Cardinals return 13 wrestlers who wrestled at the section tournament last year.

In the team section team tournament last year, Alexandria was eliminated by Perham. Thief River Falls won the section team tournament over Pequot Lakes-Pine River Backus.

Struchen expects these teams to be the section title contenders again and for Willmar and St. Cloud Tech to be the toughest competitors in the Central Lakes Conference.

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“We will need to continue to build on the aggressive 'in your face' style of wrestling to create offensive opportunities and keep our opponents on their heels,” Struchen said. “This is the style of wrestling that puts a lot of points on the scoreboard and is exciting for even casual wrestling fans to watch. We are going to have to be well-conditioned and outwork our opponents to do this. We also need our wrestlers that were maybe in that 10-15 varsity win category last year, to make the jump to the next level in that 20-25 match area.”

2022-23 Alexandria Cardinals -

COACHES - Aldon Struchen, head coach, 4th season as head coach (47-56); Assistant coaches - Andrew Kratzke, Jordan Scherber, Spencer Huber, Jared Welch, Mac Sommerville

ROSTER - SENIORS - Landon Arvidson, Kelly Johnson, Blaze Nelson, Isaac Saffert, Landon Seward, Cole Vatnsdal, Cody Vatnsdal, Josh Jones, Isaiah Brown, Caleb Laurent; JUNIORS - Gavin Engelbrecht, Pablo Garcia, Wyatt Marshall, Mason McGrane, Landon Raths, Karl Franson; SOPHOMORES - Dylan Gray, Luke Maanum, Zach Richards, Jackson Saffert, Grayson Timm, Ramiro Villanueva, Will Zwach, Jaxon Werder, Joe Ravnik, Mason Evjen, Landon Day, Connor Donvan; FRESHMAN - Brenden Bryce, Nolan Fettig, Logan Timm, Jacob Loween, Jake Arvidson, Zach Brezina, Justin Selk, Isaac Seward, Jesse Fitzgerald’ 8TH-GRADE- Ty Larson, Drayson Elfering

SCHEDULE (Subject to change)

Dec. 2 at Melrose Invite, 2 p.m.
Dec. 3 at Melrose Invite, 10 a.m.
Dec. 8 vs Fergus Falls, Sartell, 5 p.m.
Dec. 10 Invite at Park HS, 9:30 a.m.
Dec. 13 at Perham Triangular, 5 p.m.
Dec. 20 at Park Rapids Triangular, 5 p.m.
Dec. 22 at Rocori Quad, 5 p.m.
Jan. 3 at Lake Park Tri, 5 p.m.
Jan. 5 vs Bemidj/Brainerd, 5 p.m.
Jan. 12 at Pierz & Eden Valley-Watkins, 5 p.m.
Jan. 14 Big Ole Invitational, 9 a.m.
Jan. 21 at St. Croix Lutheran Academy Meet, 9 a.m.
Feb. 2 vs Detroit Lakes & Melrose, 5 p.m.
Feb. 3 at Little Falls quad, 5 p.m.
Feb. 7 Home quad, 5 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Willmar Tri, 5 p.m.
Feb. 14 Team Section Tournament
Feb. 17 Team Section Tournament
Feb. 24 Individual Section Tournament at Detroit Lakes
Feb. 25 Individual Section Tournament at Detroit Lakes

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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