The Alexandria wrestling team is starting its third season under head coach Aldon Struchen and his tenure as the leader of this group started with a youth movement a couple years ago.

In some spots in the lineup, the Cardinals still need to gain varsity experience, but this is a team now that has a lot of matches under its belt in many weight classes. It’s leading to some heightened expectations of making more progress this winter.

“Section 8AA has 11 teams, and I think we are capable of being in the top four or five this year,” Struchen said. “Detroit Lakes was third in state last year and brings back a big portion of their lineup. We lost to them 42-25 last year and we gave them 24 points in forfeits. They had good wrestlers in those weights we forfeited, but we did show we can compete well with the guys we put on the mat.”

Thief River Falls, Pequot Lakes and Perham are three other teams that Struchen believes will be great challenges in the section.

“It will be exciting to see if we are able to jump to that next level and knock off those teams that were ahead of us last year,” he said. “If we can fill some of the upper weight classes and stay healthy, we have a pretty dangerous team.”

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Blaze Nelson, Kelly Johnson, AJ Sparr, Isaac Saffert, Cole and Cody Vatnsdal, Landon Seward, Tate Runge, JP Rodel, and Mason Teaser all have a lot of varsity experience. Those guys give the Cardinals some depth in the middle weights that will allow Alexandria coaches to mix and match the lineup to get matchups they want.

Nelson is a sophomore who has already been to two state tournaments and was named co-MVP with graduated senior Ryan Borris last year. Sparr and Johnson joined Nelson as 30-match winners last winter, while Rodel was 27-14.

“Mason McGrane will be a full 106 this year and I'm excited for him as he took fourth in the section last year only weighing 91 or so,” Struchen said. “Fifteen pounds is a lot of weight to give up when you are that small. I'm really pumped to see guys like Gavryn Fernholz and Brenden Bryce make a splash at the varsity level too. Then there is a slug of young newcomers that I'm excited to help reach the next level.”

Struchen said he will emphasize following the COVID-19 safety protocols as best they can to keep kids healthy and safe. Filling 14 weight classes each match is hard enough during a regular season.

“With Covid, I imagine it will complicate things even more for us and the teams we face,” Struchen said. “Our other primary focus will be trying to improve 1% every day, but with a shorter season we might have to bump that up to 2% every day. Two years ago our coaching staff narrowed down our technique to a few things from each position that we wanted to really become great at and create an identity for our team. I think the kids have really bought into it and we are all seeing positive results.”

Struchen said it is a hard-working group of athletes who are coachable and eager to win after the team experienced some growing pains in the win column in recent years.

“We have jumped levels the last two years with this core group in terms of intensity, technique, academics, character, individual and team wins,” Struchen said. “It really has been an honor to have the label ‘coach’ for this group. The coaching staff definitely sees the potential for greatness in these young men and we hope they take advantage of the opportunities in front of them. Ultimately, they have to want it and work for it.”

2021 ALEXANDRIA WRESTLING

SENIORS - JP Rodel, Tate Runge, AJ Sparr, Taiwo Ibukunoluwa

JUNIOR - Mason Teaser

SOPHOMORES - Landon Arvidson, Gavryn Fernholz, Kelly Johnson, Blaze Nelson, David Rauscher, Isaac Saffert, Landon Seward, Cody Vatnsdal, Cole Vatnsdal

FRESHMEN - Wyatt Marshall, Mason McGrane, Landon Raths, Miles Skillings

EIGHTH-GRADERS - Landon Day, Mason Evjen, Luke Maanum, Hunter Meyers, Jackson Saffert, Grayson Timm

SEVENTH-GRADERS - Brenden Bryce, Nolan Fettig, Jacob Loween, Logan Timm

ALEXANDRIA WRESTLING SCHEDULE

Jan. 15 Alexandria Tri, 5 p.m.

Jan. 19 Alexandria Tri, 5 p.m.

Jan. 22 at Willmar Tri, 5 p.m.

Jan. 26 Alexandria Tri, 5 p.m.

Jan. 29 Alexandria Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 5 at Moorhead Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 6 Alexandria Tri, 10 a.m.

Feb. 9 Alexandria Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 12 at Rocori Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 18 at Sauk Rapids-Rice Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 20 Alexandria Tri, 10 a.m.

Feb. 26 at St. Cloud Tech Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 27 at Staples-Motley Tri, 11 a.m.

March 2 at Pequot Lakes Tri, 5 p.m.

March 5 at Fergus Falls Tri, 5 p.m.

March 6 at Morris Area Tri, 1 p.m.