Chip Rankin has been a big part of guiding the Minnewaska wrestling team as one of Minnesota’s top Class A programs in recent years, but he has important matters to tend to during this wrestling season that will have the state-ranked Lakers led by a new head coach.

Rankin is currently on deployment as the Task Force Bayonet Commander of roughly 1,000 soldiers that deployed this past summer to the Horn of Africa. Rankin will return in April following an 11-month deployment, and Justin Viss will step in to lead the Lakers on the mat this winter.

Viss jumps into the lead role for a program that is ranked fifth in the Class A state polls through The Guillotine on Jan. 10. The Lakers wrestle in the same section as Class A powers Long Prairie-Grey Eagle-Browerville (ranked No. 1) and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (ranked No. 3), but the Lakers were still a fixture at the individual state tournament last winter by sending four guys into the second day of competition.

“The primary focus for our team this season is to focus on what we can do within our room to have the most competitive team possible,” Viss said. “It will be important to focus on the things we can control, and ignore what we cannot. I think this year more than any forces us to be pretty short-term in our planning and taking things week-by-week. I would expect the guys to continue to push themselves every day to get better, which doesn't change this year due to the circumstances (of the pandemic).”

Minnewaska does have important pieces to replace in the lineup. Tyler VanLuik and Dylan Jergenson both graduated after VanLuik finished third at 195 pounds last season and Jergenson took second at state at 220.

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Back, though, is senior heavyweight Jakob Swalla (32-6 last season) after he went 2-2 at the Class A state meet as a junior, and senior two-time state champion Tyson Meyer. Meyer has been nearly perfect the last two seasons, going 89-1 as a sophomore and junior on his way to back-to-back titles at 170 pounds.

Tyson Meyer
Tyson Meyer

Meyer is ranked first at 182 pounds in the Jan. 10 polls this year. Swalla is Class A’s second-ranked heavyweight behind Cian Buehler of Ottertail Central, while Minnewaska juniors Jacob Blair (No. 9 at 126 pounds) and Easton McCrory (No. 6 at 132 pounds) are also ranked in the top 10 of the individual polls.

“I would say the biggest strength is the leadership of our junior and senior classes,” Viss said. “I think it's going to be a benefit to us to have an experienced group because they've seen a lot of competition and will be able to take things in stride as the situations change during the course of the season.”

Viss said he expects the Lakers to be at their best by season’s end as they try to compete for a team section title against the other talented teams in Section 5A.

“The biggest question we need to answer is, how will we find a way to take the next step as a team every week throughout this season, even as our situation changes?” Viss said.

The Lakers should be right there with the best teams in the section and state again if they stay healthy and focused on that day-by-day approach. They won’t ease into things as Minnewaska goes to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa for a season-opening triangular at 5 p.m. on Jan. 14.

2021 MINNEWASKA VARSITY WRESTLING

(Name, expected weight class)

SENIORS - Ty Walsh, 160 pounds; Max Reichmann, 160 pounds; Jackson Stadsvold, 160 pounds; Ryan VanLuik, 170 pounds; Tyson Meyer, 182 pounds; Dylan Koubsky, 195 pounds; Jakob Swalla, 285 pounds

JUNIORS - Torii Johnson, 106 pounds; Hunter Johnson, 106 pounds; Jacob Lien, 132 pounds; Easton McCrory, 132 pounds; Jacob Blair, 138 pounds; Caden Koziol, 138 pounds; Keygan Cruz, 145 pounds; Dalton Friedrichs, 160 pounds; Nate Rankin, 220 pounds

SOPHOMORES - Chase Boelke, 170 pounds; Nick Ankeny, 106 pounds

FRESHMEN - Jayce Kovarik, 106 pounds; Mason Schiffler, 126 pounds

COACHES - Head coach - Justin Viss; Assistant coaches - Jarred Oftedahl, Dane Ankeny, Riley Gustafson; Student Managers - Noa Beckwith, Ashlee Armstrong, Zoey Elwood

MINNEWASKA WRESTLING SCHEDULE

Jan. 14 at BBE Tri, 5 p.m.

Jan. 19 Minnewaska Tri, 5 p.m.

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

Jan. 26 Minnewaska Tri, 5 p.m.

Jan. 29 at Pine River-Backes Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 2 Minnewaska Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 9 at LQPV Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 11 at Kimball Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 16 Minnewaska Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 18 at WCA Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 23 at New London-Spicer Tri, 5 p.m.

Feb. 25 Minnewaska Tri, 5 p.m.

March 2 at Barnesville Tri, 5 p.m.

March 4 at Melrose Tri, 5 p.m.

March 6 Minnewaska Tri, 5 p.m.