MINNEOTA - In the Minneota wrestling program, head coach Joel Skillings mentioned a simple philosophy when it comes to his senior wrestlers.
"We always ask our seniors to leave something behind, and I think this group took that to heart," Skillings said.
And when the senior foursome of Andrew Swedzinski, Theodore Bueltel, Travis Longtin and Alex Lessman hit the mat in the middleweights, they leave an impression on each and every one of their opponents.
Heading to state for the third straight year and starting the Minnesota State High School Wrestling Team Tournament on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, all four of them have been a stronghold in the Vikings' lineup.
Minneota opens the state tournament at 9 a.m. against 11th-ranked Zumbrota-Mazeppa, a team coached by Link Steffen, a former Yellow Medicine East standout and NCAA champion for Southwest Minnesota State in 1998.
Swedzinski, Bueltel, Longtin and Lessman each have won 30-plus matches for the third-ranked Vikings, combining for a 134-24 record. And for Bueltel and Longtin, it's been a refreshing season after injuries dampened the 2010-11 season.
"It's nice, being our senior year and all, going back again. It makes things special," Swedzinski said. "We're going to be ready for Zumbrota and we're going to start it off just trying to wrestle our best. If we wrestle our best, we know we can be good, and that's the main thing."
And starting at 132 pounds, Swedzinski has embraced the role as the starter among Minneota's seniors. Going to state for the second time as an individual, Swedzinski went 33-4 this season.
"Coach says I have to be a spark plug, get things rolling, so I've always tried to get things rolling for my teammates in the beginning," Swedzinski said. "I know that I got the support of Travis, (Theodore) and Lessman. They're always there to pick me up or give me a high-five."
Then at 138 pounds, Bueltel steps onto the mat. Ranked fifth in Class A, Bueltel went 37-3 in 2011-12, a telling feat after missing last season with a torn ACL.
"His dedication came over a year ago when he had to sit out a year and kept his focus," Skillings said. "He's the type of kid that's just worked so hard and cares about it.
"He didn't come back with something to prove, he came back because he loved the sport. He came back because he wanted to wrestle and wasn't out to prove anything."
For most of the 2010-11 season, things were going well for Longtin until the Camden Conference championship tournament, when he tore a ligament in his elbow.
"Eventually, I had to go in for surgery and get all that stuff repaired," said Longtin, who is 32-10 this season at 145 pounds. "It was Tommy John surgery, which is what baseball players normally get."
Longtin missed out on the individual section tournament, but continued to wrestle for Minneota in the team tournament, sporting a brace and sleeve on his injured arm.
"He's been unselfish his whole life. Last year, being injured and once again, he showed how unselfish he was by saying, 'You know what? It's not about me, it's about the team,'" Skillings said. "I think that makes it pretty special that he's been able to enjoy some success this season."
Now, back after the injury, and getting to qualify for the state individual tournament for the first time, its been a burden off his shoulders to get his shot in his senior year.
"Knowing it was my senior year, I knew I had no more chances after this one," Longtin said, "so I just want to go out and leave it all out there."
Rounding out the senior foursome is Lessman, who is ranked fourth in the state at 152 pounds with a 32-7 record. Skillings described Lessman as one of the most blue-collar workers in the wrestling room.
"Alex has been around a long time and he just does great things for us," Skillings said. "He's one of those guys who brings his lunch box to practice, or whatever they say, and he gets along with those guys."
Seeded third in the state tournament, the Vikings' seniors are hoping to make their deepest state run yet. In the last two trips to state, the team has finished in third place both times. And whether it's the group of Swedzinski, Bueltel, Longtin and Lessman, or the heavyweight duo of Josh VanOverbeke and Adam Josephson, the team hopes this is the core that can bring home some hardware.
"Ever since their days in the NYWA (Northland Youth Wrestling Association), those seniors have relied on each other," Skillings said. "It's just a fun group and we've been blessed over the last couple years to have such good senior leadership."