Six seniors on a roster may not be a lot for the powerhouse wrestling programs of Minnesota, but for Marshall/Lakeview head coach Justin Bouwman, it's a rare treat.
The 2012-13 season marks Bouwman's fourth year as the Tigers' head coach, and this is the largest group of seniors he's ever had. One of the seniors, Jake Holbrook, is in just his second year of wrestling, but the other five (Campbell Hofstetter, Jared Holland, Austin Nath, Riley Roth and Justin Varpness) have been learning under Bouwman for their whole high school careers. Now in their final year, Bouwman says they've already shown how eager they are to leave their mark on the program.
"These guys have wrestled together for a long time, so they know they can depend on each other and they know what's expected of them. They've been at it for a long time," Bouwman said.
"This group of guys, they're very dedicated. For a few weeks before we could actually start they had captains practice in here and took charge of that, got our young kids going in the right direction. Technique-wise, they got started with some of that stuff, and it's going to help us tremendously."
The Tigers, who open their season today with a triangular against Mankato West and New Ulm in Mankato, built some positive momentum last season, jumping from four dual wins in 2010-11 to nine in 2011-12. Hofstetter also gave the team a representative at the Class AA state tournament after finishing second at 182 pounds in the Section 3AA individual tournament.
Hofstetter will again be looking to make a return trip to state, and his senior teammates hope to join him.
"Those other four seniors are looking to make their mark, too," Bouwman said. "Those guys have been working long and hard for that. That's their goal and that's where they want to be."
Making state isn't just wishful thinking for the members of the group. Barring injury, Bouwman thinks each of them has a chance.
Holland, who will be wrestling at 195 pounds took fourth in sections last year, losing a close match to a wrestler who went on to take true second. Varpness (220 pounds) and Nath (heavyweight) also each placed fourth at individual sections. They came close to their goal, and Bouwman says they seem ready to take the next step.
Nath, in particular, came into his own as a wrestler last season and Bouwman is expecting big things from him in his final year.
"He made dramatic improvements last year from the first two years I was coaching him," Bouwman said of Nath. "He's just gotten so much stronger and now people have to take notice. He's not just a big kid who goes out there and stands there. He's a kid who goes out and brings the fight and it's really fun to watch."
With the exception of Roth at 138 pounds, the Tigers are younger at the lower weight classes, but most of them will bring varsity experience to the mat. Some other returners from last year include Kesmond Willert (113), Nick Erbes (120), Brent Breczinski (126), Matt Facile (132), Ramzi Gregoire (145), Jarrett Louwagie (160) and Brandon Appel (182). Bouwman hopes to plug in Owen Hess, who has gone out for basketball in recent years but has past wrestling experience, at 152 pounds.
The Tigers had to leave two or three weight classes open in duals last season, but Bouwman said the team plans on having more depth this year and shouldn't have to take as many forfeits.
"We've got a couple kids dealing with some injuries right now, and as soon as we get those guys back we'll have a full roster," he said. "We'll fill everything out, and when people start moving around or moving down, then we may end up with some empties, but when it comes to team sections we'll have some guys who we'll be able to move around and do some things with."