Huskies look to repeat last season’s success
By all accounts, the Owatonna wrestling team had a very successful 2019-2020 season, winning the section championship via a dramatic last-period pin and winning fourth place at the team state tournament. Now, the question this season’s team will have to answer is: Can they achieve the same level of success?
What makes that feat even more difficult is the Huskies will be without six seniors who graduated last spring, including heavyweight Isaiah Noeldner, who went 3-0 during last year’s team state tournament.
However, they do return junior Landen Johnson, sophomore Cael Robb and junior YJ Evillard, who all competed in last year’s individual state tournament. Johnson suffered a last-minute take down in the championship and had to settle for second place, Robb earned fourth place and Evillard did not place.
Head Coach Adam Woitalla noted that this season’s team features an experienced group of lower, while the some of their wrestlers in heavier weight classes will have to step up.
“We’re really excited about what our young wrestlers will do this year,” he said.
Regardless of their experience, he said the whole team is united in their passion for the sport.
“The biggest strength [of our team] is that we have kids that love wrestling. That makes them coachable because a lot of these kids want to get better,” he said.
Their self-improvement will be put to the test when the Huskies, the sixth-ranked Class AAA team in the state, face Northfield and Farmington who are ranked 11th and 12th, respectively.
“They’re going to be really tough competition,” Woitalla said.
Some of the key wrestlers who will help the Huskies beat their competition is Johnson who is currently ranked second in the state at 160 pounds.
He mentioned that Johnson brings added value because he can be moved a weight class up or down in the Huskies’ lineup.
“We can move around to different weights and count on him to wrestle whoever we need him to,” he said.
Other key wrestlers for Huskies are Robb who is currently ranked fourth in the state at 113 pounds and Evillard who is ranked eighth at 126 pounds.
“We’re looking to Johnson, Robb and Evillard to continue their success and have an even better season this year,” Woitalla said.
He noted that the Huskies will also count on their senior leaders, including Owen Thorn, Kaden Nelson, Matt Seykora and Ethan Stockwell.
Their leadership will be helpful for the Huskies’ wrestlers heavier than the 182-pound weight class who have less varsity experience than their lower weights.
“We’ll be able to battle at that weight class by coaching them up the best we can and set them up for success,” he said.
Beyond individual success, Woitalla noted that team success comes from developing the student-athletes into better wrestlers and better young people.
“Doing well at section and reaching the state tournament comes with developing and getting better each day,” he said. “If we can get some bonus points, hold our opponent’s top wrestlers to low scores and get some pins out of our studs, we’ll be able to win a lot of duals.”
While that holds true each season, he mentioned that one difference this season is the wrestlers will have to wear to a mask at all times, except when they’re competing.
Woitalla said the Huskies will get used to wearing masks during practice. “It’s something we can easily overcome.”
Owatonna’s first home meet is a triangular at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15.