The numbers are staggering — in a good way.
Four Class 3A state individual tournament wrestlers.
Seven wrestlers who finished in the top three of the Section 8-3A tournament. Those numbers could add up to a successful season for the Brainerd Warriors.
“I think we have potential as a team,” said Brainerd co-head coach Jim Kath. “We have eight seniors that have come back and we’re blessed in that aspect. We have some strong kids in our wrestling room and our younger guys get to see them every day. But we’ll just wait and see how the year develops. It’s a long season.
“The best thing about this group is they’ve wrestled together for a lot of years. They know each other well and they’ve practiced with each other a great deal. They are together inside and outside our wrestling room. That’s important for the team aspect.”
Dan Babineau, Levi Rubin, Jace Engelmann and Casey Biever return after making appearances in the state tournament. Babineau finished 1-2 in the 132-pound division of last year’s 3A individual state tournament. The then-junior lost his opening match, topped Brandon Strong of Minneapolis South in the wrestlebacks, and fell to Apple Valley’s Dakota Trom. He finished with a 29-10 record.
“Dan has got that experience of being a multi-state tournament guy,” said Brainerd’s other head coach, Mike Boran. “He’s been down there twice and he’s won some matches down there, which is important.
“He has some high goals he set for himself. The other thing about Dan is he really cares about the team and wants the team to do well.”
Rubin finished with a 29-11 record last season after going 2-2 in the state tournament. He won his first 170-pound match at state by pin. Rubin lost in the next round and went 1-1 in the wrestlebacks.
“He was a place-winner last year at state, getting sixth,” said Boran. “He’s a guy with a lot of experience as he’s been on the varsity for a number of years – since eighth grade. He’ll be very good this year.”
Engelmann went 2-2 in the 182-pound bracket of the 3A state tournament. He scored a technical fall to open his state campaign. Engelmann finished the year 17-10.
“I won’t say Jace was a surprise, but when we got into the section tournament and watched how his bracket played out it was interesting,” said Boran. “He was the best wrestler in his weight class. He had a good state tournament and that experience has him coming in with a lot of confidence.”
Biever advanced to his first state tournament last season. He lost both 195-pound matches to finish 21-8.
“He was the section runner-up so he had a tough first draw down there at state,” Boran said. “He had a great season last year. He’s a little heavier this year at 220 pounds to start with and that will be OK. He can compete at that level, or he could drop back down.”
Other’s returning are senior captains Luke Boran and Jeff Flickinger. Luke Boran placed sixth at 145 pounds in last year’s Section 8-3A tournament. Flickinger was third. Junior Sam Adams was third at 220 pounds and James Weiss was third at 285.
“There’s a lot of factors that lead to success and first and foremost is we need to stay healthy,” said Kath. “That’s the biggest thing we can hope for. Any team that is going to be successful has to really come together as a team. People need to make some sacrifices one way or the other. We’ll play it out and see how it goes.”
Last season the Warriors finished 12-6 overall and 6-2 in the Central Lakes Conference to tie for second with Willmar and Fergus Falls.
Brainerd was upset in the first round of the Section 8-3A team tournament by sixth-seeded Moorhead 37-22. Brainerd was the third seed.
“I think everyone kind of remembers what happened in sections, but as far as those things you need to move on from it,” Mike Boran said. “It wasn’t a great matchup for us. We knew Moorhead had a nice team. We were the higher seed because we had beat them in the regular season, but their lineup matched up well with ours.
“We’ll learn from it and hopefully not forget it, but we’re not thinking about it.”
Boran and Kath said St. Cloud Apollo is the likely conference favorite, but both weren’t willing to rule out their own team as a favorite.
“It’s always a crapshoot a little bit,” Kath said. “We’re a solid team in the conference. With that being said, there are some other solid teams. Our goal is to put forth our best effort and continue to get better and maybe even win the conference. If not we’ll just go from there.”