For wrestling teams the lucky number is 14.
That's how many spots need to be filled with competent, if not spectacular, athletes in order to have a shot at the state tournament.
Along with finding 14 wrestlers, a coach has to pray they're spread out between weight divisions that range from 103 to 285 pounds.
Finding 14 wrestlers hasn't been a problem for Wadena-Deer Creek. The annual powerhouse has maintained a strong wrestling tradition, despite going up against W-DC's other hot sport - boys' hockey.
But, like many Class 1A wrestling teams that fight basketball and hockey for athletes within their schools, W-DC doesn't enjoy the luxury of depth. That problem hurt the Wolverines when they fell victim to the injury bug earlier this season.
It couldn't have hit anyone better than senior captain Kenny Steffens.
Last year in the Big Bear tournament at Cass Lake, Steffens hit heads with an opponent and wobbled to his knees with a concussion.
Then, at the W-DC Invite, the first match of this season, Steffens again hit his head and was disoriented. His pupils were dilated. It was another concussion.
He missed six dual meets and the Cass Lake Invite. He didn't return until after Christmas.
"I told him you can fix a knee or an elbow, but you only get one brain," said W-DC head coach Norm Gallant. "We've been very careful with him. Before he started wrestling again we made sure it was OK for him."
To lose a wrestler like Steffens, who notched his 139th career win this season to move into fifth place on the school's all-time wins list, was devastating.
W-DC lost to Park Rapids and Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale during that time. Since his return, W-DC avenged both losses.
"Not many teams can lose a horse like Kenny or anyone even comparable," said Gallant. "We were moving in eighth-graders and moving people up and down trying to get preferable matchups. To go from a kid you expect to get three or four or more to where you're just hoping you can get through six minutes that's a 10- to 12-point swing.
"This year we're an awful young team so it's important to have him in our lineup. Without him it's a huge hole and we started the season 3-5. Once he was back in our lineup, we went 4-1."
The 140-pounder started the season ranked seventh, but after the injury he hasn't been ranked. The six-year varsity wrestler trails Peter Hayes (190), Leland Brincefield (167), Matt Strawser (160) and Kyle Trout (150) on the school's all-time wins list.
W-DC will need Steffens to remain healthy and keep winning. Section 7-1A is wide open. Gallant believes there are five teams that could advance to the state. Two of those square off at 6 p.m. Tuesday when W-DC hosts defending champion New York Mills.
Last year W-DC defeated the Eagles in the regular season 49-21 but lost to them in the Section finals 31-25.
"I guess we picked the wrong time to beat them," said Gallant. "When we beat them we had one of our best matches of the season and they didn't wrestle as good as they could have and it just snowballed for us. In the section final they were able to turn a couple of those matches and the biggest thing was we had a whole bunch of pins against them in the regular-season match. In the final we didn't get those pins."
Both schools are receiving rating consideration. Both have two ranked wrestlers. W-DC has Tony Wegschied (10th at 171) and Kevin Trout (seventh at 189). NYM has Jason Berg (second at 135) and Andrew Frost (10th at 285).
After the section showdown the Concordia College Cobbers will wrestle the St. John's University Johnnies in Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action. Former W-DC head coach Dennis Kaatz is a Concordia assistant.
"Denny spearheaded the idea," said Gallant. "Both schools have wrestlers from New York Mills on their squads so he thought it would be a neat opportunity for wrestling fans to see a college match. One of the things with wrestling is we need all the promotion we can get and hopefully this is a good way to promote our sport."
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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