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Paynesville wrestlers back at state after nine-year absence

PAYNESVILLE -- The team is stronger than the sum of its parts.

That's one of the messages Paynesville wrestling coach Tim Woehler has been preaching to his charges during the 2009-10 wrestling season.

His team responded well to the message, beating perennial Section 5A powerhouse Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City for the section title and gaining a spot in the Class A team wrestling tournament, which begins today at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"This is the first time in a long time where everyone has the same goal and the same vision," Woehler said. "Kids are willing to sit out and let someone else wrestle because it is a better matchup. Everyone understands their roles."

Individually, Paynesville has good wrestlers, but not noticeable names up and down the lineup. Only three individual Bulldogs qualified for the state tournament.

Paynesville will meet Zumbrota-Mazeppa in the quarterfinals today.

The Cougars have five wrestlers in the individual tournament and the No. 3 seed, but in team wrestling anything can happen.

"If you look at the matchup with Zumbrota-Mazeppa, we're nearly identical," Woehler said. "They're weak where we are weak. Our strength has been from the middle on up. But four of our first five guys have winning records.

"It's just a good group of hard workers. We just have a group of scrappers. We've got some very good kids. If we wrestle like we did the last two weeks, we'll be fine."

In making their way through the Section 5A tournament, the Bulldogs relied on grit and determination to advance in a section that held a former state champion in ACGC and other teams worthy of assuming the mantle of section champ.

"We had four teams last Friday that could have won the section," Woehler noted.

The teams that did make it aren't slouches. Minneota earned the No. 1 seed, followed by Frazee, Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Jackson County Central at No. 4. Frazee will compete against Milaca in the other 9:30 a.m. dual. The Vikings will face Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial and Jackson County Central will meet Border West in the other two quarterfinals.

"Class A is as balanced as it's ever been. The seeding wasn't at all as I expected it," Woehler said. "It's such a big area you have to compare. I think some of the sections are pretty tough and it will depend on who's healthy."

Woehler wouldn't put any cards on the table or tip his hand to what the Bulldogs will try to do against Zumbrota-Mazeppa.

His reason?

The Comets' head coach is Link Steffen, who won state titles for Granite Falls-Clarkfield at 189 pounds in 1992 and '93.

"We believe in wrestling our style and being aggressive. Guys will know what we want them to do," Woehler said. "We just want the matchups we want and the funny thing is that I think (the Comets) will want similar matchups."