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Prep Wrestling: ACGC down, but never out

Falcons sitting at 16-2 in dual meets while surrendering first three matches

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ACGC senior Jake Mortenson, right, looks to put Royalton/Upsala's Ely Psych on his back during their 170-pound match Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 at Grove City.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

GROVE CITY — In every dual this season, the margin for error for the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City wrestling team is slim. In every match, the Falcons have been without a 106-, 113- and 120-pounder, putting them in an 18-0 hole before the first match even takes place.

“It’s pretty tough starting (down) 18-0 in every dual,” said senior 170-pounder Jake Mortenson. “That’s tough to come back. It puts a lot of pressure on the guys in the middle and up top to get bonus points. There’s a lot of extra work you have to do.”

And even when facing a deficit every night, the Falcons keep finding a way to win.

Fielding just 11 out of 14 wrestlers in varsity matches, ACGC has built a 16-2 record in dual meets. The Falcons just took its first loss of the year to No. 4-ranked Royalton/Upsala on Thursday, 36-25. Over the weekend, the Falcons went 3-1 in the Wabasso duals, with the only defeat coming against Zumbrota-Mazeppa, 37-33.

“It’s been kind of unbelievable spotting teams 18 (or) 24 points; we’ve wrestled a tough schedule,” said Falcons head coach Mike Amsden. “(Royalton/Upsala) was in the final four last year. This was a great test.

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“I can't wait until we get a full lineup and see what happens.”

Several factors have kept ACGC from fielding athletes at the lower weights. Amsden said that while they have the numbers, “we don’t have the experience.” The 106- and 113- pounders from last year — freshman Edwyn Gonzalez and sophomore Jevon Williams — grew to 132 and 145, respectively.

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ACGC senior Brady Holien, top, maintains control on Royalton/Upsala's Nick Leibold during their 152-pound match on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 at Grove City.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Then in the first week of practice, senior Trey Schmidt, who was set to wrestle at 113, tore tendons in his elbow.

“He’s trying to work his way back,” Amsden said.

Trying to come back in every single match has had its ups and downs.

“It’s kind of frustrating when you’re down that far,” said senior 160-pounder Mason Studemann, “but we got some good kids that can bring us back.”

And, it’s a group that knows how to pick its spots, whether it’s scoring bonus points with falls and major decisions, or avoiding those bonus points. “We know pretty much what everyone is going to do,” Studemann said. “Who has to win, who has to save points, who it’s going to come down to.”

Mortenson added, “You got to trust your guys to go out there and do the best they can and give it all they got and hopefully, come out on top.”

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The Falcons remain one of the top teams in Class A, sitting in eighth in The Guillotine’s Dec. 23 poll. Four wrestlers — all seniors — are in the top 10: Cole Holien (seventh, 138); Brady Holien (sixth, 152); Mortenson (eighth, 170); and Jaxon Behm (first, 220).

Some of ACGC’s biggest wins came against previously ranked opponents: No. 11 (A) Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie 52-21; No. 12 (AA) Annandale/Maple Lake 39-36; and No. 9 (A) Minneota 42-31.

“Once we get to the middle of the dual and it starts getting closer, you rely on your guys a little more,” Mortenson said. “You talk to ‘em, tell them what they got to do, calm ‘em down a little bit and not worry about anything. Just go out there and wrestle.”

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ACGC head wrestling coach Mike Amsden looks on during the Falcons' dual meet against Royalton/Upsala on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 in Grove City.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Considering the Falcons’ recent string of success, with six state appearances since 2013, runner-up finishes in ‘14 and ‘20, the expectations haven’t dropped despite the holes in the lineup.

“It was pretty intense against the number four team (Royalton/Upsala) and coming down to the last two weights,” Mortenson said. “To come up short, it’s tough. We got some work to do.”

It’ll get tougher in the postseason. ACGC was moved from Section 4A to 5A, which includes top-ranked Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, ninth-ranked Minneota and Lean and Mean Minnewaska among the top contenders.

“That’s going to be tough,” Mortenson said of the new section competition. “Hopefully we get our weights back. We’ll go out there and give it all we got and give them a run for their money and hopefully, we can pull an upset somewhere.”

Amsden hopes to have some reinforcements by that time. Schmidt is trying to work his way back from injury, senior Jayden Kragenbring is working his way down to 120, and a couple seventh-graders are in the mix to fill the vacancy at 106.

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“We’re not going to rush it,” Amsden said. “We’re not going to make kids that aren’t ready to go in there get beat and get beat up.

“We’re going to take our time and wrestle for February, not January.”

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