The opening day of practice for Blue Earth Area wrestlers was on Nov. 19.
For the Buc coaches it was anything but ordinary.
In his 24 years of coaching, head coach Randy Wirtjes probably has never seen a practice room that wasn't crowded at the start of the season.
Members of the Buc wrestling team include, (kneeling, left to right), assistant coach Paul Carlson, Adam Legred, Camden Bowers, Alec Huber, Jordan Stelter, Mike Ankeny and Chris Leland. Middle, (left to right), Chris Ramos, Jesse Alleven, Kolt Gorg, Luke Schavey, Jacob Johnson and assistant coach Dave Pfaffinger. Back, (left to right), assistant coach Tim Blagg, David Franta, Carter Hanson, Gus Phillips, Kysten Zierke, Martin Granados, Micah Twedt and head coach Randy Wirtjes.
"We had a skeleton crew. I would like to have been at full force, but having the football team in the finals was great. I'll take that problem anytime," he says.
At least eight members of the Buc football team figure to be in the starting lineup when the wrestling season gets into full swing.
They were taking a break after the team's season ended with a state title on Nov. 24 in the Prep Bowl at the Dome.
The season opener at home with United South Central on Nov. 29 has been rescheduled to Feb. 5, and the home meet on Dec. 6 against Maple River and Lake Mills was canceled.
The Bucs will add Maple River to a dual meet with Windom on Jan. 28.
By Dec. 3, Wirtjes and his assistants - Dave Pfaffinger, Tim Blagg, Paul Carlson and Travis Krinkie - had everyone back and training.
BEA has 15 returning lettermen, which includes one who won more than 30 matches and four others who notched more than 20 wins.
"We'll have great leadership up and down the lineup. At 106 and 113 we'll be a little inexperienced, but should be OK," Wirtjes says.
Three Bucs appear in the early Class A "Top 10" rankings at their respective weights; Carter Hanson is rated eighth at 170 pounds, Kysten Zierke seventh at 195 and heavyweight Martin Granados holds down the 10th spot.
Hanson last year posted a 33-9 and qualified individually at 160 for the State Meet for the second straight year.
The Buc senior has a career mark of 121 wins, 40 losses. He's just 28 wins away from taking over the No. 4 spot for victories all-time.
In the South Central Conference meet, Hanson placed second and also was runnerup at the Section 2A meet.
Zierke also qualified for State last year at 195.
As a sophomore, he finished the season with a 28-4 record and won silver medals at the conference and section meets.
Junior Alex Huber won 28 and lost 10 matches last year. In the SCC Meet, Huber took third place at 113 pounds.
Mike Ankeny placed third at 126 pounds in the conference meet and was third in sections. He ended his freshman season with a 23-16 mark.
At 152 pounds, David Franta compiled a 23-14 record as a sophomore. He was fourth in the conference meet.
Granados had 15 wins and nine losses as a freshman.
In the conference meet he took the silver medal and won bronze in the section meet.
Football standout Gus Phillips is a welcomed addition to the squad.
Last year, he posted a 32-11 record as a sophomore at Montgomery-Lonsdale/Le Center and qualified for State in Class AA at 160 pounds,
Newcomer Camden Bowers also is expected to compete for the 120 spot.
Other varsity letterwinners who saw action last year include Chris Leland (120); Jordan Stelter (120); Luke Schavey (132); Jesse Alleven (138); Kolt Gorg (138); Jacob Johnson (145); Chris Ramos (170); and Micah Twedt (220).
Schavey's record was 15-23, but the Buc sophomore came on at the end of the year to take second-place at 132 pounds during the conference meet.
Ramos (16-24) also wrestled well at the end of the year and the senior took third at the conference meet.
Alleven was out part of his junior season due to an injury, however, he was able to collect 13 wins to go along with eight losses. He took second in the SCC Meet at 138 pounds.
In the conference, Wirtjes expects St. James to be the frontrunners with St. Peter and the Bucs in contention.
"I had the boys write down their goals for the year. We'd like to win the SCC and have a shot for State," he says.
Last year, the team was 4-1 in the conference to take second and finished with an overall record of 19-10.
Earning a trip to state won't be easy. The section is loaded with tough teams, including defending state champs Jackson County Central.
Maple River and United South Central are expected to be contenders.
But, Wirtjes says don't count the Bucs out.
"We know who's going to be tough. If we stay healthy and improve throughout the year, we'll be right in there," he says.