After 28 seasons as Minneota’s head coach, Joel Skillings wasn’t about to worry.
Not when his team, favored to be one the top teams in Class 1A from the outset, got a late start on the season because 12 of his 14 starters were occupied with winning the Class 1A state football championship. Not when he had as many as eight starters miss time because of injury.
There was plenty of time, Skillings thought. And not when they were clinging to a four-point lead.
His analysis was spot-on as Minneota held off a late charge by Zumbrota-Mazeppa to win its first Class 1A wrestling championship 31-30 on Thursday night.
“We’re pretty lucky in Minneota,” Skillings said. “We’re got pretty good athletes in all sports. We knew we just had to be patient. We weren’t going to get anywhere by being selfish.”
The Vikings capped the best season in team history with a pair of decisive victories in the first two rounds, beating Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the 55-16 in the quarterfinals and routing Jackson County Central 49-23 in the semifinals before the championship-match nail-biter.
Zumbrota-Mazeppa trailed 31-27 going into the heavyweight match. Minneota freshman Trent Esping had just one goal: to keep the match close. He lost the battle, falling 3-0, but it wasn’t enough for Minneota to relinquish the lead, thus winning the war.
“He’s wrestled a few matches,” Skillings said. “He’s got some savvy in him.”
“This was a lot about matchups,” Skillings said. “We knew they had some good matchups and they were really well coached.”
Skilling said before the match that the Vikings’ football championship experience played a part in his team’s wrestling success.
“They’ve shown that they’ve been able to perform well in the big venues,” he said.