Zumbrota-Mazeppa faced a familiar foe in the Section 1A finals and for the second year in a row, the Cougars were able to come away successful, beating Goodhue, 44-15, on Saturday at Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.
Although the result was the same as the last two Cougars-Wildcats matchups, how it happened wasn't. For Cougar Sam Nordquist, that was fine by him. He faced Mason Huemann and pulled off an unexpected 5-3 decision.
"It was pretty great (to win),"Nordquist said. "I've wrestled him five times now and that's the first time I've been able to pull off the victory."
As important as that matchup was for Nordquist, it wasn't the turning point that decided the outcome for the Cougars. That happened earlier, in a day that little seemed to fall in Goodhue's favor.
The Wildcats got into a hole early, with Michael Majerus pinning Makae O'Reilly in under a minute at 106. At 113, Beau Jurrens defeated Ryley Christianson by major decision to open up the Cougars lead to 10-0. From there, Goodhue and Z-M went back and forth. Maddox O'Reilly picked up a decision at 120, Mike Vath picked up a major at 126 and Mariano Bigalk picked up a decision at 132.
At 138, the cart began to come of its tracks for the Wildcats. Spencer DeFrang executed a second-period pin on Travis Gadient, in what turned out to be a major turning point for the Cougars.
"It felt good to get the pin," DeFrang said. "Last time I faced them I didn't get that. I thought the pin sort of gave a boost to our momentum."
Z-M head coach Link Steffen seconded that opinion.
"Getting the pins that we did was huge," Steffen said. "The pins we got served as an energy boost for our guys going into the next matchups."
The rest of the Cougars fed on that momentum coming away with wins in the next three matchups: Luke Tupper picked up a major at 145, Nordquist by decision and Hayden Stensland by tech fall to open up the Cougars lead to 32-6.
Kelby O'Reilly and Kaleb O'Reilly at 170 and 182, respectively, both won by decision for the Wildcats, but Caden Steffen effectively ended the Wildcats slim chances with his pin of Kodee O'Reilly in less than one minute. Jacob Bennett followed with a pin of his own at 220 before Goodhue was able to end on a high note with Ryan Schoenfelder (285) winning by decision to close things out.
"We ran into a state championship-caliber team today... defending state champs for a reason," Goodhue head coach Josh Grant said. "I know they worked hard, I know they earned it."
Talent was in no short supply for either team, but experience and leadership are two qualities the Cougars have plenty of for their title-defending run.
"We have 13 seniors on the team and their experience shined through today," Link Steffen said.
Unfortunately, for all that leadership, experience and talent, Z-M was still unable to receive the correct trophy after their victory - receiving the Section 1AAA title before eventually receiving the Section 1A title.
Z-M 61, Caledonia-Houston 9
Z-M faced little resistance from Caledonia-Houston in the Section 1A semifinals on their way to a 61-9 victory. The Cougars received pins from Majerus, John Poulin, Vath, Conner Heitman, Tupper, Stensland and Hayden Voxland.
Goodhue 46, Chatfield 22
Chatfield gave Goodhue a solid run in the semifinals having tied the score 22-22 with only four matchups remaining. Those final four all ended in the Wildcats' favor, however, with Kaleb O'Reilly, Kodee O'Reilly, Jacob Brinkman and Schoenfelder all winning by fall.
Z-M will begin its bid to repeat as state champions March 1. They will hit the mat at 9 a.m. for the quarterfinals.
For Goodhue, wrestlers will look ahead to the Section 1A individual tournament held Feb. 23-24 at Mayo Civic Center.
Grant said he is optimistic about a few of the wrestlers' chances as the focus begins to shift. "We had some guys that lost a match here today that they had previously won in the season," he said. "I think we have some guys that are going to be a little bit hungrier now.
"Ryan (Schoenfelder) should have built some confidence," he added. "He just beat a state finalist (Z-M's Jarret Haglund). He's never been to state and he just beat a finalist by seven points."