By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Last November, Mankato East’s Lincoln Benzkofer seriously considered walking away from the sport of wrestling and, instead, concentrating on his high school football career.
After some soul searching and some persuasion from the Cougars’ coaching staff, Benzkofer decided to stick with it. He put together a strong regular season and won the Section 2AA championship to earn a trip to state.
Benzkofer was defeated in his first match in the Class AA tournament but rallied through the consolation bracket to end up fifth in state at 220 pounds. The strong postseason run has rekindled the senior’s love of the sport and now he’s eager to get the 2012-13 season started.
“Last year his mind was on football and we kind of had to talk him into continuing with wrestling,” East head coach John Dierks said. “But after making that run at state he’s a lot more motivated now. I think he sees himself in the mix for a state championship.”
Benzkofer agrees: “I want to have a good year this year. Wrestling is in my blood.
“My dad (Al) wrestled, my brother (Jake) wrestled and I’ve been doing it since I was 4. I’d really like a strong finish to my high school career.”
When Benzkofer says strong finish, he means exactly what Dierks said — winning a state championship.
“I talked it over with my coaches and that’s the goal,” he said. “I’m ready to do what I have to do to make that happen.”
Dierks believes Benzkofer has the physical tools and mental toughness to go a long way in 2012-13.
“Lincoln is a strong, physical guy,” Dierks said. “We’re trying to get him to lower his level a little bit and attack the legs more, it’s almost like linemen blocking in football.
“We started to see some of that pay off last year, and he’s slowly getting better at it. If he can take some shots down low that will allow him to mix things up a little bit instead of just going upper body.”
Benzkofer will be a key member of an East team that has about 30 wrestlers out in grades 9-12 and 40 more in junior high. The Cougars (8-14 last season) lost 170-pounder Nate Knutson from last year and the Fletcher brothers — Leon and Ricardo. The Fletcher family moved to Robbinsdale.
Junior Cody Lorentz returns after posting a 29-12 record at 152 pounds last season. The other key returners include junior Nick Makovsky (170 pounds), junior Anthony Wilson (138-145) and senior Cole Mosher (138-145). Makovsky was 14-13 in 2011-12, Wilson was 19-21 and Mosher was 12-27.
The top two newcomers figure to be freshman heavyweight Logan Swanson and freshman lightweight Michael Miller. Swanson began last season on the junior high team and, after compiling an 18-7 record, was moved up to junior varsity where he went 9-2 the rest of the way.
“He had a nice year last year and he was out for football this fall,” Dierks said of Swanson. “That made him quicker and stronger so we expect him to be even better this year.”
Miller was 22-8 on the junior high squad a year ago and, after getting promoted to junior varsity, went 16-5. He is expected to solidify a spot in the lower weights where the Cougars are lacking depth.
“There’s going to be some weight down below where we maybe have only one guy,” Dierks said. “But from 138 on up we should have some depth. We should have three and maybe even four guys at most of those weights. That will be our strength.”
Dierks is hoping the team can get to 10 wins this year and finish in the top five in the Big Nine Conference. “We’d also like to get to Saturday in the section team tournament, which means we’ll be in the top four. Last year we had one wrestler go to state and we’d like to try to get at least two this year.”