Alec Johnson

K-W’s Alec Johnson was a state entrant last season in the 126-pound weight class. Johnson is one of the veteran leaders of this year’s Knights’ wrestling team, which is hoping to return to the state tournament. (Faribault Daily News file photo)

The Kenyon-Wanamingo wrestling team had a stellar 2018-19 season.

The Knights are hoping for an even more magical 2019-20 season, and so far, they’re off to a pretty impressive start. In their first meet of the year the Knights hosted the Stewartville Tigers on Dec. 5, and KW was dominant in a 55-21 score. Then, last Saturday, the team traveled to the Chisago Lakes invite to take on some teams outside the area.

The Knights fell to Foley — the No. 8 ranked team in Class AA — but KW crushed Chisago Lakes and won a hard-fought battle with St. Croix Falls, a program that’s currently ranked No. 4 in Wisconsin’s Division 3.

On Tuesday, the Knights came away with another big victory, and it may have been their best one yet.

KW took on Zumbrota-Mazeppa in the Cougars’ home gym and came out victorious by a score of 36-31. One reason the win is especially notable for the Knights is that they lost to the Cougars by the same exact score, 36-31, in December 2018. Furthermore, the Cougars were one of only two teams (the other being Kasson-Mantorville) that finished ahead of the Knights in the Hiawatha Valley League conference standings in 2018-19.

The Knights went 25-10 overall last year and 7-2 in their conference. Zumbrota-Mazeppa was 8-1 in the conference last year while Kasson-Mantorville went a perfect 9-0.

Last year’s KW wrestling team was coached by Matt Ryan, who decided to step down after 21 years as the coach so that he could spend more time with his family. New head coach Nathan Lexvold assumed the helm this year, and the Knights have picked up right where they left off.

Seniors Alec Johnson and Bray Olson, both of whom were state entrants last year, anchor the team, and Lexvold feels that a number of other wrestlers are poised for a big year this year, including Gavin Johnson, Trent Foss, Dillon Bartel, Tyler Craig and Logan Meyers, among others.

The Knights will need a number of wrestlers to step up after six talented seniors graduated last year. This year KW is without former state champions Tyler Ryan, Seth Brossard and Jeron Matson, as well as Kaya Lindell, Jesse Jackson and Nathan Bauer.

But they’ve got some promising young talent replenishing the program, as well as plenty of coaching experience. Although Lexvold is in his first year as the head coach, assistant coaches Chad Olson (22 years) and Wayne Lexvold (20+ years) are back with the team, and Chris Anderson is back for his fifth year as an assistant coach. The final assistant coach, Josh Jacobson, is in his first year with the program.

The Knights came in second at the state tournament last year, and they’re chomping at the bit to get back there again. A big win over Zumbrota-Mazeppa in December is a great way to start.

“Our guys are wrestling really well,” Lexvold said. “We’re really happy with what we’re seeing so far. I especially love seeing our guys get pins. That’s huge in KW wrestling. That’s what we’re going for — we want them to try to get the pin if they can, because that really gets us going and helps everyone to feel really confident.”

The Cougars’ Kaleb Lochner started off Tuesday night winning a 4-2 decision over KW’s Gavin Johnson in the 106-pound weight class. In fact, the Cougars dominated the lower weight classes, and it looked like they might pull away and win the night. ZM’s Lucas Schiell (113) pinned KW’s Tate Miller in 1:59, ZM’s Ben Murry (120) won an 8-3 decision over KW’s Trent Foss, ZM’s Michael Majerus (126) won by injury defeat over KW’s Owen Craig, and ZM’s John Poulin (132) won an 11-4 decision over KW’s Dillon Bartel.

But then things turned around for the Knights, and it all started when Alec Johnson and Bray Olson took the mat. Johnson (138) pinned ZM’s Luke Krier in just 47 seconds, while Olson (145) pinned Beau Jurrens in 3:42. ZM’s Cole Poncelet (152) stopped the bleeding briefly with a 14-2 major decision over KW’s Daniel Van Epps, but KW’s Jaedin Johnson (160) gave the Knights the momentum again by pinning ZM’s Tanner Mancilman in just 36 seconds.

KW’s Tyler Craig (170) then won a 6-4 decision over ZM’s Kyle Cloutier and Logan Meyers (182) pinned ZM’s Gabe Tupper in 4:22. The Cougars scored their last points in the 195-pound weight class as the Knights didn’t enter a wrestler, which meant that the night came down to the final two matches.

KW’s Carter Quam (220) won a 7-2 decision over ZM’s Jack Haglund, and then Armani Tucker (285) clinched the night for the Knights by pinning ZM’s Dalton Hall in 1:00.

Next up for the Knights is a home invitational Saturday, where they’ll host Burnsville, Columbia Heights, Medford, Rochester John Marshall and Shakopee. Shakopee is the No. 1 ranked team in Class AAA, so Lexvold and the Knights are anticipating a lot of talent to be on display.

Sports reporter Jason Hommes can be reached at 507-333-3119. Follow him on Twitter @FDNjason. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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