The Hastings wrestling team is coming off a successful season where they took fourth at the Class AAA team state tournament and had three wrestlers place at the individual state tournament.
"I thought it was a successful season, the kids really grew as the season went on and I think we peaked at the right time," head coach Josh McLay said about the 2016-17 season. "That's what it's all about in this game, getting the kids to wrestle at the top of their ability when it counts, which is the state tournament."
McLay said the team exceeded expectations by taking fourth. The goal was to finish in the top five.
The Raiders graduated several key pieces of that state tournament team from last year: Adam McSorley at 132 pounds, Kyle Erickson at 152 pounds, Josh Miser (195) and Jackson Schichel (220); as well as Tyus Reinke, Cody Leflay and Cole Benson.
However, they also return a good chunk of last year's lineup: senior captains T.J. Pottinger (160) and Trey Rogers (170), sophomore Croix Mader (113), junior Paul Kendall (120), the junior Wilson brothers Lynden and Mac (126), junior Jesse Mimbach in the lower weights, junior Corbin Leflay at 145, junior Godswill Peppe at 170 and senior Drake Guck at 195.
"We have a strong junior class and we're really looking forward to those juniors stepping up," McLay said. "They're tough kids that we're going to need them to take the step to that next level and fill in the gaps of the kids that left and fill their shoes."
McLay also said that the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's is that this season, while being young at the lower weights, the Raiders will be able to field a solid wrestler at every weight. Many of those wrestlers also have experience at the highest level and have competed at the state tournament.
As the Raiders start their regular season, McLay has a firm grasp on his team's strengths and weaknesses.
"As far as weight-classes in general, I think our middleweights through the top are still really solid even though we lost some key kids from last year," he said. "Another thing that we've always been good at is conditioning. We pride ourselves on our conditioning and we win a lot of matches in the third period that way. But one thing we'll need to improve on this year is just believing in the process and taking it one day at a time."
Once again this season, Simley will be the Raiders' main competition in the Metro East Conference. The Spartans beat Hastings in a tight dual last season to take the conference title and are perennial contenders at the Class AA state tournament. McLay said that they will be even better this year, which will make the Raiders' task even more difficult, and that he expects Simley to win the AA state champions this year.
This year's schedule remains much the same except for one significant change; Hastings will not be traveling down to Iowa this winter but rather will go to Cambridge-Isanti. Other highlights are that the Raiders will once again host the Raider Duals with several ranked teams, compete in the Minnesota Christmas Tournament in Rochester and take part in The Clash, also held in Rochester.
While Hastings is not ranked as a team, they have received votes to be in the top-12 on the wrestling website The Guillotine, which suits McLay just fine.
"We'll have to prove some people wrong and that's what it's all about, I don't mind coming out of nowhere and being the dark horse," he explained. "That's a good spot to be in too. People will overlook us and they'll regret it."
Individually, Hastings had three wrestlers ranked as of Nov. 24 in the preseason rankings. Pottinger is ranked seventh at 170 pounds in class AAA, Rogers is the top-ranked wrestler at 195 pounds and Guck comes in at 10th at 285 pounds (or heavyweight).
Hastings travels to Park Friday, Dec. 8, for a triangular with the Wolfpack and Forest Lake.