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Justin Herold-Plakut, a junior who finished fifth at 132 pounds last season at state and has gone to state the last three consecutive years, returns to the Woodbury wrestling team this season.

2012-13 Winter Preview: Woodbury wrestling team returns three state entrants to 2012-13 roster

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The Woodbury wrestling team returns three state entrants from last season and a determination toward continued improvement after the Royals went 7-12 in duals.

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Junior Justin Herold-Plakut, who finished fifth at 132 pounds last season at state and has gone to state the last three consecutive years, returns along with sophomore Ben Donnelly, who has also gone to state the past three years and placed as high as fifth, and sophomore Ty Johnson made the state tournament as a freshman at 106 pounds.

Those three have helped elevate the intensity inside the wrestling room and served as a model for the rest of the squad.

"It makes everyone realize that the success they had is attainable for them to if they're willing to put in the time," Woodbury head coach Justin Smith said.

Smith, who enters his fifth year as head coach, has seen improvement from the group already. During the summer the team attended a camp at Luther College where it got to face quality teams. Woodbury placed 12th out of 32 teams and went 6-4 in duals. Last season the Royals went 2-8.

"Almost everyone was in here every day lifting and wrestling," Herold-Plakut said. "We got a whole lot better going to team camps. People are more excited about it. They want to be here more."

Herold-Plakut has his sights set on a top three finish at state this season. He begins the season ranked sixth at 152 pounds, according to The Guillotine.

Donnelly starts the season ranked third at 138 pounds in Class AAA and junior Howard Jones returns after a 30-win season. Jones placed third at the section tournament.

For the past two seasons the Royals have come into the section tournament as the sixth seed and beaten third-seeded Roseville. Woodbury fell 46-20 to Stillwater in the semifinals and White Bear Lake beat the Ponies 40-28 to win the section title. This year's section tournament will be at Woodbury High School.

"I feel like the captains we have this year are encouraging the wrestlers a lot more to be at their best potential," Jones said. "We share the common goal of making it to state as a team."

Standing in the Royals way to state in Section 4AAA will be the usual suspects, Smith said. White Bear Lake and Stillwater will vie for the section title again this season, as will an improved Tartan squad. The Bears begin the season ranked 10th while conference foes Hastings is ranked eighth and Forest Lake ninth.

The middle weights with Donnelly, Herold-Plakut and Jones figure to be the strength of the team while Woodbury will have to find improvement in the upper weights and rely on underclassmen in the lower weights. Smith has eighth-grader Austin Braun coming in, who reached the ninth-grade state tournament last year as a seventh-grader, at 113 pounds and senior Josh McClain, who placed fourth at the section tournament at 220 pounds.

For the second consecutive year the Royals will participate in the Rumble on the Red tournament in North Dakota, one of the toughest fields for tournaments in the area.

"We're probably going to take lumps early in the year, but then hopefully we'll be giving them at the end of the year," Smith said.

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