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WHS looking for a few good (mat)men

If you're a male student-athlete roaming the halls of Woodbury High School looking for something to do this winter, Justin Smith would be happy to welcome you to the wrestling room.

Smith, entering his third season as the head coach of the Royals matmen, is eager to spread the word that his team is "hiring."

"We've been doing a lot of recruiting, trying to get kids interested in wrestling," he said.

The Royals lost 11 of 14 starting members of last season's sectional runner-up squad and are now also competing with cross-town East Ridge to fill not only the varsity ranks, but also the youth levels.

"We're getting it out there that starting this season, all kids are welcome to join our youth program," Smith said. "You don't just have to be 'a Woodbury kid,' we're inviting kids from all over to come out.

With a youth program numbering in the 50's and a Woodbury Middle School squad counting in the 30's (up from seven two years ago), Smith noted that Woodbury wrestling as a whole has made some gains.

"Once we can get a kid in the door, they tend not to leave," he noted.

As for the varsity team, the Royals return a number of strong competitors -- including State participants C.J. Hays and Brandon Borchardt, as well as their fellow co-captains Austin Hassenauer and Max Boyd.

Not to mention 103-pound eighth-grader Justin Herold-Plakut, who won 17 matches last season despite weighing 10 pounds lighter than his class' standard.

"We're going to take our lumps for sure, just like we did last year," Smith said. "My hope is that we can show the kind of improvement from start to finish like we did last year."

Helping Smith out in the coaching ranks, along with returning assistants Andrew Goette and Jeremy Kelly, are a pair of new and accomplished helpers in Zach Hanson and Chris MacPhail.

Hanson, a member of a third-place State team finisher at Albert Lea in his high school days, also grappled collegiately at Augsburg. He will help coach the middleweights.

MacPhail, a University of Minnesota graduate, wrestled at 197 pounds for the Gophers last year, following a high school career that saw his Pine Island team finish second in the state.

"We are very fortunate to be able to bring in coaches of this caliber," Smith said. "Not many programs in the state can boast of a staff of assistants like we have at Woodbury."

The new-look Royals open the 2009 season in a showcase meet featuring all three District 833 schools competing against each other at East Ridge High School on Dec. 3.

"We're eager for the season to begin," Smith said.