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2013-14 Winter Preview: State-entrant Woodbury wrestling team returns stocked lineup

Woodbury senior Justin Herold-Plakut headlines a long list of returners to the state-entrant Royals wrestling team this winter. Herold-Plakut was third in the state last season as an individual. (Bulletin file photo)

Woodbury won’t surprise anybody this season after it secured its first-ever trip to the state tournament last season. Not with all but three starters returning to the Royals’ lineup and five returning state entrants.

Senior Justin Herold-Plakut, who was ranked second at the end of the season, headlines the returners after a third-place finish at 152 pounds last season and a 44-4 record. Junior Ben Donnelly, who finished ranked sixth at 132, placed fourth following a 3-1 overtime loss to Hastings’ Luke Rowh in the third-place match and finished with a 40-8 record. The other state entrants include senior Howard Jones, freshman Austin Braun and junior Ty Johnson, who finished ranked 10th at 120.

Jones got only one match at the state tournament at 160 pounds and finished 33-8 while Braun won his first match, but lost his second to Owatonna’s Brandon Moen to finish 33-14. Johnson went 1-1 at the state tournament to finish 35-10.

Woodbury lost both matches in the team tournament at state last season after it faced third-seeded and third-ranked Prior Lake in the first round. The Lakers beat the Royals 45-14 and Woodbury got bounced from the consolation round after a 51-21 loss to ninth-ranked Moorhead.

The results of the state meet – individually and team-wise – have left the Royals hungry for more. One Woodbury wrestler in particular is Herold-Plakut after he experienced a second-round upset loss to Willmar’s Colten Carlson. Donnelly and the rest of the returning state entrants will want a better state experience this season as well.

Johnson has not placed in state in the two years he’s been there in 2012 and 2013. Johnson had a productive offseason, placing first in freestyle and Greco-Roman at 126 pounds at the state competition and went on to place second in cadet Greco-Roman at the Northern Plains Regional and third in freestyle. Johnson did not place at the nationals though.

Braun took second at 120 in folkstyle at MN/USA State Tournament, third in Greco-Roman at 126, second in freestyle at 126.

Woodbury will have to replace Young Vang, who wrestled at 106 last year, Kevin Beseman, who wrestled at 145 and Josh McClain, who wrestled at heavyweight last season.

“The first couple of weights in the lineup will be new faces to the varsity mat, so they must mature quickly in order to compete against some of the best teams in the state on the schedule,” said Royals head coach Justin Smith, who enters his sixth season at the helm. “The heavyweight slot that was manned by senior Josh McClain last year will also need to improve quickly in order for us to be competitive this season.”

Woodbury went 19-8 overall and 7-2 in the Suburban East Conference, good for second place.

The Royals also bring back Matt Delaney, who won 29 matches and senior John McNiff, who held a 16-3 record at one point in the season last year.

Woodbury defeated Stillwater for the Section 4AAA title with a 9-2 decision from McClain in the heavyweight match for a 32-27 victory. The Ponies had beaten the Royals the year before 46-20 in the semifinals.

Smith expects perennial power Hastings to be on top in the Suburban East conference this season while the section should have plenty of competition with the likes of White Bear Lake, Stillwater and Tartan.

Woodbury opens the season Dec. 6 against Eastview in Apple Valley.

—Nick Gerhardt