Lightning-Eagles match will play heavily into postseason seeding

Wrestlers and coaches in Class 3A, Section 2 were understandably curious last spring when the Minnesota State High School League announced new section assignments – and now are preparing for a section tournament that will have a much different dynamic.

Shakopee had won the Section 2 team championship the last four years, often in dominating fashion. The Sabers were sent to Class 3A, Section 6 in the most recent section realignment, and now that section is top-heavy with No. 2-ranked Waconia and third-ranked Shakopee.

Apple Valley, Eastview, Burnsville, Rosemount, Lakeville North, Lakeville South and Prior Lake are holdovers from the previous Section 2 alignment, and the section added Farmington, which moved from Section 1.

An all-South Suburban Conference section makes conference matches such as Thursday’s dual between Apple Valley and Eastview even more important because the results likely will play into section team and individual seedings. The Eagles-Lightning match is at Apple Valley High School at 7 p.m.

“We want our kids to wrestle the best competition they can, but our new section opens up more opportunities for wrestlers to have success in the section and possibly reach the state tournament,” Eastview coach Kurt Habeck said. “That’s good for the sport.”

Apple Valley currently is the only Section 2 team ranked in the Class 3A top 12 by theguillotine.com (the Eagles are ninth). Eastview, while unranked, has had one of its best starts in recent years with a 9-1 overall record. The Lightning won their first three South Suburban Conference matches.

“We’ve had a very good start,” Habeck said. “I think the competition level will increase as we go through the season. One thing that’s helped our program is we have a group of young wrestlers who trained with us last summer and got some good experience. We have 50 wrestlers, which has helped us as we’ve made lineup changes.”

Some lineup changes were necessary because of illness and injury, but Habeck said he also likes to give varsity matches to as many wrestlers as are ready for it. This year as many as 23 or 24 Lightning wrestlers have seen varsity competition in a given week.

Last week the Lightning defeated Eden Prairie 63-12 and Chaska/Chanhassen 63-15 in non-conference matches. In South Suburban Conference action, Eastview downed Eagan 67-11 and Lakeville North 52-26.

Eastview junior Ezra Formaneck reached the state tournament preliminary rounds in 2021 and is 12-3 this season at 170 pounds. Formaneck, a top baseball prospect in the class of 2023, is one of several Eastview athletes who believed it would benefit them to wrestle even though they might not pursue the sport beyond high school.

Nolan Enderlein is 16-2 at 113 pounds and earned his 50th career varsity victory last week. Other Lightning wrestlers who have reached double digits in victories include Cole Frost (11-3 at 160), Luke Habeck (10-2) and Ethan Dupont (14-3).

There are 12 seniors on the Eastview roster, but a rise in junior high participation during the 2021 season is expected to put the varsity program in good shape for the 2022-23 season and beyond.

As for 2021-22, the Apple Valley match will tell the Lightning a lot about their prospects for success in the section tournament. The Eagles’ program is rebounding after having its 35-year streak of section team championships broken in 2018. Apple Valley has a strong lineup in the lower weights, led by junior Austin Laudenbach, who won a national 16U Greco-Roman championship last summer. Laudenbach is ranked fourth in Class 3A at 113 pounds.

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