FAYETTE — Excitement in the future has surpassed pride in the past.
Upper Iowa wrestling coach Heath Grimm values his program’s achievements to date, willing to compare them with most in NCAA Division II. The energy in his voice conveys enthusiasm for the direction current wrestlers are propelling the program.
“I’ve been saying this for the last year now,” Grimm said. “This is kind of a changing of the guard. We’ve got a really good youth movement coming on and some of these seniors that are still around are doing a great job balancing all it out.
”They can see and smell it, too. These guys are hungry. They’ve been winning at a high level all their lives. We don’t expect that to change now.”
Upper Iowa was picked second in the Northern Sun Conference preseason coaches poll, coming in behind nine-time defending national champion St. Cloud State. Nationally, the Peacocks are 20th in the preseason coaches poll.
Neither influences how coaches and wrestlers approach the season that starts Jan. 7 with a home dual against Northern State.
“It really doesn’t matter when it comes to how we go about our business on a daily basis,” Grimm said. “It’s not going to affect how I communicate, my outlook on a guy, my expectations or how we conduct a practice. What it does do, if you step back, is it gives you a bit of a snapshot and I think what it is a pretty good snapshot of the future to come.”
NCAA qualifiers Dalton Hahn (184) and sophomore Chase Luensman (149) highlight a lineup with six wrestlers returning from the second-place super regional finish to SCSU. Hahn is a two-time national qualifier, while Luensman, a former Monticello prep, earned an NCAA berth with a 30-9 mark as a true freshman last season.
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More important than their mat resumes, Hahn and Luensman join 141-pound sophomore Tate Murty and two others on a leadership group that has been vital in conveying messages and expectations from coaches to competitors and vice versa. Communication is more important than ever this year.
“I’ve been blessed this year with a great group of leaders,” Grimm said. “They’re unbelievable leaders They’re giving me a good pulse on the team. More than ever it’s important, as a coach, to know the pulse and what these guys are going through on a daily basis mentally.”
It would be easy to attend practice and worry about individual progress, but those leaders are invested in the team. Grimm said they embrace that role, wanting to develop unity and see the program thrive.
“They’re not arrogant or anything like that, but they really care about the welfare of the program and they’re here to do big things,” Grimm said. “They want to help out in any way they can. We’ve been utilizing them as much as possible.”
Mac Spotts at 141, Brock Benitz (165) and 174-pounder Myron Crawford saw postseason action last season. Spotts and Crawford were one victory shy of advancing to the national tournament. The Peacocks also return seven wrestlers with at least 20 wins from last season.
This is the start of a surge in quality and depth to lead the program this season and for years to come.
“We want them to fit and belong somewhere they’re going to be healthy,” Grimm said. “We want the right balance for them. We’ve done a really good job identifying kids lately that fit into Fayette, Upper Iowa and the D-II model, and aren’t afraid to challenge themselves.
“You get a couple pieces in place. I think the roster has been recruiting itself a little bit.”
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Upper Iowa posted a 12-5 dual record last year, including a 5-3 NSIC mark and a seventh-place finish at the NWCA Multi-Divisional National Duals. High expectations have been balanced with the daily strain of conducting business during the pandemic, which includes COVID-19 testing three times a week. The key is to manage the present and avoid gazing too far ahead.
“It’s been a challenging year on the athletes and the staff, but we’re staying rock solid,” said Grimm, noting they have had just one positive test among wrestlers and staff. “We’re eternal optimists and this year, more than ever, we are focused on just the day we’re training and living in.”
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