Cougars a point short of gold

ST. PAUL — For most, a one-point loss in the state finals would be devastating.

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Members of the Zumbrota-Mazeppa wrestling team hoist their Class A second place trophy Thursday at the Minnesota state wrestling tournament. The Cougars fell to No. 1 ranked Minneota in the championship round, 31-30.

ST. PAUL — For most, a one-point loss in the state finals would be devastating.

But a quick look up and down the Zumbrota-Mazeppa bench revealed few teary eyes Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

Moments after the Cougars came within a point of the program's first state wrestling title, there was little disappointment for anyone associated with Z-M.

"We weren't even supposed to be here," Z-M senior Dillon Downes said.

That's right. The Cougars weren't even expected to be in St. Paul on Thursday, let alone wrestling for a state title. Z-M started the season unranked and went into the Section One, Class A tournament as heavy underdogs to top-seeded Kenyon-Wanamingo.


But the Cougars upset the Knights in the Section 1A tournament and continued that upward progression Thursday. The Cougars upset No. 2-seeded Frazee in the semifinals, earning the school's first-ever berth in the state finals.

That's where the dream run came to an end. The Cougars gave it another incredible effort but suffered a heart-breaking 31-30 loss to top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Minneota.

"It stings a bit right now, and you're going to be disappointed when you lose by a point," Z-M senior Joey Majerus said. "But we did a great job. We gave it our best, just came up a little short."

This Z-M senior class left its mark on the program, putting a runner-up plaque in the school's trophy case.

Majerus, Freedom Hunt, Downes, Noah Prodzinski, Seth Tupper, Evan Block and Connor Hegseth all played key roles in the team's dream run.

"This team improved more than any team we've ever had during the season," Z-M coach Link Steffen said. "They worked hard. We lost by a point, so being that close and not getting it done will hurt. But there can't be disappointment in the way we performed. This group did things no other group has done at Z-M."

The Cougars opened state with a convincing 34-18 win over No. 8-ranked West Central Area/Ashby/Evansville. In the semifinals, No. 3-seeded Z-M upset No. 2-ranked and No. 2-seeded Frazee 33-25.

In that upset, the Cougars received huge pins from Majerus, Caden Steffen, Downes and Tupper.


The Cougars fell behind early in the finals, but back-to-back wins from Downes and Prodzinski, along with a stunning pin from Tupper, gave Z-M a shot at heavyweight. But the Minneota heavyweight was able to stay off his back.

"Tupper's pin was huge; everyone really did their best," Downes said. "I'm so proud. We have nothing to be upset about. We accomplished so much, and we got to the state finals, something no other Z-M wrestling team has done."

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