Brotherly bond helping Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s Jack Krier reach maximum potential
Jack Krier's older brother Luke has been a big reason behind the Zumbrota-Mazeppa sophomore becoming one of the best 126-pounders in Class AA.
Like many athletes in southeastern Minnesota during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jack Krier did his best to make the most of it.
In fact, the now-Zumbrota-Mazeppa sophomore feels there was actually something positive that came out of those difficult times.
“I honestly think it helped a lot with my wrestling more than it would have if it didn’t happen,” Krier said. “So actually — wrestling-wise — it was kind of nice. Able to put a positive spin on it.”
It helped too, to have an older brother who had a work ethic few could match.
While Jack Krier had just finished his eighth-grade season, wrestling at the junior varsity level — before the COVID-19 pandemic altered our world here in the the United States in March of 2020 — his older brother, Luke, was fresh off a senior season that saw him participate in the Class A state tournament after winning a Section 1A title at 126 pounds.
With little to do, the two turned to what they knew best: Wrestling.
The wrestling mat in their house got a lot of use, as did the small weight room, as the two worked on their craft.
"He had very high goals for the next season, even though he wasn't on varsity as an eighth-grader," Luke said. "And I was trying to get ready for college. So we both had high goals in the future. And, you know, it was like, well, there's a lot of other people that aren't doing anything right now. So it's time to get ahead and make some improvements here."
For Jack, being with Luke was the perfect scenario for a number of reasons.
“I always looked up to him,” Jack said. “Before, he wasn’t the best wrestler, but he worked his butt off. He’s the hardest worker I know. He just worked so hard. Some days I didn’t want to get up and work out and he gets me up, saying ‘let’s go down and drill.’ That’s what really helped me. Also, my confidence too. He’s always telling me, ‘You’re the best. You can beat anyone.’ Just having that really coming from him, does a lot.”
Jack also wrestled a couple days a week in Hudson, Wisconsin, where he trained with some of the area’s top grapplers.
By the time his freshman season rolled around, it was almost like he was a different wrestler — demonstrating a style rarely seen in underclassmen.
“He’s just a smart wrestler,” Cougars coach Link Steffen said. “He has good mat awareness, good mat sense and just smart wrestling is what we call it. He’s got that. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things: Being born with it, extra work and just being a downright smart wrestler.”
Jack burst onto the scene, clinching a state-meet berth with a second-place finish at the Section 1A meet as a freshman. After falling in his opening match, Jack then won three straight to place fifth in the Class A 106-pound bracket.
"He jumped to a whole other level," Luke said. "It was super fun to follow him. It was surprising just because he hadn't even had a varsity match before that season. ... But obviously growing up, he was a very, very gifted athlete. I just love watching him compete and succeed. And I know this is a cliche but when he says he's going to do something, there's a good chance he's going to do it."
Jack won 29 of his 33 matches last season, had a fifth-place individual medal around his neck and helped the No. 4-seeded Cougars win the Section 1A title.
Yet, that only pushed him for his sophomore season.
“Obviously I was happy with fifth,” he said, "but I really feel I can take it to the next level this year and hopefully win it.”
This past summer saw Krier do a lot of training, specifically with Minnesota Elite Wrestling in Apple Valley, as well as hitting the weight room even harder. That’s where Luke, who is now battling for a varsity spot at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, was once again instrumental.
"He's always been a pretty good wrestler," Luke said. "I think he's just growing up and finally realizing to get where I want to be, I need to do what other guys aren't doing. I need to put in the extra work."
The results back that up.
Jack is ranked No. 4 in the most recent Class AA 120-pound rankings by The Guillotine. He won the FCLMC Holiday Tournament and was impressive in a pair of runner-up performances at the Don Hall Invite and the prestigious Bi-State Classic in La Crosse, Wis.
“He knows how to score and how not to give up points,” Steffen said. “He did quite a bit of offseason wrestling. You can see the difference in Jack to those that didn’t. He put in the extra time and that’s showing up on the mat. He’s beaten some really good wrestlers. I think he’s wrestled between nine to 11 ranked wrestlers already.”
But Krier is just as impressive off the mat.
To tell the truth, sometimes it’s hard for Steffen to remember that Krier is just a sophomore.
He just seems to get it.
He knows when to push people, when to back off, when to take control or when to let the seniors handle things.
“He’ll say something to the team that needs to be said,” Steffen said. “He’ll step up. But at the same time he has the respect of the captains to do their thing. So I really appreciate that. He’s a street smart kid where he gets it socially and he gets it on and off the mat. He just seems to understand life.”
"His mindset for everything has always been very different," Luke said. "I just feel he's so mature even last year as a ninth-grader. Very mature for a freshman."
It’s an important aspect for a Zumbrota-Mazeppa team that lost a valuable leader with the graduation of Ethan Kovars, who placed second at 195 in the state tournament, and is making the leap from Class A to Class AA. Kovars, too, was key in helping the Cougars reach the state finals as a team — where the Cougars lost to Kimball Area — making the jump up to the heavyweight division.
Yet, the Cougars seem to be doing just fine.
They placed seventh out of 70 teams for their best-ever finish at the Bi-State Classic and also finished fourth at the Don Hall Invitational. The top three teams ahead of them are all state-ranked.
It’s thanks, in part, to a talented group of sophomores.
Led by Krier and Kaleb Lochner, who is ranked 10th at 120 and was a state qualifier as well last year, it’s this sophomore class that has the Cougars in a good spot.
“Going into the room with those guys is just a lot of fun,” Jack said. “We like to push each other and we are all really good friends. We push each other every day.”
That doesn’t mean another state trip is guaranteed.
The Cougars have more work to do and this year are in the same section with the likes of Kasson-Mantorville, Albert Lea, Plainview-Elgin-Millville and Stewartville.
Yet, the expectations remain the same.
“Our goal every year is section champs, and I mean, I think we can do it,” Jack said. “Obviously, we have some tough opponents in Albert Lea and Kasson. Our main focus right now is to get 1% better every day. Once we get to those teams, we will get it done.”
“We’re ready for something new,” Steffen said. “I told the kids that you can get stagnant being in one area for a long time. So let's look at this as an opportunity to try to go in there and do the best we can. Make some noise and enjoy the new challenge. And that's how we're approaching it.”