Ethan Kovars doesn’t believe in making excuses.

So when his local gym got shut down this summer due to the pandemic, the Zumbrota-Mazeppa senior wasn’t fazed.

Kovars decided to construct his own home gym because a lazy offseason is unacceptable to him.

His makeshift gym consisted of a push sled, a heavy tire and a pull-up bar. But that wasn’t good enough. So Kovars found some solid branches and connected them with two 30-pound cinder blocks and called it good.

You see, Kovars has goals of winning a state wrestling championship. Every day is valuable. Time is currency. When wrestlers throughout Minnesota wondered if they were going to get a chance to compete, Kovars decided to put his head down and get to work. He knew there was a risk that his senior season was going to get wiped out, but stressing about that wasn’t important.

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So he pushed the sled, he flipped the tire and he did countless pull-ups. He bench-pressed his branch-cinder block invention and also did curls and tricep extensions.

When the 2021 wrestling season was given the thumbs up, Kovars wasn’t behind the 8-ball. He was in tip-top shape. He didn’t need to get into wrestling shape. Kovars was basically there already.

He’s showing it off now.

Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s Ethan Kovars wrestles Goodhue’s Cody Lohman in a 220-pound match during a wrestling triangular on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, at the elementary school in Mazeppa. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s Ethan Kovars wrestles Goodhue’s Cody Lohman in a 220-pound match during a wrestling triangular on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, at the elementary school in Mazeppa. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Kovars has wrestled at 195, 220 and 285 pounds for Zumbrota-Mazeppa and is 19-1 on the season. Simley’s Quayin Short –– the Class AA 182-pound state runner-up last year –– is the only man who’s been able to stop Kovars this year. And even in that Feb. 11 match, Kovars had a chance to win before falling in a hard-fought 10-5 decision.

Simply put: Kovars has been an absolute beast for the Cougars.

“It’s been a ton of fun,” Kovars said. “I’ve gotten to wrestle quite a few matches already. I have to be ready every night. We don’t have many guys up top, so if they need me to go heavyweight, I’ll do it.”

Zumbrota-Mazeppa is 13-8 as a team and they knocked off Kasson-Mantorville to end the KoMets’ 12-year Hiawatha Valley League winning streak earlier this season.

Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s head coach Link Steffen cheers on his team during a wrestling triangular on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, at the elementary school in Mazeppa. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
Zumbrota-Mazeppa’s head coach Link Steffen cheers on his team during a wrestling triangular on Tuesday, February 23, 2021, at the elementary school in Mazeppa. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Legendary Z-M head coach Link Steffen has once again found a way to get the most out of his group.

“It’s been amazing,” Kovars said. “I couldn’t imagine wrestling for any other team. It’s great being one of his guys. He just has a different mentality, looks at the sport differently, just so smart towards the sport and life.”

Kovars says the work isn’t done yet. Section 1A is going to be an absolute bear. Z-M is really good, but they have to get through Chatfield, Dover-Eyota and GMLOS, too, if they want to make it to state.

Dover-Eyota knocked off Z-M twice this year by the slimmest of margins (33-28 and 35-33). GMLOS handed the Cougars a 40-24 defeat, and they fell to Section 1A's top-seeded Chatfield 33-31.

But those prior results can be thrown out the window when tournament time rolls around.

“It’s tough, you just have to get the boys ready to go put up a fight,” Kovars said.

Kovars was the Section 1A individual champion at 195 pounds last year before bowing out before reaching the state podium. He's hoping to change that this year. That's what drove him throughout the entire offseason.

“I think we’re super motivated," Kovars said. "The last two years we’ve lost in the semifinals, and we had a shot at state in each of those years. We’re going into the section tournament hungry."