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Wrestling: Denmark enters 2021-22 season bigger, stronger
Juan Bayona
Denmark junior Juan Bayona takes his opponent to the mat Wednesday during the Danes' tri-meet with Creekview and River Ridge at Denmark High School. - photo by David Roberts

Zach Recker had just a handful of days to prepare for last season's region meet.

Sidelined since the beginning of the year with an injury to his AC joint, Recker hadn't wrestled in about two to three months by the time the postseason came around. Yet, Recker managed to finish as the Region 6-7A runner-up at 120 pounds and qualify for the Class 7A state meet, where he collected four more wins. 

"I didn't wrestle for most of the season because of it," Recker said. "So, not only did we have COVID restrict us from having a bunch of matches, but also I had that injury toward the end of the season. I only had two or three weeks of practice going in to the state tournament. Honestly, for how I did, I was pretty happy with it. Going into this season, it's my last season and my senior year with Denmark High School. It's really cool seeing how far my team's come, honestly."

Recker pinned his only opponent Wednesday in a tri-meet with Creekview and River Ridge at Denmark High School. The Danes won 57-24 against River Ridge before falling 57-21 to Creekview, the reigning Class 6A runner-up.

Denmark head coach Ty Brown knew Creekview would be a challenge, having coached there before taking the Denmark job in 2018.

"I'm really happy with how the guys wrestled. They stepped up," Brown said. "Our goal was to either win or go the distance. A couple of our younger guys went up against some defending state placers — some seniors. There's only so much you can do right there to not get pinned, but they did really well. I'm happy with how they competed, I'm happy with the intensity they took to the mat."

Eight different wrestlers collected pins against River Ridge, including Lawton Browder [145], Kolby McCoy [160], Hamdi Akin [182], Aleric Marsden [195], David Danaila [220], Will Hequembourg [285], Josh Wayland [132] and Recker [138].

Juan Bayona also rallied to an 11-7 win at 170 pounds, collecting three takedowns and a reversal. 

"It's the first time in four years that we've had almost a full lineup, and we should have a full lineup by night week, I think, once guys get to the right weights," Brown said. "So, we're excited about this season. We're coming together as a team and the guys are just improving. They're starting to work hard and they're starting to see the benefits of that. We've won four varsity duals already this season. Last season we were 4-14, so we've already matched our win record from last year. I think there's going to be a lot more wins in our record book this year."

Brown said the amount of wrestlers in the program more than doubled from 20 last season to 50 this year.

Marsden, Danaila and Hequembourg also collected pins against Creekview, while Josh Wayland prevailed in overtime with a takedown to earn a gutsy win at 132 pounds.

Marsden is the younger brother of Arthur Marsden, who became the program's first state placer in 2020. 

"Aleric is a freshman this year," Brown said. "He's athletic and he's been putting in a lot of work over the summer. We took a risk a little bit saying, 'Hey, let's pull you into the varsity lineup and try to fill it up,' but he stepped up and did the job. I think he's going to be kind of a permanent face in there."

The Danes' weightlifting program began in late March — about a month after the state meet — and Recker said he is already seeing the results.

"I think at the state tournament I weighed in at maybe 117 pounds," Recker said. "Right now, I'm barely making 138. We have a new coach on the team — Coach [Liam] Corley — and he kind of took charge of our weightlifting and our conditioning and that kind of thing. It's cool to see how he impacted the team. You'll see some of the guys — like Kolby McCoy. He had a little bit of weight to him, but now his chest is like bursting out of his singlet. I credit that to Coach Corley."

Brown expects Recker to be one of the Danes leaders this season, along with seniors such as McCoy, Hequembourg and Hayden Hilderbrand.

"He's really stepped up to that leadership role that Ethan [Culbreth] left open, because for so long he was the guy everybody looked up to," Brown said. "Now Zach is kind of taken that role, and we have a lot of good seniors that have been with us for four years now, so that helps."