Pepper overcomes missed season to make state
When United Clay Becker senior Mathew Pepper takes to the Class 2A state mat Friday, it will basically be his regular and postseason all rolled into one.
Pepper just made it back to wrestle for the Badgers in the Section 8-2A individual meet after missing the better part of two months of the season due to having mono.
The senior from Lake Park-Audubon was able to rehab back to his 195-pound frame, after losing 12 pounds due to the sickness - but it took plenty of work to do so.
"I really cut it close getting back for the section meet," Pepper said. "I was able to wrestle in one dual and one tournament right before sections to get my limit of matches in.
"I lost 12 pounds, which most of it was muscle, so I had to do a lot of running to build back my stamina."
UCB head coach Nick Paur added Pepper had to work hard just to get to his preseason form.
"Our goal was to get him back to state and we started it off slow and worked his way up," Paur said. "Going into the sections, we expected him to go to state. I see Mat getting his quickness back and he is as strong as anyone down there."
Having only six wrestlers in the 195-pound class in the Section 8-2A bracket, Pepper was able to beat Fergus Falls' Abram Aho in the semifinals 3-2 to advance to the finals.
There he met a familiar opponent in Crookston's Josh Edlund, who held a 3-0 record on Pepper through the last couple of years.
"I wasn't quite 100-percent, yet, but I was disappointed in my finals' performance," Pepper added.
Edlund outlasted the Badger for a 5-3 decision, but the runner-up finish was still good enough to advance Pepper to the state meet for the second year in a row.
In the first round, Pepper will have a big challenge in Section 5-2A champion Lance Benick, who is 37-1 and ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 10 in the nation.
But Pepper isn't concerned about rankings, although he is ranked No. 9 in the state, despite missing the majority of the season.
"I've watched some film on (Benick) and I know what his weaknesses are to attack," Pepper said. "I'm just going to be aggressive and determined and not be scared to take my shot."
UCB had four other section placers, including junior Mason Swegarden, who just missed his state berth after losing to Detroit Lakes senior Zach Baker in the True Second match.
Other Badger placers included freshman Jonah Lange, who took sixth at 152, Alex Lindsey (fourth, 182) and first-year wrestler junior Tanner Riewer taking sixth at 220.
"It was a good season where we filled all the classes to start the season," Paur said. "We could have been a .500 team easily, but we had some close losses and two defeats by criteria. We just need to keep it going and working hard."
The Class 2A individual first round will start Friday at 9 a.m. inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.