Two state-ranked Austin wrestlers take entirely different approaches

Published 11:56 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2010

They’ve each wrestled on the Austin varsity team since they were freshman, they’ve both won more than 95 matches and they’ve both been to the Class ‘AAA’ state wrestling meet.

Austin seniors Howie Underwood and Michael Hirsch have been successful on the mat, but, while they are friends, they couldn’t be much more different with their personalities.

Underwood, who is 19-5 this season and is ranked No. 8 at 145 pounds in Class ‘AAA’, is a high energy, fast talking force and Hirsch, who is 25-1 overall and is ranked No. 1 at 189 pounds in Class ‘AAA’, is calm, quiet and effective.

This past weekend Underwood took second and Hirsch took first at the South Saint Paul Invite and their two sides showed as they were very supportive of each other.

“It’s a good balance of how good a friends we actually are.” Underwood said. “Mike was kind of passive and I was excited (in St. Paul). There was a lot of team camaraderie and it really helps, especially with how different we are from each other.”

While both are ranked amongst Minnesota’s elite wrestlers, Underwood, who has 96 wins and 35 falls in his career at AHS, isn’t worried about where he’s ranked and he doesn’t feel any pressure in his matches. Hirsch, on the other hand, is always feeling pressure — and that may not be a bad thing.

“I still get the really bad goose-bumps and butterflies before every match, even if it’s against someone who’s not that good. I still get nervous,” said Hirsch, who has 117 career wins with 54 pins. “I think it helps me so I don’t do anything reckless.”

Hirsch has been to state the last two years and he took fifth last year, while Underwood went 2-2 last year at his first state meet appearance.

Austin head coach Bill Kinney said both should be contenders to get back to state at the Section 1AAA individual meet Feb. 26-27 in Rochester. He also thinks they could make some noise at state.

“I would put them up there with the best in the state at their weight class,” Kinney said. “It’ll still be up to them to prove me right, but I feel that any time we put them on the mat, they can go with just about everybody out there. Barring injuries, they’ll be top contenders to get up to the placement stand at state.”

Since they are both seniors, Hirsch and Underwood are wrestling with a sense of urgency this season. Hirsch’s number of pins are a little down from year’s past, but he is unbeaten at 189 and his only loss came at 215 in his second match of the season.

“I’ve been more pumped up this year than the last couple of years and I think that’s helped out,” Hirsch said.

Underwood is working to perfect his technique and conditioning so he can peak in time for the postseason.

“I’m treating every match like it could be my last and really taking it to people,” Underwood said. “I’m working as hard as I can to beat out that guy that might be doing more work than I am in practice or off the mat.”

While Underwood and Hirsch have grown up wrestling beside each other, it’s been awhile since they actually wrestled against each other. Underwood figured it was sixth grade the last time the duo squared off because Hirsch’s size made the matchup too lopsided.

“We’ve always been neck and neck with each other,” Hirsch said. “It’s not fair right now because I weigh too much. He can do good on his feet, but its still not fair.”

Hirsch and Underwood have been strong leaders for an Austin team (5-1 Big Nine) that is looking to finish in the top three of the Big Nine and the top four of Section 1AAA.

“The senior group as a whole has been really good. We’ve got a really nice freshman group and the seniors have been really good mentors for them,” Kinney said. “We purposely took on some tougher non-conference opponents because I knew we’d have a pretty good dual meet team. I like to get good, tough competition and kids like Mike and Howie need that.”

The Packers will host their senior night match against Mankato West Thursday in Ove Berven Gym at 7 p.m. for their last home dual of the regular season.

Austin will close out its regular season next Thursday at Albert Lea.