One step further: Austin’s Winkels hopes to cap historic season with postseason success

Published 5:31 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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Austin junior Sam Winkels has already registered one of the best seasons in Austin wrestling history and now he’s trying to take it a step further as he heads to the Minnesota Class AA State Wrestling Meet at Xcel Energy Center Friday.

Winkels has already set school records for pins and wins in a season and he enters the state meet with a record of 45-1 overall at 285-pounds. He will open the state meet against Nathan Klatt, of Annandale, who is 40-2 overall. The key for Winkels to succeed will be to keep his cool.

“I’m just going in blind. I have to be confident in my training and believe in myself,” Winkels said. “Last weekend I was really nervous before the semifinals at sections, but I had people around me who made it fun. The biggest thing for me is to stay relaxed and confident.”

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Winkels has made big strides in his first year as a heavyweight. He’s mastered the ability to gain leverage, keep his balance and stay in matches when things are getting tough. Although he has much bigger goals ahead, he has been able to look back and appreciate breaking the AHS marks for wins and pins in a season.

“I just keep putting stones on the wall and I keep laying brick after brick so I can accomplish my bigger goal of winning a state title and going on to wrestle in college,” Winkels said. “I’ve always tried to be a good kid and I try to do what’s right because that’s how I was raised by my family. Some days I’ll feel lazy in the morning, but I’m disciplined enough through wrestling and football where I can do what’s right, ultimately so I can get better and reach my goals.”

Winkels credits Austin assistant coach Blake Wolters, who wrestled at South Dakota State University for pushing him every day in practice. The sparring sessions between the two have gotten a lot closer over the past year.

“He’s 260 and he pushes me,” Winkels said of Wolters. “He’s probably the best wrestler that I’ll ever face. To wrestle him every day is a blessing and I wouldn’t be where I am without him, my family and the people around me who support me.”

Winkels is coming into this state meet with a lot less nerves as he admits the Xcel Energy Center was a lot to take in last season.

“I feel a lot more comfortable this year,” Winkels said. “Last year I was a little sophomore and that was a very scary and intimidating to walk out there for my first match last year.”

Although he has always had a passion for sports, Winkels has taken his dedication to new levels recently. He spent a good amount of his summer working on wrestling and a lot of that time has paid off this season.

“It’s mostly giving up my free time. Last year the whole month of June and a lot of July was booked,” Winkels said. “I’m just trying to stay committed to something that I love doing, whether it’s football or wrestling. I love sports and they’ve made me what I am.”


Westfield junior Bo Zweiner is in his fourth state meet and he comes in with a 36-6 record at 133-pounds. He will open the Class A state meet against Justin Olson of Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale-Parkers-Prairie, who has a record of 29-12.

In the girls meet, GMLOS senior Diann Smith, who is 28-4 at 136 pounds, will compete against Hailey Jackson of South Saint Paul, who is 25-14 overall, in the opening round.

Smith has taken second in each of the last two state wrestling meets.

The first round of the individual state meet begins at 9 a.m. Friday, with the quarterfinals beginning at 4 p.m. The semifinals will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday and the placing and championship matches will follow at 4 p.m.