Dairy kids win on the mat

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WATERVILLE, Minn. — When the referee lifted Keegan Kuball’s arm in victory, it marked his second consecutive state champion title for heavyweight wrestling.

“I felt a lot of pressure go off my shoulders,” Kuball said. “I had a lot of pressure to win it again, because I’m supposed to be the best one in the bracket. ... It was just fun because I love doing it, and it’s pretty rewarding.”

Kuball, a junior, wrestles for the Grizzlies, a co-op 1A team encompassing two districts, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton.

Kuball is the son of Nate and Shannon, who milk 240 cows near Waterville. The Kuballs also farm 1,100 acres for feed and as cash crops.

Every day after practice, Kuball is outside working in the shop. On weekends, he works as well, including milking on Sunday nights. In the summer, he helps with fieldwork, milking, feeding and work in the shop.

“Farming taught me a lot about leadership,” Kuball said. “At a young age, I had to learn how to know what to do (and to) know what other people should be doing. ... It also taught me a lot about hard work. Dairy farming is a demanding job.”

The heavyweight champion was 40-4 in the regular season. Kuball has wrestled for 13 years.

“You’re the only one out on the mat,” Kuball said. “You’re the one winning, but you’re also the only one out there when you lose too. ... (You) have to put a little pressure on yourself to win, but you also don’t have to rely on a whole team to be really good.”

At Willmar Senior High School, cousins Cavin and Conlan Carlson both competed at the state level.

They are part of Carlson Dairy, located near Pennock, which milks 2,000 cows.

Cavin, who won third at state, is the son of Carl and Kellie. The sophomore wrestled at 133 pounds. This was Cavin’s third time competing at state but his first time placing.

Cavin’s record was 39-4 in the regular season and 12-1 in the postseason. Cavin said he has been wrestling ever since he can remember.

“I love wrestling,” Cavin said. “It’s just something I really care about. ... I like to call it a legalized fight. ... You get to go out there and impose your will on another guy. ... There’s some fun about that and then going into a room every day with a team and having them behind your back.”

Cavin helps on the farm about two days a week. He helps his dad with whatever is needed, including sorting cows, giving vaccinations, moving feed and moving tires.

“There’s always work that has to be done (on the farm), whether you do it now or you put it off,” Cavin said. ... “With wrestling, I’ve just made that a thing where I might as well put in the work now. ... All this work will pay off eventually.”

Cavin and Conlan have spent the year working together as practice partners every day. The pair shared everything, talking about their matches and whether a move was going to work.

“It’s a lot easier to do something and accomplish something when you’re with someone who has similar goals,” Conlan said. “That was something different this year, having him right there by my side, wanting it just as bad as me.”

Conlan, a junior, is the son of Chad and Kindra.

Conlan competed at state and was named to the state AAA all-tournament team. His regular season record was 42-4, and his postseason record was 10-2. This was his fifth time competing at state, where he has placed three of the past five years.

Like his cousin, Conlan also has been wrestling since he was young.

“I’ve been wrestling ever since I can remember,” Conlan said. “I don’t remember a specific first time. ... It was something I picked up right away and took off with.”

Conlan helps his dad on the farm two or three days a week. He said he does not go to the farm much when school is in session but helps more in the summer.

Conlan has taken the lessons learned on the farm to his sport.

“I’ve learned hard work and grittiness,” Conlan said. “Sometimes when you’re wrestling the best guy, not everything is going to be easy. I’ve learned that, on a farm, not all work is to sit behind a computer and click a button and everything happens. It’s hands-on work.”

Going south across the border into Iowa, Jayden Mara, of Waukon, competed in wrestling at state for Waukon High School.

Mara, who is the son of Kyle and Ashley, works as an employee for Rolinda Acres in Waterville, Iowa. The farm has over 900 cows milked by a robotic system and a double-12 parlor. On weekends, he helps mix feed and work the fields.

Mara, a junior, had a regular season record of 24-4 and a postseason record of 26-7. This was his first time competing at state.

Mara wrestled at 113 pounds, having cut during the season from 130 pounds.

“It’s a lot of work,” Mara said. “I cut a lot of weight, and you have to really push yourself. It’s really hard sitting down to lunch watching everyone else eat and you know you can’t.”

Outside the wrestling season, Mara milks every evening as well as two or three mornings a week. During wrestling season, he picks up as many mornings as he can. He said the mornings were an advantage to him at early meets.

“They’re all tired, and I’m used to it,” Mara said.

Heading west into South Dakota, Walker Zoellner, of Groton Area High School, also competed at state. His record, wrestling at 126 pounds, was 34-16. He placed third in the regionals and competed at state but did not place.

Zoellner has wrestled since he was 4 years old. He enjoys the dual nature of wrestling.

“It’s a team sport, but it’s not at the same time,” Zoellner said. “If you win or you lose, it’s all on you.”

Zoellner, the son of Darin and Anne, helps on his parents’ farm near Groton, South Dakota. They milk 10 cows and have about 1,000 acres. Zoellner helps with fieldwork, feeding calves and mixing feed. He pauses much of his farm involvement during the wrestling season.

Zoellner said a lesson he learned on the farm that he takes to wrestling is to not give up.

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