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Tiger wrestlers received team awards at the annual banquet Thursday, March 26. The four members of the varsity team honored were (left to right) freshman Zach Gibson was named Most Improved Throughout the Season; senior Josh Nelson was named Most Valuable Wrestler; senior Corey O'Keefe received the Tiger Award; and freshman Tony Domnick was named Most Improved from Last Season.

2008-09: A stepping stone year on Tigers' way to breakthrough season

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The Morris Area/Hancock/Chokio-Alberta wrestling program is getting accustomed to change and is ready for whatever next season brings.

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Last year, coach Shane Tappe was new to the program and has proven to be a positive change for the Tigers. This season, the Tigers began a pairing with Chokio-Alberta which everyone adjusted to rather quickly. Next season promises more transitions as the Tigers move to Section 3AA.

Tappe is excited about the team's move to AA.

"I'm not disappointed about the move. Our chances are better in 3AA," said Tappe. "We've been in the toughest section in single A."

Next year the Tigers will be wrestling teams as far south at the Iowa border, with Morris being the northernmost reaches of the section.

"We can compete in Section 3AA. We need to get to know these teams," said Tappe.

Tappe is excited about next season's prospects for his young team that has been struggling to fill all the weight classes.

"I'm hoping to fill all the weights," said Tappe. "We can do that if everybody gets where they need to be and if we can keep everybody healthy."

Not only would it help the team at matches if the Tigers didn't have to give up points for forfeiting, but larger numbers will help in the practice room as well.

"Competition in the practice room is important," said Tappe.

The addition of Chokio-Alberta to the system didn't add a lot of bodies, but did bring two wrestlers into the program.

"I thought the transition was smooth," said Tappe of the pairing with C-A. "The kids molded well together. It was a positive experience for everyone."

He hopes to get more C-A kids involved in wrestling, but realizes that it will be difficult.

"It's hard when you don't see the coach everyday," said Tappe.

Teaching industrial arts at Morris gives Tappe exposure to the athletes. He has used this relationship to develop some students' interest in wrestling.

With only two seniors on the roster this season, the make up of next year's team will be similar.

The Tigers will lose Corey O'Keefe and Josh Nelson to graduation.

O'Keefe competed in only two wrestling matches before an injury forced him to sit out the rest of the season. Despite being unable to participate, he was there every day for practice.

"He could have up and left, but he supported the team," said Tappe. "He was a motivational guy for some of the kids and a positive figure."

Nelson led the Tigers this season in team points, finishing fourth in the section with a total of 98 career wins.

"Josh was a good leader, a quiet leader," said Tappe. "He really stepped up and became the person younger kids could lean on.

"We'll have a big gap to fill next year," added Tappe. "He did whatever we asked of him, moving up and down to fill weights."

Tappe encourages his team to help fill the gap by working on the sport during the off-season, participating in camps and working out in the weight room.

"Everybody puts in the same amount of time in practice. Everybody works hard, " he said. "It's the extra things that make a better wrestler.

"It's been a stepping-stone year for us," said Tappe. "Next year, we're going to make a breakthrough."

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