True grit: Park wrestler Cody Linssen returns from knee injury, sets sights on state title
Cody Linssen’s state tournament experience a year ago wasn’t at all what he wanted. Because of a knee injury the standout wrestler from Park was forced to watch from the seats at the Xcel Energy Center.
Now in his final high school season Linssen has his sights set on a state championship.
After earning all-state as a sophomore Linssen was a force his junior year. The 220-pound wrestler had compiled a 23-1 record with 18 pins and was ranked third in Class AAA. However, Linssen tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee on Jan. 5, 2013, in Farmington and would miss the rest of the season.
“I actually wrestled two more matches afterwards,” Linssen said. “As long as I was standing up and in my stance it was fine. It hurt but I just kept wrestling. The next day it was swollen and I couldn’t bend my leg.”
It was the second straight year Linssen’s season ended with an injury. At the 2012 state tournament, Linssen was shredding opponents before tearing the labrum in his shoulder in the state semifinals and settling for sixth place.
“Two years, two surgeries,” Linssen said.
Linssen was the only Park wrestler to reach the state tournament in 2012. However, his teammates Collin LaBrosse and David Giadyu qualified for state last year. Linssen said he went to the Xcel to support his teammates, but it was tough to watch.
“It was nice to see those guys wrestling at state, but I wished I was out there with them,” Linssen said. “I’m very hungry. I just want to actually finish at state and go all the way through. But, I definitely want to go for the title.”
Linssen has returned to form this season. He’s back ranked No. 3 in Class AAA at 220 pounds and was 33-3 during the regular season with 21 pins. Linssen broke Park’s all-time record for career pins this season, shattering Pat Shilling’s former record of 65. Linssen had 71 career pins and a total record of 101-19 heading into the postseason.
“You never know how kids are going to respond to injuries and to surgery. Every kid is different,” Park head coach Jim LaBrosse said. “But, he’s had a huge performance coming back. He didn’t really skip a beat.”
After having surgery on his knee, Linssen was on crutches for two weeks, then went six months with no contact and couldn’t run for four months or lift for three months.
Linssen worked hard to regain his form. This past fall he was able to play football for the Wolfpack and was a standout defensive lineman.
“I was out of shape,” Linssen said. “You could visibly see my left leg was smaller than my right one and I got a little fat.”
Linssen said he now feels he’s as close to 100 percent as he will be.
“It’s been a lot of rehab and physical therapy,” he said. “There’s been a lot of exercises that are specific to the knee. I’ve been doing that forever and just being careful. But, I think I’m back up on the level I was at again.”
LaBrosse said after Linssen made it through the football season without reinjuring the knee, he knew his leg was strong again. The coach said Linssen’s comeback is “a testimony to his hard work and effort.”
“He wanted to be a part of this team as a captain and a leader,” LaBrosse said. “He has good support at home and has done all the right things with his rehab. His conditioning needed work. It’s taken a little while. That mat time is huge. But, he’s there now. It just shows great leadership with what he’s done.”
LaBrosse said Linssen has had a natural ability to wrestle from a very early age. Linssen has wrestled at the national level since sixth grade.
LaBrosse said Linssen’s big-match experience has given him the necessary confidence and poise on the mat.
“He stepped into the state tournament as a sophomore and wasn’t afraid,” LaBrosse said. “He wrestled great against seniors and juniors who had been in the game longer. You can’t teach those things, they come with experience.”
Technically, LaBrosse said Linssen’s strength is on the ground.
“He is a fantastic wrestler on that mat for how big he is,” LaBrosse said. “He’s always been very good on the bottom and on top. He’s good on his feet, but he’s not completely polished there yet. We’re getting there. But, he’s very good on the mat.”
The individual Section 3AAA tournament takes place this week. There, Linssen will get another look at his main opponent in the state — Apple Valley senior Paul Cheney, who is ranked No. 1. Prior Lake junior Alex Hart is ranked No. 2 in the state and is in Section 2AAA. As a sophomore, Linssen lost 9-7 to Cheney in overtime. The two didn’t get a chance to wrestle last year. Cheney beat Linssen again very early this season, but Linssen said he wasn’t in shape yet.
Park has five state champions in the 54-year history of the wrestling program. Park’s most recent state champion was Steve Duval in 1986 at 155 pounds. Jim Reisselman (138 pounds) and Jim Hinz (175 pounds) were Park’s first state champions in 1964. Other state champs were Tom Reisselman in 1966 (138 pounds) and Perry Fink in 1984 (138 pounds).
LaBrosse, who was a state entrant for Park in 1981 and 1983, said a state championship is a realistic goal for Linssen.
“You have to have that goal of being a state champion,” he said. “He’s been up against everyone in the state and he knows the guys he has to compete against and beat. He’s ranked third in the state for a reason. The tale will tell.”
Linssen isn’t the only Park wrestler hoping for postseason glory, however. In the Class AAA state rankings, Collin LaBrosse is ranked fifth at 120 pounds, Giadyu is ranked sixth at 138 pounds and Cory Flaata is ranked 10th at 170 pounds.
“We have few guys chasing state titles, so that’s been nice,” Jim LaBrosse said. “Our practices have been really intense with those guys pushing themselves and pushing each other. When you have guys shooting for big things it helps the whole squad.”
Linssen said having teammates shooting for greatness has helped motivate and inspire him to return to the top of the podium this season.
“It sucks that I didn’t get a chance to finish the season last year,” Linssen said. “But, I feel like I’m back and I have a good chance of winning state this year, so I just have to go for it.”