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SVE wreslting: New coach, new upperclassmen, same winning mentality

Spring Valley Elmwood's Carter Merth, who qualified for state last year, hopes to take care of unfinished business by returning to the Kohl Center in his junior season. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

The Spring Valley Elmwood wrestlers have grown accustomed to athletic success. Whether it's on the football field or the wrestling mat, these athletes are not familiar with what it's like to lose.

Their success is largely due to their impeccable work ethics, but some credit is due to last year's senior class who took its underclassmen under their wings as they made their way up through the program.

Last year's senior class included three state qualifiers, Cruze Hurlburt, Seth Schlegel and Dylan Bune. The 2017 graduating class also won four conference titles, made four state appearances, and even brought home one state title over the course of their four-year run.

The class of 2017's track record speaks for how this year's upperclassmen will need to take on a large leadership role in order to fill the holes in the program left by last year's seniors.

Nick Hofacker (senior), and juniors Carter Merth, Santana Schlegel and Kenny Fesenmaier will get their chance to guide their underclassmen when SVE welcomes multiple freshmen and sophomores to the varsity program in the 2017-2018 season.

Schlegel said their role will be to help the younger guys learn how to wrestle fluently and how to "constantly get after it."

"We just have to show them the basics if they don't really understand it yet," Fesenmaier added.

"We have to show them what it's like to wrestle at the high school level," Hofacker said. "It's a whole different level."

The wrestlers' former coach Carter Turner who stepped down from coaching after last year preached the importance of "getting after it" and helped his newcomers adjust to the speed of varsity wrestling. Although Turner is gone, his former wrestlers and new head coach Bill Hofacker will keep Turner's coaching tactics in place.

"There's no difference," Merth said about Bill Hofacker stepping up from assistant to head coach. "Bill has always been coaching, so the only thing that's different is you don't hear Turner's voice yelling in the background."

"The kids are really working hard, and I'm really quite pleased with their effort," head coach Hofacker said. "They're a pretty gritty group."

Hofacker said that last year was written off as a "down year" and that many didn't expect the team to make it to the state tournament. But due to the team's mental toughness, SVE was able to surprise many when the team qualified for state.

SVE might face the same skepticism about their upcoming season as they did last year, but even with the changes from the loss of a large senior class and Turner, Bill Hofacker is confident there won't be any changes in his team's success.

"We're ready to go, and I think we're going to be very competitive," Bill Hofacker said. "I think we'll surprise a lot of people."

Bill Hofacker's upperclassmen are unfamiliar with anything other than victory, and they don't plan to learn what defeat tastes like.

"It feels so good to be on a winning team," Merth said. "It just makes you want to work harder just to achieve the same thing over and over."

Coach Hofacker said that his predecessor raised a culture of kids believing in themselves, and with the confidence that he himself has in his wrestlers, there's no chance Hofacker will let his team believe they're capable of anything less than being the best Division 3 team in the state.

"They think they can do it and they just go out and get it done," Hofacker said of his team.

Hofacker's wrestlers plan to make it to the Kohl Center come February and March for both the individual and team state tournaments, and are prepared to do what it takes to continue their legacy of winning.

"We practice hard every day and come in with the mindset that we're going to work and not lose at all," Fesenmaier said, "then you just try and achieve that.

"You just have to have mental toughness and just have to keep thinking about winning and winning. Never think about losing."

Nick Hofacker, Merth, Schlegel and Fesenmaier are determined to pass down a winning mindset to their new teammates just as Turner and head coach Hofacker have done for them over the course of their careers.

"You just have to try and ingrain that in their heads that they don't want to lose and that they have to try and win every time, Fesenmaier said. "When they know what it's like to win, they're going to have fun and keep trying and trying and trying."

"It's not that hard to give that extra 10 percent," Merth said.

"We've just got to work our hardest in practice and it'll trickle down to the younger wrestlers," Fesenmaier added.

The Cardinals' first test will come on Saturday, Dec. 2 at Ellsworth's Invitational where they'll be matched with tough competitors including Ellsworth's very own mighty Panthers squad. The Cardinals know what they're up against this season, and losing is not on their radar.