HUDSON, Wis. -- This will be anything but a normal winter season for Wisconsin high school sports, but that’s not stopping the Hudson wrestling team from doing anything differently.

Gone from the Raiders’ traditional schedule are big tournaments such as the Bi-State Classic in La Crosse and the Marty Loy Classic in Fond du Lac. But that doesn’t mean Hudson doesn’t have its usual high expectations.

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The Raiders enter the 2020-21 season as the defending Big River Conference, regional and sectional champions and are coming off their fifth appearance in nine years at the WIAA State Team Tournament.

They’ll kick off the season Friday night, Dec. 4, at Menomonie, the first of five BRC duals that make up their entire 2020-21 regular season schedule. But head coach Chris Hansen said that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the team, which he said includes even bigger numbers than last year.

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“I know COVID has made some teams in Hudson smaller, but for us our numbers went up,” he said. “We had a great year last year and followed that up with a great off-season. This group of seniors is as close-knit as any group I have ever had.”

The Raiders bring back three captains who all qualified for state last year. Senior Peter Hansen, last year’s team MVP and one of Hudson’s most decorated wrestlers, will try to become a rare three-time state qualifier while classmate Hank Gierke and junior Jacob Hansen round out the captain contingent.

Unfortunately, Jacob broke his hand in the last football game of the season so he will enter into the season a little slower than the rest.

Hudson’s senior class also includes AJ Henn, Matt Feia and Ben Steltzner, three individuals who have won consistently the past three years and expect to end their careers at state. Rounding out the senior group are Cade Paradowski, Nick Fish, Brady Pronschinsk and Holden Luetkens.

“That final group of four have a little less experience but will play a critical role for us this season,” Coach Hansen said.

Also returning for Hudson is sectional placewinner Ryan Rambo and regional placewinners Erik Stubbendick and Riley Steltzner. Hansen said it’s hard to predict who will have a break-out season this year but he pointed to Austin Krenz and Ethan Winkleman as two who will get their share of varsity mat time.

Hansen said it’s been a fun first two weeks in the wrestling room, and said the team is willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the mat.

“The kids have bought in perfectly to wearing a mask and the rest of our safety measures,” he said. “It was pretty simple honestly. The sport is so hard, wearing a mask is one of the easier parts.”

And while there are no tournaments on the Hudson schedule right now, the Raiders are holding out hope that may change as the season progresses.

“When we learned that we would not have large tournaments, it was definitely a shock,” Hansen said. “Not every team does this, but in Hudson we try very hard to put together a tournament schedule where all of our kids get beat. The Bi-State, for instance, has 70 quality teams and we love that. We are holding out hope that January allows the WIAA to open up our schedule.”