Much like every other sport plodding through the winter, the wrestling season will be unlike any other — perhaps seeing the most significant change of all the winter sports. With the WIAA putting limitations on schedules, the large-scale tournaments of years past will stay that way — in the past. Wrestling programs are limited to one match per week and no more than two teams may participate in a match.
However, even with the restrictions in place, schools are allowed to continue scheduling matches — something schools across the border in Minnesota are currently unable to do.
“Most of them are fall athletes, so they are well aware of what the expectations are,” Prescott head wrestling coach Jordan Poirer said.
“The possibility of an end-of-the-year tournament might be a little small,” Ellsworth head wrestling coach Mark Matzek said, “but being in the wrestling room and doing a sport that they love helps bring some normalcy back into their lives.”
So what will the season look like for the Republican Eagle Wisconsin-area wrestling teams? We break that down in the paragraphs ahead.
Ellsworth’s youth grows up
One year ago Ellsworth was knocked out in regionals by G-E-T/Melrose-Mindoro by five-and-a-half points. It was the first time Ellsworth didn’t advance to sectionals since 2003, but the team still sent 10 wrestlers individually. Four of those wrestlers return. Four other wrestlers didn’t advance to sectionals last year but finished top five in regionals. Two of those return.
So Ellsworth is set up nicely to have another strong season and continue its dominance within the conference, where it has won 16 consecutive titles.
“Last year we started nine sophomores and we were an eyelash away from beating the team that ended up taking second in the state at regionals, so we were one match away,” Matzek said. “Well, now those nine sophomores are juniors. And the few freshmen that we had sprinkled in that were contributing from time to time are now a year older as well.”
Specifically, Matzek will look to the junior class to carry the team as team captain Braden Matzek is the lone senior. The junior class will be led by the lone returning state participant from last season, Kyle Anschutz. He was the team’s heavyweight last year at 220 pounds, but put on some extra weight and is expected to wrestle at 285.
Other juniors leading the team are Ian Matzek at 220 and Ryan Matzek at 182.
“Braden was really close to making it to the state tournament last year. Ian was just a 15-year-old, 195-pounder last year, but now he’s starting to get some man muscle on him,” Mark Matzek said.
One other wrestler to keep an eye on is freshman Willy Penn.
“A standout for us who has done a lot of wrestling in his life,” Mark Matzek said of Penn. “He's going to be starting the year at 113.”
Spring Valley/Elmwood led by senior duo
Spring Valley/Elmwood had 10 wrestlers advance to sections last year, with five of those returning this season. Of those, seniors Nate Fesenmaier and Brayden Wolf were regional champion and runner-up, respectively.
Also this season head coach Bill Hofacker said he expects big things out of Kaleb Casey and his sister Haeli Casey. He said the team is in a much better place this year with more experience returning than one year ago.
“The goal is to try and win the conference again,” Hofacker said. “We won conference last year so hopefully guys get better and hopefully we do some kind of state series at the end of the year.”
With the uncertainty of what a season-ending event may look like, however, Hofacker is taking the season day by day and enjoying the lighter side of things.
“I'm trying to not grind them as much, you know, make it more fun, a little shorter practices, maybe play a few games here and there, stuff like that,” he said. “They’re taking it in stride — kids are so adaptable.”
Prescott restocks with young team
Prescott will do battle this season with a roster made up of primarily underclassmen. The lone senior on the team, Shawn Thomason, was a section qualifier last year, as were returners Sam Murphy and Alex Iberg. All three had more than 20 wins last year and Poirier said he expects them to make a big impact this year.
Beyond those three, it’ll be up to a host of freshmen and sophomores.
“Two returning sophomores, Benny Olson and Shane Butler, both had solid seasons last year and are looking at taking that next step,” Poirier said. “And then a handful of freshmen who will come in and compete. They'll take their lumps and bruises obviously but looking forward to seeing what they bring to the mat.”
With a young core, Poirier said the goal of the team isn’t necessarily predicated on wins and losses but rather growing as individuals
“Just continuing to grow as wrestlers and as human beings in general. Just continuing to get better every single day,” he said.