The wrestling room can get a bit stale early in the season.
After three weeks in there practicing, the Baraboo High School wrestling team gets to break out with today’s Badger North Conference dual match at DeForest.
“They’re definitely excited,” Baraboo head coach Joe Bavlnka said Thursday afternoon. “We have good energy in the room. The kids have been working hard and getting along well.”
The Thunderbirds have also gotten outside the wrestling room to change things up and build team camaraderie. Team members took a trip to Expeditions Unlimited last week to play paintball and compete on an obstacle course, while they also got a workout in at Devils Lake State Park.
“They’re able to get along and trust one another that they’re going to do the right things,” Bavlnka said. “You get more results that way because you don’t want to let each other down.”
That preseason bonding should pay dividends early. A day after the DeForest dual, the T-Birds will take the mat for an invitational at East Troy High School. The season gets moving fast, which will give the T-Birds an early opportunity to see what they have.
The T-Birds know what they’ve got in Pablo Ramirez. The senior has ended each of his first three high school seasons at the WIAA Division 1 individual state meet. He’ll look to make it a sweep when the state meet gets underway in Madison on Feb. 21.
“He’s just tougher than nails,” Bavlnka said of Ramirez, who will likely start the year in the 145-pound weight class. “He’s got all the accolades and has definitely proven himself out on the mat. He’s coming in a lot stronger and seems more athletic than in the past, just by maturing and being a senior and also by hitting the weights.”
Ramirez has a 1-5 record at the state level, the lone win coming as a sophomore in 2017. Ramirez had a tough draw last season, opening the tournament with a 138-pound match against Oak Creek senior Veliko Kochiu, a state runner-up in 2017. Ramirez suffered a 19-8 loss and finished his junior season with a 44-7 record.
“I think he wants to end up on the podium,” Bavlnka said of Ramirez’s goals for his senior year. “I know he’s really motivated to go out on a high note.”
Ramirez isn’t the lone T-Bird with state experience. John Gunderson, who will miss the early portion of the season with a knee injury, made the trip to state as a freshman last year. He went 40-9 on the season, qualifying for state at 132 pounds despite breaking his hand a couple of days before sectionals. Gunderson’s state trip lasted one match, an 8-7 loss to Mukwonago’s Lucas Benn.
“He’s put a tremendous amount of time in in the offseason,” Bavlnka said of Gunderson. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a wrestler put as much time in as he has in terms of individual workouts with Advance Wrestling, coming to open mats, doing the freestyle and Greco... he’s been going non-stop.”
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Aiden Estes joined Gunderson and Ramirez as first-team All-Badger North Conference wrestlers last season. Estes had a breakout sophomore season in 2017-18, going 28-9 and finishing one win shy of qualifying for state at 182 pounds.
“Nobody really knew who he was coming in, and then he just goes out there and starts tearing it up,” Bavlnka said of Estes, noting that he’ll probably wrestle at 170 pounds this year. “This year he’s more mature and has high expectations for himself. He’s very confident and I know his goal is to get to state.”
Jacob Kimpfbeck was Baraboo’s final all-conference honoree in 2017-18. A second-team All-Badger North selection at 195 pounds, Kimpfbeck went 30-12 in a senior season that ended at sectionals. Kimpfbeck was one of three T-Birds to win regional titles last year, joining Gunderson and Ramirez.
The now-graduated Malaki Ringelstetter also competed at sectionals last year, leaving the T-Birds bringing back six of their eight sectional qualifiers.
Sophomore Brandon Jesse (third place, 120 pounds), senior Joe Schick (third, 285) and junior Tyson Fry (fourth, 220) are all back in the fold after gaining big-meet experience at sectionals last year.
Schick, Fry and junior Ben Florencio are among the upperclassmen who have helped lay the groundwork for the 2018-19 season.
“They’ve put a lot of time into the weight room and they have a really good work ethic and understand how to lead,” Bavlnka said of the veterans. “They know the lay of the land and have high expectations. They’re working, so the younger, inexperienced kids follow their lead.”
Bavlnka believes that there are several T-Birds primed to take another step forward this winter, noting that junior Eli Davidson will continue to be a solid performer while sophomores Carlos Chavez, Brandon Jesse and Carter Stapleton all put in a lot of offseason work and have plenty of experience entering their sophomores years.
While the T-Birds’ strength should be in the middle weights, they should have depth up and down the lineup — from Schick at heavyweight to Alexis Winecke at 106 pounds.
“We haven’t had a female wrestler in probably 15 years and she’s wrestled all the way through youth and should be competitive,” Bavlnka said of Winecke. “She’ll be fun to watch.”
The T-Birds’ depth should keep them competitive in every Badger North dual. Last year, Baraboo went 4-3 in Badger North duals and placed fourth out of 15 teams at the Badger Conference Tournament, trailing only Stoughton, Waunakee and Sauk Prairie. The experience and talent is there to nudge the T-Birds up a spot or two in the conference race.
“If we put everything together and wrestle to the highest possible level, we could come away with a conference championship,” Bavlnka said. “But that’s a tall task going against Waunakee and Sauk. They’re kind of the bullies on the block right now. ... It’s going to take a lot of heart, hard work and dedication to get there, but I think we can.”