The prep wrestling season is underway and it’s still early enough that teams in the area are just starting to learn their identity.
There’s some old faces that are showing positive things early on. Then there’s some new faces eager to show to their teams that they can be counted upon to help win dual meets.
The following is a look around the area as the race to February marches on.
The Golden Beavers joined the Badger North Conference this season but have struggled thus far, sitting at 1-2 with a close loss to Reedsburg followed by a blowout loss to Waunakee — the ninth-ranked team in Division 1 according to Wisconsin Wrestling Online — in their last two duals.
They have done OK overall, including at the Wickersham Memorial Christmas Classic they hosted Dec. 16, when nine for Beaver Dam made the podium as either first-, second-, or third-place finishers.
“So it was a good day for us,” Beaver Dam head coach Jeff Slayton said after that invite. “We had guys step up; we had guys lose some matches that they probably could have won. We have guys moving around a lot, so we’ve just got to get them adjusted to the weights that they’re at.”
One of those wrestlers who has performed well is sophomore Dietrich Jaeckel, who is 11-3 overall this season at 113 pounds.
“He’s coming off a 30-win freshman season,” Slayton said. “He’s a dedicated hard worker and a sectional qualifier.”
Jaeckel is one of 10 very talented wrestlers on the team, including seniors Zach Mecalis (126 pounds), Dylan Surprise (132), Miguel Flores (160) and Mateo Ramirez (170), who are all back and expected to bring leadership.
With that many returning faces, Slayton still has the same expectations as last year: Compete for a conference championship, with a top-three finish as the only suitable outcome.
It’s a doable goal provided that Beaver Dam can fill the void left by 2017 graduates Devin De Los Angeles (126) and Wyatt Wells (220), who both made state each of the last two years with Wells — the top-ranked wrestler at his weight all year long — taking third at the Kohl Center last season.
Mecalis is stepping in at 126 while junior Ramiro Vazquez has the tall task of taking over for Wells at 220.
Vazquez might not have reached his potential quite yet, but he’s inching closer.
“Ramiro took his lumps last season but has worked to get stronger and smarter on using technique,” Slayton said. “He looks for this season to be his breakout season.”
WAUPUN, EAST CENTRAL
The Warriors have just eight wrestlers to spread across 10 weight classes this season.
But while the Warriors — who graduated nine letterwinners — lack quantity, they do have quality, meaning head coach Jeff Renz said team points will be hard to rack up but individual success shouldn’t be fleeting.
The Warriors are currently 0-3 in conference dual meets, losing to Ripon, Campbellsport and Winneconne. They are 0-8 overall, having gone 0-5 at the Seymour Invite.
But Waupun does have two wrestlers who have performed well so far: 220-pounder Liam Glewen, who is 9-2, and 182-pounder Hunter Riter, who is 6-3.
Like Beaver Dam, Waupun has to replace a pair of elite wrestlers who both graduated in 170-pounder Carter Veleke and heavyweight Koy Straks — both conference champs last season.
Senior Sean Roche is a highlight for the Cardinals as he returns after being a runner-up at regionals a year ago.
Roche will be a leader for a fairly young team that has four weights (138, 145, 152, and heavyweight) unfilled. That’s not including 106 pounds, which won’t be filled until after the holidays, according to head coach Jim Stadler.
But even with that, Stadler said he wants his team to “try to stay healthy and improve” throughout the season and “try to place higher” in the postseason.
In the Capitol North Conference, Stadler expects Lodi, Lakeside Lutheran and Poynette to be the top three teams, but thinks the Cardinals can be close behind Lakeside and Poynette.
Stadler has five sophomores — Sal Genco (120 pounds), Matt Fuerstenberg (132), Jevin Burbach (170), James Roche (195) and Tayvon Hayes (220) — who he believes are “looking to get better” as the season continues.
Stadler said he liked what Genco did during the offseason to get bigger and stronger and that he expects 126-pound freshman Dylan Knock to improve quickly once he adapts to varsity wrestling.
HORICON, TRAILWAYS SOUTH
The Marshmen made a great run last season — second at the Trailways Tournament and an undefeated 12-0 record in conference duals. Then they had Bill Condon and Isaac Dickenson both make a run to the Division 3 state tournament.
Dickenson graduated, leaving 113 pounds open. And Horicon also lost Hunter Mann (145 pounds), Riley Gable (160), John Neubecker (170), Brittney Roser (182), Dan Olbinski (195) and Kyle Krause-Emerick (220) to graduation.
But head coach Lukas Kern still likes what he has this season.
“We are going to be very young and inexperienced but expect them to work hard and learn the sport,” he said, adding that the newly instilled culture of excellence and perseverance at Horicon will be big motivators for the team to reach the bar set by last year’s squad.
Plus, the Marshmen do have Condon — who Kern said is one of the best-conditioned wrestlers in the area who gets stronger as the match wears on — back at 145 pounds.
After that, Kern expects Chance Tuttle (120), Marshall Coffey (138), Joe Baier (152) and Logan Tippen (heavyweight) to pick up the slack and lead a young Horicon team that intends on contending with Johnson Creek for another conference title.
“We believe if we improve our wrestling technique every day in practice, by the end of the year we can dethrone them,” Kern said of the Bluejays.
CAMBRIA-FRESLAND/FALL RIVER/PARDEEVILLE/RANDOLPH/RIO, TRAILWAYS NORTH
This season isn’t looking pretty for the co-op made up of teams from Columbia and Dodge Counties.
The team is low on numbers and head coach Jared Napralla said all but 182-pounder Jacob Roche — who is from Rio — attend Cambria-Friesland.
“As a coach, I always like to set a goal to finish in the top three of our division,” Napralla said. “We do not have the numbers to compete as a team, but many schools in the North division are in the same boat as us. Montello, Oakfield and Lourdes have had low numbers the past few years like us.
“It appears each of those teams will all have more wrestlers on the roster than last season, which will make it very difficult for us to crack the upper half of the North division with the current number of wrestlers we have on our roster.”
The co-op lost its best wrestler, 220-pounder Kaden Graham, to graduation and also lost two heavyweights as well as a few others who all decided not to return for this season.
That leaves seniors Jacob Raymond and Wesley Bancroft as leaders to help guide and motivate the younger wrestlers.
“Since we do not have the numbers this season to compete as a team,” Napralla said, “we will focus more on wrestlers setting individual goals.”
DODGELAND, TRAILWAYS SOUTH
Junior Ryan Neu is a pins wizard and the best wrestler for the Trojans. He’s a two-time state qualifier who finished third as a freshman at 138 pounds and fourth as a sophomore at 152 pounds.
Head coach Josh Engel said Neu hopes to continue his winning ways as he moves up to 170 or 182 pounds — he’s competed at both so far this season and is currently 13-0, just five wins away from hitting 100 for his career as a junior.
But as a team, head coach Josh Engel said the Trojans have six unfilled weights, which will hinder them in dual meets.
“My expectation is that we work hard every day to compete at every competition to the best of our ability and continually progress throughout the season,” Engel said.
Not fielding a full line-up won’t deter the Trojans from striving to match last season’s marks, which included a 5-2 record in conference and a fourth-place finish at the Trailways Conference tournament.
“We hope to be able to duplicate at least the same amount of success as last year,” Engel said.
The Cardinals had a rough time last year, winning just one dual and finishing sixth out of seven teams in the Flyways Conference.
But like any competitor, the Cards are hoping to turn the tides this season with wrestlers like Jackson Schlender and Montana Bingen leading the way.
Schlender is currently 5-1 at 138 pounds after winning 21 matches last season. Both Schlender and the 170-pound Bingen finished third at the Campbellsport Tournament earlier this season.
Bingen is coming off a season where he, 145 pounder Justin Schlender and 160-pounder Niko Giese all finished third at the conference meet.
This season the Cardinals will be hosting the conference tournament, when they will try and upset conference title favorites North Fond du Lac and Lomira.
MARKESAN, TRAILWAYS NORTH
Ending last year, Hornets’ head coach Mike Thom said the future looked bright, with only losing two seniors.
But when this season neared, Markesan was presented with a not-so-good surprise: Two starters moved, only one freshman came out, and sophomore Bryce Friday hurt his shoulder during the football season costing him time on the mat — although he’s expected back sometime early in 2018.
“Our goal right now is to hold our heads up and try to win the majority of the matches we wrestle with the small numbers we have,” Thom said. “We may not have many kids on this year’s team but we do have a lot of tough kids on the team.”
A bright spot for Markesan will be senior Tanner Weber, who Thom said “is on a mission to be Markesan’s first state champ.”
The senior heavyweight finished with a 40-6 record at 220 pounds last season, which ended with a third-place finish at the D3 state tournament.
Weber will be expected to lead a Markesan team that has only nine wrestlers on the roster.
“A lot of people say the Trailways is weak,” Thom said. “It can be from a team standpoint because it is hard to field full teams. But from an individual standpoint the teams in this conference develop some very tough wrestlers that get respect from others throughout the state.”
Case in point, Weber made it to state and Friday went 23-15 last season.
HUSTISFORD, TRAILWAYS SOUTH
The Falcons didn’t have the season they had hoped last season, finishing last in conference dual season and eighth out of 11 teams at the conference tournament.
But Husty did have Tim Rynearson go 16-6 and qualify for sectionals at 220 pounds.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, though, Rynearson graduated last year and will be greatly missed.
That means, question marks abound.
“We are very young, with no seniors and limited experience, Husty head coach Dan Simon said. “Wins will be hard to come by, but we hope to improve each time out.”
Kody Schmidt at 120 pounds and Exzavor Evans at 160 pounds are the only returning wrestlers from last season. They’re both sophomores and Schmidt went 7-15 last season while Evans was 6-16.
Simon said freshman Gavan Stark has the most experience on the team, but won’t be able to wrestle until after the holidays. He will be competing at 220 pounds or as a heavyweight.
With a lack of experience and skill on the team Simon said the goals this season will be to “learn and show improvement” as the season wears on so they know the “skills necessary to win in the future.”