High school wrestling seasons begin this Thursday
All three local wrestling teams see their first mat action of the season this Thursday.
New Richmond hosts Prescott while Somerset starts its Middle Border Conference schedule on Thursday at Ellsworth. St. Croix Central will host Luck-Frederic-Grantsburg in a non-conference match on Thursday.
Here are previews of the three local wrestling squads as they begin the 2013-14 season.
Ellsworth and Amery are ranked second and third in the Crossface Magazine pre-season Division 2 state rankings. That doesn’t mean the New Richmond wrestling team is conceding the title to either of their highly-ranked Middle Border Conference foes.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Tiger coach Mark Neumann said of tangling with the highly-ranked MBC opponents. “I think we’ll be better than last year.”
The Tigers finished 5-2 in the MBC a year ago, behind Ellsworth and Amery. Leading this season’s team is three-time state qualifier Shane Blackman.
Neumann said one issue for the team will be filling the lower weights.
“All our little guys grew. They’ve been hitting the weights pretty hard,” he said. “We had 10-12 guys who worked pretty diligently over the summer.”
The Tigers start the season with 30 wrestlers and they return a majority of their starting lineup from last season. The Tigers’ talent is distributed well among the four classes.
“The truth is, we’re really young,” Neumann said. “We’ll expect a lot of our youngsters and I think they’ll be up to the challenge.”
There’s a new leader for the Spartans with assistant coach Trent Larrieu stepping up to replace Mitch Flandrick.
Larrieu is a former two-time state placewinner for Spring Valley, winning a state championship in his senior year. His assistant coach is his father, Lloyd.
The Spartans moved into their newly remodeled wrestling room with 18 wrestlers to start the season. They have four captains, seniors Bailey White and Gage Kreucher, junior Max Praschak and sophomore Logan Peterson.
“Those four are pretty tough. We expect Bailey, Max and Logan to get to the state tournament,” Larrieu said.
Larrieu said that when the lineup gets settles, he hopes the team will only forfeit one weight class.
The Spartan coaches are running rapidly-paced practices to build up the team’s stamina. Larrieu said the wrestlers are thriving under the high-energy workouts.
Wrestling in the Middle Border Conference is a challenge, with state-ranked Ellsworth and Amery leading the pack. Larrieu said it is the goal of the coaching staff to have the Spartans finish in the top half of the eight-team conference.
Larrieu wrestled one year collegiately at Augsburg before joining the U.S. Army. He’s found his way back to wrestling, working at the Victory Wrestling School the past three years. He’s also wrestled and officiated at the national level.
St. Croix Central
The Panthers start the season in a state of flux. With two returning letterwinner seniors and injuries to a couple of their top wrestlers, the Panthers are going to go through a considerable amount of changes in the lineup.
Seniors returning to the team are Brian Gibb and Ryan Pfeifer. Also back are sectional qualifiers Ryan Gulich and Josh VanBeek. Brad Holzer, in his 16th year as Panther coach, said Gibb has stepped to the front of the team.
“Brian’s a totally different person. He’s turned into a leader,” Holzer said.
The Panthers will have to deal with injuries to Luke Smith and Trent Smith that could keep them both out of the lineup for a large part of the season. Holzer said Kyle Larson has grown and will be a strong contributor. He said the Panthers could be extremely tough in the upper weights if VanBeek, Decker Grass and Jake Conley can fill the top three weights.
“Hopefully, by Christmas our weights will fall into line,” Holzer said. “We’ve got some good solid kids at nearly every weight.”