MBC Wrestling Tournament Preview: Everyone out to challenge Ellsworth
What: 2018 Middle Border Conference Wrestling Tournament
Where: Baldwin-Woodville High School
When: Saturday, Feb. 3, wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m.
The Middle Border Conference wrestling tournament championship has been under the sole ownership of the Ellsworth wrestling team for most of this century. That does not look like it will be changing at the 2018 MBC tournament.
While there might not be any drama in the hunt for the team championship, there should be a great deal of excitement in the individual weight classes. There are a number of the weight classes this year where multiple standout wrestlers will be vying for the championship.
About the only way Ellsworth could miss out on the team title is if the bus breaks down on the trip to Baldwin and the Panthers miss weigh ins. The Panthers have been overpowering in the dual meet season, barely giving up a win in many of their MBC matches. Ellsworth is ranked second in Division 2 in the wiwrestling.com state rankings and it's a well justified ranking. Ellsworth had a wrestler in the finals in 12 of the 14 weight classes at the 2017 tournament.
There will still be excitement in the team competition. As in many years at the tournament, there are several teams lining up in hopes of finishing in second place in the tournament. Somerset, Baldwin-Woodville, Amery and New Richmond are hoping they can have strong days throughout their lineups that will raise them into the second spot in the team results.
The lower weights will feature some of the highlight battles at the conference tournament this year. There are several weight classes, especially in the lower classes, where the talent is deep and strong. In several of these classes, you could see more than one wrestler who advances to the WIAA state championships.
Here is a breakdown on each of the weight classes at the 2018 MBC tournament.
This may be the strongest the conference has ever been at the lightest weight class, with three of the eight MBC schools having state-ranked wrestlers. This starts with Amery's Walker Ingham, who was the 106-pound champion at the Northern Badger Invitational. He's currently ranked fifth in the state. Osceola's Drew Willeman and Ellsworth's Bailey Poillinger are both ranked within the top 15 Division 2 106-pounders in the state.
Osceola freshman Thomas Oswald is quickly building a hefty reputation at 113 pounds. He was the third place finisher at the Northern Badger Invitational. He has moved up to third in the Division 2 state rankings. However, the Osceola freshman was defeated by Ellsworth sophomore Carter Huppert on Thursday, Jan. 18 when Osceola traveled to Ellsworth for a late-season conference dual. Huppert defeated the 113-pound favorite by a 6-3 decision, is now ranked 10th in Division 2, and is a definite threat to take the title. Prescott's Ethan Tulip, who is ranked 12th in the Division 2 for in the 106 weight class will wrestle at 113 at the conference tournament. Tulip has defeated Huppert twice this year (4-2 and 1-0 decisions), and took care of Oswald in a 6-5 decision when Prescott and Osceola met on Jan. 4. Baldwin-Woodville's Tanner Merriman is also a quality opponent.
This is another of the weight classes packed with quality wrestlers. Ellsworth's Charlie Stuhl was a state finalist at 106 pounds last year, and is currently ranked fifth in the 120-pound Division 2 weight class. He's the heavy favorite at 120. Baldwin-Woodville's Jacek Nickowski also qualified for state last year. He got a late start this season, but he's looking like a threat to reach state again. Amery freshman Jordan Penard is also ranked in the top 10 in the state this season and Somerset junior Tyler Hantsbarger is an honorable mention state ranking. Osceola's Andrew Olson could also be a factor here.
Baldwin-Woodville's Alex McCray enters the tournament as the favorite, with more than 30 wins amassed already this season. There are other wrestlers who could figure into the fray here. Somerset's Nick Kearns has been steadily improving and Ellsworth's Tyler Hines is always a threat.
Ellsworth's Owen Matzek was the fifth place finisher at 126 pounds in 2017 and he's looking even better this year. There is plenty of competition here. Baldwin-Woodville's Jordan Bonte and New Richmond's Brandon Dennis are all capable of wrestling their way into the finals. Somerset's Steven Moncada, a state qualifier in 2017, just moved down to 132 to make this an even deeper class. And he might not be the only one who switches classes between the stacked 126, 132 and 138 brackets.
This might be the class with the most wrestlers of reaching the podium in Madison. Ellsworth's Sam Stuhl is the defending Division 2 state champion at 132 pounds. Amery's Mike Smith was the third place finisher at 120 pounds at the 2017 state tournament. New Richmond's Tyler Dennis is pushing toward 30 wins and can't be overlooked. Somerset's Jared Grahovac moves up from 132, but has a number of quality wins this season.
Ellsworth's Jared Lansing is the defending sectional champion at 138 pounds. Another wrestler will need to prove he can step up to compete with Lansing. Baldwin-Woodville's Joe Garcia has flashed some potential. Other wrestlers could move up or down a class to 145, looking for an easier avenue to the finals. Prescott's Cody Atherton could also work his way into the finals here but it's undecided whether or not he'll be at 145 of 152 on Saturday. If healthy, Amery's James Baillargeon could also be a factor here.
Somerset senior Preston Anez has torn through the competition in the MBC at 152 pounds this season and he's closing in on 40 wins for the season. New Richmond senior Dylan Wachter is one wrestler capable of giving Anez a battle. Anez is ranked fifth in the Division 2 state rankings.
Osceola sophomore Logan Johnson is the only MBC wrestler to receive recognition in the Division 2 rankings, as an honorable mention choice. New Richmond's Nathan Fehlen is an honorable mention selection in Division 1. Ellsworth's Sawyer Hamilton could also figure in somewhere in these middleweights.
This is a weight class with some underrated talent. Ellsworth's Dalton George is ranked seventh in the state, but just recently returned after being out with the flu. Cedric Kosnopfal has been a fully capable replacement and he could be compete at a lower weight. Either one is a threat to win the class. But there will be challenges. Somerset's Garret Hecht and Osceola's Jack Feldt are both athletic and both are coming on fast.
At 182, we get into the strength of Prescott's team, which starts with Joe Schulte. He's ranked seventh in Division 2 at 182 pounds. New Richmond's Jake LaVenture has hopes of reaching the finals here. This is one of the most inexperienced weight classes in the conference.
There may be a lack of experience at 182, but there's plenty at 195. Prescott's Ty Sanford placed fourth at the 2017 state tournament at 195 pounds and he's the top-ranked 195-pounder in the state in Division 2. St. Croix Central's Ryan Larson is getting back to full health and he's fully capable of pushing Sanford to the limit. There are a number of wrestlers in the next tier of ability in this class, including Peter Lepper of Somerset, Travis Messer of New Richmond and Nick Carlson of Osceola.
There isn't a single ranked wrestler in the conference at 220. This is where a team could make a move, with one of the 195-pounders possible of moving up for the day. Ellsworth's Logan Peterson is in a good position to do some damage here.
This is another class where you won't find any state-ranked wrestlers. Ellsworth's Caleb Linder, Somerset's Zeb Rivard and Osceola's Tyler Johnson are all quality wrestlers who have hopes of winning this weight class.