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By Dennis Semrau
Sports Reporter 

Wrestlers hoping to reload

 

November 30, 2017

Sprecher Photography

Dylan Herbrand and Sauk Prairie's wrestlers opened their new season Tuesday.

Sauk Prairie senior Zeke Smith knows what the expectations are for the Eagles' traditionally strong wrestling program.

So despite the loss of 13 seniors to graduation, the mission for the 2017-18 team is clear.

"We'll have a lot of new guys filling in for sure, especially in the upper weights," said Smith, a returning Badger North Conference runner-up and state qualifier. "But we'll have plenty of new talent that wasn't able to show last year.

"The first and foremost goal is taking care of those conference duals and eventually we'll be working toward team state. But for now, one thing at a time. The first one is Portage. We're just focusing on that right now as our goal."

Sauk Prairie opened the season Tuesday against Portage, then host Mount Horeb Thursday at 7 p.m.

Smith (45-5) and senior Dylan Herbrand (41-9), two of the team's co-captains and individual state qualifiers last season, are among seven returning letterwinners for Sauk Prairie, which won a share of its seventh consecutive Badger North Conference title a year ago.

The Eagles also won another regional championship and seven season tournament titles.

Joining Smith and Herbrand are fellow seniors Gavin Lankey (29-16) and Jacob Pape (15-7), juniors Jesse Huerth (10-6) and Bryant Schaaf (25-13) and sophomore Dawson Enge (19-15).

Sauk Prairie also extended its record for the most consecutive titles of any sport in school history. But the Eagles streak of four straight WIAA Division 1 team state berths ended last season with a loss in the sectional title match.

"Zeke and Dylan have proven they are at the state level," Sauk Prairie coach Scott Smith said. "Bryant is awfully close at getting down to the state tournament. Gavin has shown some signs of being close to that level, too."

Scott Smith said the Eagles haven't wasted any time getting back to work on adding to the program's legacy.

"Our motto for the season – 'Individual grit and team unity' - epitomizes wresting," Scott Smith said. "You need a bunch of tough individuals who come together and fight for each other. There is so much power and strength in wrestling in battling for other people not just yourself.

"We're trying to avoid the rebuilding phase, and I think we can do that to some degree this year if we stay healthy. I feel like we can be highly competitive."

Zeke Smith, a two-time team captain, received the "Team Motivator' award last season after tying for fifth place for most victories in a season and also leading the team in pins with 21.

Smith placed fourth at 106 pounds in his WIAA Division 1 individual state tournament debut and earned repeat first-team all-conference honors.

Also earning first-team honors after placing second at the conference meet were Herbrand and Gavin Lankey, who are expected to compete at 126 and 132 pounds, respectively.

Enge secured the team's 'Rookie of Year' award last year. He was in the starting lineup at 106 until Smith moved down from 113 during the postseason.

"We will be very strong in the lower weights," Scott Smith said. "The key will be getting the guys to fill in the upper weights and getting them confident. They're capable."

Junior letterwinner Jesse Huerth at 138 is ready to make an impact in the middle weights along with junior Adam Nolden (5-3) at 132, senior Chase Bierstaker (4-8) at 145 and senior Adam Pape (12-3), who is recovering from a football injury, at 152.

Schaaf, who was sixth at the conference meet, will miss the first four matches of the season but is expected to make an impact at 152 or 160 after recording 50 takedowns and 10 pins last season.

However, there are plenty of question marks at the upper weights outside of possibly 170 pounds, where Jacob Pape, who recorded 11 pins in his 15 wins last season, is the frontrunner.

Sophomores Marcus Hankins (11-6) and Colby Elsing and junior Reece Bierstaker (6-4) are looking to make an impact at 182 and above. Freshman Connor Warren is hoping to make his mark at 220 or 285.

"Connor Warren has to make a big step," Herbrand said. "We need him to make an impact with the big boys."

Scott Smith said opportunity breeds competition.

"The kids are pretty excited. There are a lot of varsity opportunities for kids who didn't spend any or a little time with the varsity. They are excited about the opportunity to move to the next level."

Zeke Smith said the freshman class will be counted on to provide the Eagles with much-needed depth.

"We've got some freshmen who love to work, are work horses and they love being on the mat and getting better," Zeke Smith said. "They have kind of revitalized the room a little bit. It's fun to have those guys in there.

"New faces and new workout partners, they just bring a great attitude and positive energy to the room. It's awesome to see them. They're young guys, but they really like to work hard. A few of the freshmen will be filling in for sure. I'll be excited to see how those guys pan out, how their work pays off for them this year."

Scott Smith likes what he has seen so far in the wrestling room.

"These guys have a good spirit. They're workers. They're creating that positive atmosphere in the room where you work hard, have fun and always learning. We stress those things a lot," Smith said after the first week of practice. "It all starts with Zeke and Dylan. They have had a great deal of success. They're workout partners and feed off each other. They are great role models for the rest of the kids in the room."

Smith said finding successors for a trio of state qualifiers will be especially tough.

Drew Fjoser was a four-time state placewinner and three-time Badger Conference champion, who finished his career with the third-most victories in school history.

Replacing Logan Moore, who was also a conference champion, and heavyweight Konnor McNeal, a runner-up at both the regional and sectional tournaments, will also be challenging.

Sprecher Photography

Zeke Smith and Sauk Prairie's wrestlers are hoping for another big season.

"Along with the freshmen, we have plenty of guys who didn't challenge for varsity last year but got great competition on varsity reserve last year and have been working just as hard and will be ready to fill in. We want to be reloading," Zeke Smith said.

"I've been trying to set a good mentality for everyone in the room, set a high pace and get a good atmosphere going where we value hard work and include everyone and make sure they feel like a valued member of the team."

Waunakee will be the favorite in the Badger North Conference, while Stoughton is the conference tournament favorite. But the Eagles aren't ready to concede the titles just yet.

"We want to compete for the conference title again," Herbrand said. "We don't want to give it up. We want to keep that going."

 
 

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