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Sauk wrestlers aiming high again

 

November 29, 2018

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Bryant Schaaf and Sauk Prairie's wrestling team will be gunning for their ninth straight conference title this year.

Some things never change with the Sauk Prairie wrestling program.

Sure, Adam Brager is the new head coach, taking over for Scott Smith, who resigned after last season so that he could spend more time watching his sons compete in college.

But defending their string of Badger North Conference titles is always the first box the Eagles want to check off each season, and that goal hasn't changed.

"The kids know about the success of the program and want to be part of that tradition," said Brager, a former two-time individual state runner-up at Mount Horeb and a Sauk Prairie assistant coach the past three seasons. Not too many schools can say they won eight consecutive conference championships in any sport."

Sauk Prairie won its eighth consecutive Badger North Conference title a year ago and ninth in 14 seasons under Smith, who will remain with the program, serving as an assistant coach this season.

All 14 of Sauk Prairie's wrestlers finished in the top eight at the conference meet a year ago with the Eagles placing nine competitors on the podium with top-five finishes.

Brager expects it to be business as usual in the practice room and in competition this season.

"Obviously, our goal is to continue that streak, to win conference and to make the team state tournament." he said. "They're working hard in the practice room to continue that."

The first order of business when the Eagles got started on Nov. 12 was a team meeting to make sure everyone in the room was on the same page about their shared goal.

"That's still a goal, and that's not going to change just because we have coaches in different roles," Brager said of its conference dominance.

Senior Bryant Schaaf (27-12) is the lone returning individual state qualifier - finishing sixth at in Division 1 at 152 pounds - among the 12 returning letterwinners for Sauk Prairie, which opens the regular season with a Badger North Conference dual at Mount Horeb on Friday beginning at 7 p.m.

"Defending our legacy, that's our goal for this season," Schaaf said.

Waunakee will be poised to snatch away the conference title from Sauk Prairie with Baraboo also expected to be in the mix.

But the Eagles are geared up to keep their vaunted streak alive.

"Losing Zeke (Smith) and Dylan (Herbrand) hurt," Schaaf said of the graduated four-year starters and former state qualifiers. "But it's next man up. We're all working our butts off. We know it's not going to be easy this year. We have to keep working and outwork our opponents."

Brager said while expectations remain high, the Eagles won't take anything for granted this season.

"It's a reload with our varsity lineup," he said. "I feel we have a lineup that's ready to get in there and compete with any team in the conference.

"But we're not as deep as we've been in the past. Looking at our lineup, there is a lot of unproven talent. There are a lot of guys that we know, being in the room, that have the talent, have the ability, the mental ability to have real good seasons."

Freshman Colton Uselman is expected to start at 106 pounds, with junior Dawson Enge (33-15), who placed third at sectionals, moving up to 113 this season.

"Dawson brings back a lot of experience and talent," Brager said. "He has a lot of skill. He will surprise kids. He's dangerous. As he continues to refine his skills, he'll be a more technically sound wrestler, which will go a long ways with him."

Sophomore Hayden Caygill (12-8) looks to start at 120 after gaining valuable varsity experience a year ago. But Brager said the Eagles have a logjam from the 126 to 145 weight classes, with a core group of solid competitors looking to make their mark this season.

That includes sophomores Luis Elizondo (9-6) and Carson Saladis (18-11), the team's Rookie of the Year last season, and seniors Adam Nolden (15-10) and Jesse Huerth (28-15).

Brager looks to Huerth to fill a leadership role this season.

"Jesse's been in our lineup since he was a freshman and has been at 145, though he weighs in the 130s," Brager said. "He's a bulldog and can wrestle those bigger guys and it doesn't seem to bother him much."

Huerth said he is driven to end his season at state.

"Everyone has that fire and wants to be in the room more," he said. "Everyone wants it. This is a re-load year. We should have a really, strong team. We just have to go get another conference title."

Manning the middle weights will be sophomore Devin Fitzgerald at 152 and foreign exchange student Jo Smet of Belgium at 160.

"Devin just needs some experience," Brager said. "Jo is a first-time wrestler we're hoping could fit in at 160. He's a lot of fun and is a real athletic kid, who played on the football team. He's super coachable. He's never wrestled before but he's excited about it."

Brager is expecting Schaaf to have a breakout senior season at 170, although he could end up at 160.

"Bryant was always a kid that as coaches we would see what he could do in practice," Brager said. "We knew what his athletic ability was. We knew what his wrestling IQ was, both which are extremely high. He has athletic ability, wrestling talent, wrestling IQ through the roof. He just didn't always have the ability to put it all together at once when he stepped on the competition mat."

Brager said that changed during the postseason a year ago.

"He wrestled some awesome matches at sectionals and finally started to win those close matches at state," Brager said. "I'm looking forward to him doing that this year."

Juniors Simon Patterson (18-14) and Austin Rider (9-14) will compete at 182, while junior Marcus Hankins (31-17), who placed third at sectionals last season, will wrestle at 195.

Hankins, who is in his third varsity season, said the intensity in practice has him excited for the new season.

"Everybody's putting in a lot of time and fighting for a spot," he said. "Watching Bryant (Schaaf) at state last year is driving us to join him there this year."

Rounding out the lineup will be senior Reece Bierstaker (26-16) at 220, who finished third at sectionals last season, and sophomore Conner Warren (10-6) at 285.

Brager likes what he sees through the opening weeks of practice.

"There are five to six guys on the team who have the ability to get down to Madison," Brager said of the WIAA individual state tournament. "Plus, we have other guys who could do well at sectionals.

"I'm excited to see these kids who have been on the team for two to three years and don't have a lot of varsity experience finally get that and see what they can do with the opportunity that's been presented to them."

 
 

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