It’s the unknown that can be most difficult to deal with.
For five of the six area qualifiers for the WIAA Individual State Wrestling tournament that’s exactly what they will be dealing with this weekend.
Yes, they have wrestled hundreds of matches before, but not under the circumstances that await them at the Kohl Center when the state meet begins Thursday afternoon.
“The unknown is the biggest thing,” Oshkosh West head coach J.R. Zemke said. “Just the unknown of going down there and knowing how everything works.”
All three Wildcat qualifiers — senior Quincy Stokes and juniors Cole Yoder and Nick Osowski — will be making their first appearance as competitors at the state meet. Lourdes Academy senior John Fehring and Ripon junior Brady Jacobson will also be wrestling their first matches on the Kohl Center mats.
“I know a lot of guys who go down there who are good and it’s their first experience with a big match and the adrenaline, size of whole arena kind of gets to them and the nerves to get to them and they don’t wrestle up to their expectations,” said Osowski, who won a 195-sectional title at Fond du Lac last Saturday. “I’ve been in a lot of big matches throughout my life. It’s just about getting the nerves out and just wrestling my match.”
One thing that will help the West trio is the fact that they are going down as a group.
As nervous as they might be or as new as the experience is, they will have someone there to share it with and that will should be a plus.
“Being our first time, all of us, we can experience it at once and I think it’s beneficial that way,” said the heavyweight Stokes. “Coming in blind, but we’re ready, we’re prepared.”
Added Yoder, who wrestles at 145 pounds: “I’m not doing this alone. I’m going with these guys and we’re doing it together and that helps.”
Fehring, who will be competing in the Division 3 195-pound field, will also have a teammate down on the Kohl Center mats with him in Austin Loos, the reigning Division 3 120-pound state champion.
Yet, Fehring didn’t seem to be too worried about what will unfold Thursday night.
“I don’t really care how many people are watching or if it’s my first time going,” Fehring said. “Just get on the mat and wrestle.”
That may be the biggest key in dealing with what awaits each of them: focusing on the fact that it is just another wrestling match.
“Once the match gets started, it’s wrestling and everything should be the same-old, same-old,” Zemke said.
The best way to calm any nerves would be to post a victory in the first match.
That’s why, although they have all snuck a peek at their full brackets, the group has spent the week focusing on who they step out against first.
“It’s extremely important just to worry about the first match,” Stokes said. “You don’t want any cobwebs going into it because it’s state now and it’s time to step it up.
“That first match is the only thing I’m focused on. The only thing that matters right now.”
Sometimes that focus revolves around something specific they need to do on the mat.
“My strength is being on my feet,” Yoder said. “I feel like I can take down anybody if I hit my shot good enough.”
For some, it’s just the mental approach they will take to the mat.
“I gotta think that nobody is better than me. Not to underestimate them, but realize that they are on my same level,” Fehring said. “No easy wins. Every match will be hard from here on out.”
Or, maybe it’s the fact that Thursday’s first match is just a stepping stone to a bigger goal and the only way to reach those heights is to take care of business each time on the mat.
“I’m just focusing on first round because that’s the one that matters right now,” Osowski said. “My goal since I was little was to be a high school state champ. … If you don’t go down there with high expectations and high standards, you’re not going to achieve them.”