In a way, the week after Christmas is when the prep wrestling season truly begins.
Coaches have a better feel for their teams and can begin concocting ideal lineups. Many wrestlers take advantage of the two-pound allowance they are given after the holiday and start to settle into the weight classes they will be at come February when the state tournament series begins.
It’s the time of year when coaches, fans, and wrestlers alike begin to figure out who is going to live up to the hype and who is going to have to wait until next year.
Three area teams are about to get a glimpse of where they stand when they compete in some of the largest and most demanding tournaments in the state.
Manitowoc Lincoln and Mishicot travel to Oshkosh today and tomorrow to take part in the On the Water Classic, hosted by Oshkosh Lourdes Academy.
Both teams are familiar with the massive, 59-team affair as both have participated in the event in previous years.
The Ships feature a fairly young, but talented squad. Head coach Nate Muckerheide sees the tournament as a learning experience for his wrestlers who are still becoming acquainted with the demands of the varsity level.
“It’s a huge learning process for them because a lot of our guys are really green. They haven’t really had much mat time,” Muckerheide said. “It’s a great tournament to get your feet wet and wrestle with great wrestlers.”
Lincoln’s Zac Youngchild won an individual title at 126 pounds at last season’s tournament.
Muckerheide feels that he has a strong contingent of wrestlers that could be in the mix on the event’s final day.
We have a couple guys like Zac Youngchild and Marcus (Sonnenberg), and Jose (Acosta) who could really go far at On the Water,” Muckerheide. “We have a couple guys that I expect to be in the finals and really showing what they’ve got.”
Mishicot’s Luke Finnel placed third at 126 pounds last season, but he was lost to graduation.
Jon Brendenmuehl is the Indians’ top returning finisher. He took eighth at 220 pounds a season ago.
Mishicot’s lineup also features junior Weston Cracraft (145) who currently sports a record of 12-0. He is one of four wrestlers in the area who is carrying an unblemished record.
“We’ve been doing this for about eight years now, so most of the kids know what to expect,” Indians head coach Mike Pratt said. “It’s a grind. It’s not just the tournament, it’s the competition. Every match, especially the second day of the tournament, is going to be tough.”
Pratt feels his team is ready to embrace the challenges that come at an event of this caliber.
“I’m hoping we can take steps forward to get better,” Pratt said. “I’m looking for medals, four or five medals, to bring home and hopefully a couple in the top-six (individually). I think we have a pretty good shot at that.”
Meanwhile, Two Rivers, the No. 1 team in Division 2 according to Wisconsin Wrestling Online, makes the trek to the Bi-State Classic, in La Crosse this weekend.
Just as in the OTW Classic, slouches need not apply when it comes to competing at the Bi-State. The 55-team tournament features a field that is split into three divisions. Each team that won its respective division last year went on to win the WIAA Team State Championship in its division in March.
The field at the Bi-State features 11 teams that are currently ranked or listed as honorable mention in the latest WWO rankings. Not to mention the scores of wrestlers who are earning recognition from WWO individually.
“We’ve told them that it’s a top-notch tournament in the state and they understand that,” Two Rivers head coach Paul Gehrke said. “We’re just kind of excited to have the opportunity to go out there and show what we’ve got and what we’re capable of doing.”
Gehrke has high expectations of his veteran squad.
“We’re looking at winning Division 2 and finishing top-five, top-three (overall),” Gehrke said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”