While the amount of Manitowoc County wrestlers competing at the WIAA Individual Wrestling Championships at the Kohl Center in Madison today through Saturday may be down from last year’s total, the spirits and hopes are higher than ever for the 12 that will be competing at this year’s 70th annual event.
Seven of last year’s 20 Manitowoc County qualifiers return, including the area’s four Division 3 qualifiers — Mishicot’s Weston Cracraft at 120 pounds and Luke Finnel at 126 and Reedsville’s Grant Wedepohl (152) and Colby Kasten (138).
Mishicot coach Mike Pratt said he’s had Cracraft and Finnel watch tape of their first-round opponents and work on making minor adjustments while Reedsville coach Don Verbeten said he has been telling his wrestlers to just keep doing what they’ve been doing all year.
“They know what the atmosphere is like, how hard they have to wrestle and their mental state will be good,” Verbeten said of his pair. “They know what to expect. The atmosphere won’t shock them and it won’t take them a while to get going. They are solid wrestlers. I think they will be hungry to get some wins.”
Pratt echoed that sentiment.
“(Finnel and Cracraft) just need to keep doing what they are doing,” Pratt said. “I hope they wrestle up to their ability and if they do, good things will happen. … They have their work cut out for them, but they will wrestle tough and hopefully we will get some wins down there.”
Two Rivers and Kiel, in Division 2, lead the area with three qualifiers each. Two Rivers’ Ty Pelot (113), a returning qualifier, and Scott Skornicka (195), making his first State appearance, each have first-round byes and will first wrestle Friday while teammate Paul Bianchi, a freshman, has his first 106-pound match today.
“I think if you get (a bye) that’s an advantage. You have the chance to scout your opponents and you don’t have the pressure to win (today), just come in on Friday and take it from there,” Two Rivers coach Paul Gehrke said. “They will go out and wrestle like it’s a regular match — which it is — just on a bigger stage. I expect each one will bring home a medal.”
Kiel will be represented by Jay Wallace (145), Aaron Field (170) and Matt Halverson (285) — Kiel’s only returning qualifier from last season.
Also in Division 2, Valders’ Stetson McCulley (138), one of the area’s few four-year qualifiers, will have a bye today.
“(McCulley) knows exactly what to expect. He has dealt with (State) in the past and it gives him a huge advantage as it won’t allow nerves to get the best of him down there,” Valders coach Andrew Miller said. Last year, McCulley also had a bye but fell short of a medal. “We had this situation last year and it didn’t go our way, so he has the perspective. I have just been telling him to not take any match lightly because anything can happen and anyone can beat anybody.
“He knows that better than anyone. His goal since the start of the season has been to be a state champion, so that’s what he is going for down there.”
Jonah Mrozinsky (182), Manitowoc Lincoln’s only representative in the Division 1 brackets, will be making his first State appearance after attending last year’s event with the Ships who did qualify. He will start by facing South Milwaukee’s Tom Mitchell, who he defeated earlier this season.
“(Mrozinsky) got a look at (State) last year and I think it made him hungry to get down there and compete on his own,” Lincoln coach Jack Youngchild said. “I’ve just been telling him do what he does best and don’t worry about what the other guy does. I’ve said ‘Let’s not worry about what your opponent will do. Don’t change who you are. Find what you do that will work against his style.'”