Now in his second season as the Oshkosh West head coach, J.R. Zemke admits things are feeling a little more comfortable in the Wildcats’ practice room.
Of course, having a lot of talented wrestlers helps that cause, too.
State runner-up Nick Osowski headlines the list of West returnees as the Wildcats take aim at another strong season in the Fox Valley Association and beyond.
“The expectations are always high,” Zemke said. “The kids are working hard. It’s the second year for the kids to get to know us and things are just running a lot smoother.”
The gem of the Wildcats’ roster is the senior Osowski, who finished 43-4 last season and lost a 4-3 decision to undefeated Menomonie wrester, Eric Peissig, in the Division 1 195-pound state title match a year ago.
The gut-wrenching loss didn’t do anything to diminish Osowski’s drive, according to Zemke. In fact, it left him as hungry as ever.
“Nick knows what he needs to do. He has an empty spot from last year and he’s the type of kid he’s not satisfied with that second place. He wants to be on the top of the podium,” Zemke said. “We can always count on Nick doing what he needs to do.”
Osowski isn’t expected to be the only standout for the Wildcats, though.
Senior Cole Yoder was a state qualifier last year after missing much of the early season with injury, while fellow senior Tim Schumann was one win away from qualifying for state, taking third at the sectional meet.
Other returnees Zemke is counting on this season are returning sectional qualifiers Dakota Snow, Senna Sieber, Samuel Merrill as well as Isaiah Merril and Jacob Heath.
“Jacob is Nick’s wrestling partner and he has made some big jumps,” Zemke said. “Everyone practices hard. Everyone is ready to step on the mat. We have a great group of seniors who are doing a great job of leading in the room right now, but we have to count on everybody.”
The Spartans should be solid in the lower weights this season, however, head coach Mike Meunier will be bringing a fairly young squad to the mats.
Junior Brandon Green led the team with 33 wins a year ago and was a sectional qualifier and will highlight the group in the lower weights.
Sophomore Logan McConnell also returns after finishing third at sectionals last year, while juniors Jalen Haase and Michael Drexler also made it to the sectional level for North.
Meunier is also looking to Kyle Schwartz to be a key point scorer in the lower weights.
“I think we will pretty good up through the middleweights and into the lighter upper weights, then we will just be really young. A lot of untested talent,” Meunier said. “Our goal is to finish in the top half of the conference. Kaukauna is going to be very good again and I think Oshkosh West has another good team and will be one to beat, bit hopefully we’ll be in the running with the rest of the teams.”
The Knights will be aiming to continue their string of four straight seasons with a WIAA state champion and they should have some talented, veteran wrestlers in the lineup.
Leading the way is returning state qualifier John Fehring, one of three underclassmen that wrestled at sectionals last season for Lourdes. Brian Dowling and Corey Beecher also reached sectionals a year ago.
The Foxes look to have a loaded line-up as they take aim at some strong teams in the Flyway Conference.
Omro has 11 letterwinners back from last season and 10 wrestlers that finished in the top three in the conference tournament last year.
The strength of the Foxes’ lineup may once again be in the upper weights where sectional qualifiers Sean Mlodzik and Alex Daley will return to 220 pounds and heavyweight, along with Payton Goetz and Luke Seuffer. All four wrestlers are seniors.
Another senior, Jason Timm, leads a solid group of middleweights that also includes Dakota Cooper, Jacob Doolittle and Austin Clark. Freshman Cody Eckstein should also give the Foxes a boost at 106 pounds.
“We’re pretty solid all the way through the lineup. We’re real young from 106-120, but we have very good freshman at those weights,” head coach Scott Eckstein said. “I think I have a couple of guys that will be contending to make the state tournament this year. It just depends on how the day goes (at sectionals) and how they wrestle.”
Led by returning sectional qualifiers Hunter Messerschmidt and Ethan Miller, the Wolves hope to have a productive season under second-year coach Ben Selsing.
Messerschmidt and Miller each posted 20-plus wins last season and will be joined by seniors Mike Roycraft and Ryan Henschel as key returnees to the Winneconne lineup.
Selsing is also looking for junior Josh Bluhm to contribute at the varsity level this season.
“Josh is the kind of kid that it took some time to get going, but he has really grown into his body. He’s wrestling with a chip on his shoulder, like he as something to prove, and I’m looking forward to see how he does,” Selsing said. “I really like the work ethic of all our kids. We’re going to missing a few spots, which will be tough, but I like all of the kids we are going to put out there.”
Returning sectional qualifier Cal Cottrell, a state qualifier as a freshman, and fellow senior Alex Ford, both of whom were expected to be key contributors for the Wolves, are expected to miss the bulk of the season because of injuries suffered in football.
The Indians bring back a pair of sectional qualifiers in juniors David Meza and David Miracle, but will have a lot of youth in their lineup.
Sophomore Mitchell Kramer, an 18-match winner a year ago, also returns for head coach Dave Parker along with fellow sophomore Tim Trotter and both will also be counted on to lead the young squad.
Among the newcomers that could also find spots in the varsity lineup are Zach Wilson, John Featherston, Raul Torres and Reagan Kropp.
“We have a good freshman class, just a lot of inexperience there. We’ll wait until we get into the year so see how things go,” Parker said. “We’re still lacking (wrestlers) in the two or three lower weight classes and the rest we’ll fill in with whoever is there.”
The Tigers return state qualifier Brady Jacobson, a senior, as well as two other sectional qualifiers as they take aim at knocking off Freedom and Little Chute atop the Eastern Valley Conference.
Sophomore Nick Retzlaff and senior Ben Pulvermacher were also sectional qualifiers last year for Ripon, which finished 5-2 in EVC duals.
Senior Tyler Resop also posted 30 wins a year ago as the Tigers have nine wrestlers on their roster who competed at the regional meet last season.