Back in the 1970s and 80s the winner of the Merrill-Wisconsin Rapids dual meet had the inside track to the Wisconsin Valley Conference championship.
That will likely be the case when the last Bluejays and Raiders — the last two unbeaten Valley teams at 4-0 — square off at 7:30 p.m. today in Wisconsin Rapids.
Merrill, with three returning state medalists, including 220-pound state champion Tyler Schmidt, was the preseason favorite to win the Valley, while Rapids flew under the radar.
Schmidt, the No. 1 wrestler at 220 pounds in the state in both the wiswrestling.net poll, is slated to take on No. 3 Beau Thompson in one of three matches that feature ranked wrestlers from both teams.
At 132 pounds, No. 9 Scott Arneson of Merrill will face No. 15 Dylan Hall of Rapids. And, at 182, No. 8 Cody Abel of Rapids will face No. 10 Ben Hintze of Merrill.
“I think anyone mentioned in the rankings has done some big things during the season and deserves to be there,” Rapids coach Scott Benitz said. “There are some matches that could be really interesting with ranked wrestlers facing each other.
“Everyone expected Merrill to be in the position that they are, with the kids they have back, but coming off a poor season last year, I don’t think a lot of people thought we’d be undefeated in the conference heading into the Merrill meet. This is a pretty big deal for our kids. It’s exciting for them to be contending for the conference title.”
Other teams might have counted Rapids out after last year’s 3-3 conference record, but Merrill coach Scott Arneson didn’t.
“With their tradition and coaching staff you can’t overlook Rapids,” Arneson said. “They deserve to be where they are. They’ve won the duals they had to win to be undefeated. Wrestling is balanced in the conference this year and that’s cool for our fans and the sport, but it drives coaches nuts.”
Both Merrill and Rapids have had close matches this year. Merrill edged Wausau West 32-31 and Rapids won 34-33 over Stevens Point Area Senior High.
Rapids beat West 42-25 last Thursday to set up the showdown between undefeated conference teams.
“We’ve only had a few duals at home this year, but they’ve been exciting,” Benitz said. “Hopefully we can have an exciting end to the home part of our schedule.”
Last year, Merrill beat Rapids 47-18.
The conference champion is determined by a points system. Teams get two points for each dual meet victory and points reflecting the placement in the tournament. The Valley tournament will be held Feb. 8 at D.C. Everest.
Tonight’s tentative lineup
Tonight’s tentative lineup
106: Aiden Ball (MER) vs. Matrix Jisko (WR).
113: Hunter Welch (MER) vs. Patrick Spray (WR)
120: Hunter Welch (MER) vs. Max Benitz (WR)
132: Scott Arneson (MER) vs. Dylan Hall (WR)
138: Cody Nicholson (MER) vs. Jordan Scalice (WR)
145: Tanner Pettit (MER) vs. Peyton Einerson (WR)
152: Lucas Lee (MER) vs. Brock Benitz (WR)
160: Mason Renhardt (MER) vs. Cal Stoflet (WR)
170: Devin Rink (MER) vs. Nate Fuller (WR)
182: Ben Hintz (MER) vs. Cody Abel (WR)
195: Alex Klug (MER) vs. Ross Nichols (WR)
220: Tyler Schmidt (MER) vs. Beau Thompson (WR)
285: Gabe Nelles (MER) vs. Devin Klobucnik (WR).