There’s an old saying in the sport of wrestling: “To be the best you have to beat the best.”
Yes, it may be a bit of a cliché but, given the situation the Two Rivers wrestling team finds itself in, those words ring as true as they ever have.
As a program, the Raiders are in an unprecedented situation. They are about to embark upon a journey through the Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, one of the most prestigious prep wrestling events around.
The field of 26 is comprised of teams from six states. Twenty of the participating teams are ranked in their home states.
While the lore of an individual or team state championship will always exist (and rightfully so), success at the Cheesehead equals glory on a completely different level. Four of the participating squads are nationally ranked according to InterMat . Individually, 15 wrestlers are ranked nationally by either InterMat or Amateur Wrestling News.
The Two Rivers wrestling program has made extravagant strides in recent seasons. The Raiders haven’t lost an Eastern Wisconsin Conference dual meet in over three years and have won three straight EWC dual meet titles to go along with back-to-back conference tournament titles.
It can be argued, however, that the greatest testament to the growth of this program is the fact that it received an invitation to the Cheesehead. What’s more, the entire state will likely use this weekend to point to TR as one of the success stories of Wisconsin.
“It’s definitely an honor to be invited. I remember a couple of years ago we were talking about getting into some tougher tournaments and somebody mentioned the Cheesehead. I didn’t think we had a chance in the world to be invited,” Two Rivers head coach Paul Gehrke said. “Lo and behold, here we are.”
Not only do the Raiders have a chance to rub elbows with some of the best teams and wrestlers in the nation when the two-day tournament begins this evening, they have a chance to make their presence felt.
TR is the No. 4 team in Division 2 in the most recent Wisconsin Wrestling Online team rankings after holding down the No. 1 slot in recent weeks.
“We set a team goal to finish in the top-13,” Gehrke said. “We want to be in the top half. Hopefully we can do even better than that.”
At your average high school wrestling tournament, the goal of finishing in the top half of the team race may not seem like a daunting challenge. But at the Cheesehead, it’s quite the accomplishment.
Only two of the 12 schools from Wisconsin managed to finish in the top-13 at last year’s event: Luxemburg-Casco (12th) and host Kaukauna (13th). The Spartans went on to win the WIAA Division 2 team state title and the Ghosts finished second in Division 1.
“We still have to go out there and wrestle our matches and gauge ourselves after. If you did the right things, but still lost, that’s still a step in the right direction,” Gehrke said. “There are teams ranked nationally at this tournament. This is probably one of the top-five high school tournaments in the country.”
Gehrke knows that his squad will make the most of its time on the national stage and hopes that others will appreciate what his team brings to the table.
“We know we’re a solid team in Division 2,” Gehrke said. “We’re just going to do the best we can and hope people recognize our hard work and see some things they like from our team.”