December 07, 2011 | 07:31 AMTheir focus and dedication is hard to avoid, and it's almost deafening in a good way.
On Monday afternoon in the Badger High School wrestling gym, Badger wrestling team captains Ed Ruzga, Rory Shine and Randy Shine were barking like drill sergeants, instructing their fellow teammates to do push ups as a cool-down exercise after practice.
Athletes grunted in agony, but continued to go halfway down and hold their push-ups.
It's this kind of discipline and work ethic that has head coach Shane Koehl gushing about the upcoming season.
"We have great depth," he said. "Everyone's work ethic has been phenomenal. Guys have been lifting in the morning and have worked hard on conditioning."
The Badgers will have to fill holes left by Brad Nugent, John Leibforth, Mike Ezelle, Branden Allen and Dylan Peter, a quality quintet which accounted for nearly 200 combined wins last year.
Ruzga is the team's lone returning conference champion, and he went 1-2 at the 2011 state meet in the 215 weight class.
Koehl is fully confident in his 15 returning athletes, which will include Tom Cychner, Taylor Hildebrandt, Zack Leonard, Michael Coyne, Chris Oberholtzer and Trevor Hagemeier.
Koehl also hopes for solid contributions from Andy Cychner, Eric Winger, Terry Conrad, Brian Nugent and Edgar and Adan Ortiz.
Winger is back after missing last year with a shoulder injury. Overall, Koehl believes the team is very deep.
"We will have a quality dual meet team," he said. "We must have a kid at every weight class. We have that right now barring injury."
The dedication started oozing out of this bunch back in summer. About 15 wrestlers attended a wrestling camp in Ohio it was all wrestling all the time. Koehl said his guys would sleep on the mats, then wake up and wrestle all day.
Koehl understands his team needs to be at a high level, especially with the talent in the Southern Lakes Conference this season. The league welcomes back 11 conference champions and 17 state qualifiers. Koehl said Burlington, Elkhorn, Delavan-Darien and Wilmot along with Badger can challenge for the title.
"The SLC is loaded," he said.
It all kicks off Thursday at home with a bitter rival, state-ranked Burlington. The Demons tied Badger, 36-36, last year, but won on the eighth tiebreaker criteria. Koehl is hoping luck has nothing to do with it this year.
"Our goal is beating Burlington Thursday," he said. "I believe we're right there with them. It will be an exciting dual. Nothing will come easy in conference this year."
Badger was second in the dual season a year ago with a 3-2 mark, but fell to fourth at the SLC meet.
So far, the Badgers have demolished Westosha Central, 52-16, on Dec. 1, and took second Saturday at the Watertown Invite.
"A lot of coaches came up to me and complimented us," Koehl said. "They were wondering where the heck we came from."
Koehl added his guys have all the tools for success.
"We've got the physical tools and ability," he said. "We just need to keep working hard and building confidence."
Leaders of the pack
Ruzga and the Shine brothers have earned their teammates' respect, making the choice of team captains a no-brainer.
Ruzga and Randy Shine hit the weight room five days a week beginning in August, and Rory Shine hammered out drill after drill of different wrestling disciplines.
"Our captains have a tremendous work ethic," Koehl said. "They never stop. They are leaders in the classroom and the wrestling room. They strive to be first in everything. Other kids are pushing to get to that point, and it's making the team better."
"I've been in the weight room five times a week since football season," Ruzga said. "I'm working on sprinting, drills and just making myself stronger and more dedicated."
Randy Shine said junior varsity coaches Jason Allen and Hank Peters have helped him with drills since August.
"I'm trying to get my hands and feet quicker and open up my shooting game," he said.
Randy's brother has wrestled freestyle and Greco Roman to diversify his game. He said it has helped his upper body strength.
When it comes to leading, it's simple. These guys are all buddies.
"We're mostly just friends," Ruzga said. "It's a big thing. We are really close to each other, and the guys know they can trust us (captains). It keeps us working hard."
Randy Shine added the entire culture of the sport keeps the team cohesive.
"It's different from other sports," Randy said. "Our diet makes it unique. You have to eat smart and watch your calorie intake. We all eat healthy, but we eat lighter than usual on meet days. But on Saturdays, we can eat whatever we want after the matches."
So how good are these guys?
"We can win the SLC," Ruzga said.
"We are very strong mentally," Randy Shine said. "We have really good lightweights, and we will get points from everyone. We're jacked for our rematch with Burlington."