January 11, 2012 | 07:30 AMMental toughness.
It is what separates a pretty good athlete from a great one. And it has helped the Badger wrestling squad bust out to a 15-2 dual record so far this season and a solid 4-1 Southern Lakes mark.
What epitomizes mental toughness?
On Monday afternoon, for roughly 20 minutes after practice, wrestlers were obsessively putting in overtime with conditioning work, jumping over each other in drills and battling each other in one-on-one lockups even after a grueling hour-long practice. To top it off, a chorus of painful gasps and grunts rang through the Badger wrestling room when athletes ran laps back and forth from one wall to the other.
While it may seem a bit militant, it's typical protocol for Elkhorn week. Badger coach Shane Koehl said this Thursday's match against the Elks, who are also 4-1 in the SLC, is big.
"We don't like Elkhorn," he said Monday. "They're our biggest rival. Our goal is to win the SLC meet."
Badger is flying high with solid momentum heading into this week's tussle.
On Saturday, the boys breezed through the competition at the East Troy Invite, going 5-0 to win the six-team tournament. Badger was 58-12 in matches on the day, and three of the losses were by forfeit.
"We were the best team there," Koehl said. "It was good for the kids to get some wins and boost their confidence. The kids wrestled well."
Undefeated (5-0) Badgers on Saturday were Mike Coyne (113), Chris Oberholtzer (126), Bryan Nugent (132), Randy Shine (138) and Robert Johnson (195).
Rory Shine, one of the team's senior captains, went 4-1 on the day despite playing through pain. He has been nursing a hip injury, which could result in season-ending surgery. Koehl said a decision could be made soon on whether Rory will continue to wrestle with the injury this season.
The Badgers have been getting noticed by the state as well. Especially after a 5-1 showing at the Merrill Invite, where the Badgers suffered their second loss of the season to Oconto Falls. In one of the state's more competitive tournaments, Badger knocked off Menomonee Falls, Mineral Point, Edgar, Wisconsin Dells and Ladysmith.
Badger finished fifth as a team. Koehl said it was Badger's best-ever performance at the annual tournament.
Individually, several Badgers are nearly perfect this season. At 106, Zach Leonard is 24-2. Randy Shine (138) is 21-1. In the higher classes, Ed Ruzga (220) is 20-1 and heavyweight Tom Cychner is 20-2.
Koehl said it isn't about his standouts. Everyone is playing a role this season.
"The whole team is improving," he said. "We've been stressing team so much this year. It's all about intensity and the mental toughness to take it to the next level."
Why have the Badgers have so much success so far? Koehl was quick to answer.
"Dedication," he said. "We can only go as far as the kids are willing to work. They are coming in Mondays and Wednesdays at 6 a.m. to lift and condition before school. Then we practice after school."
There's still room for improvement. While Badger is shining, Koehl knows guys can get better.
"We need to finish matches," he said. "When we have a chance to put a kid away, we have to get the pin. They can't just be happy with the win. All the points add up. Against Oconto Falls, there were three matches where we should've gotten pins. That could've been the difference."
This Thursday at Elkhorn, Koehl said it won't be easy.
"It's going to be a close dual," he said. "They have two studs that match up with Eddy and Tom. Their guy at 220 is undefeated. I expect to see Eddy and Tom face them again in the conference finals. Also, they have a really good kid at 170. We have to do our damage in the light and light-middle weights. We are very much improved there this year, and it has been the whole difference in duals. Our kids are really pushing each other."
Badger 60, Union Grove 9
It got pretty ugly fast last Thursday at Badger.
Randy Shine, Andrew Cychner (160), Tayler Hildenbrandt (182), Johnson, Leonard, Coyne and Nugent all picked up wins via pinfall.
Decision victories went to Rory Shine and Tom Cychner (285).
Five of Badger's pin occurred in less than two minutes.