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Randy Shine (click for larger version)
Hildebrandt (click for larger version)
December 04, 2012 | 04:37 PMShane Koehl understands there is an expectation with this year's Badger wrestling squad.
After the program advanced to its first-ever team state tournament back in March, 12 of 14 Badgers are back and there's a new goal — win conference.
"Our No. 1 goal is to win conference," said Koehl, now in his sixth year. "We have the potential to be very good. But there is still a lot of work to do. We have to get kids down to the right weight classes to fill our lineup. We still have a lot of hard work to do."
When a team finishes 20-5, captures regional and sectional titles, boasts four individual state qualifiers, advances to team state and welcomes back most of its top guys, the state tends to notice.
According to early Crossface rankings, the Badgers are No. 9 in the state, one place ahead of Elkhorn (10th) and Burlington (first honorable mention).
Eddy Ruzga (215) and Tom Cychner (heavyweight), two state medalists a year ago, are the only losses. Badger brings back a bevy of talent, including Randy Shine, who placed sixth in the state at 138 last year. Tayler Hildebrandt, another state qualifier, is back at 195. Alex Martinez (113), Edgar Ortiz (120), Adan Ortiz (132), Tristan Steiner (152), Andy Cychner (170), Zac Leonard (126), Bryan Nugent (132), Andrew Allen (160), Robert Johnson (220), Chris Oberholtzer (138), Tyler Otero (182) and Carlos Garcia (285) round out the deep lineup.
A key newcomer will be Michael Peter at 106.
Koehl said the team's strength is balance. In the absence of Ruzga and Tom Cychner, Johnson will move up to 220 from 195 last year. Also, Garcia will fill in at heavyweight. Johnson was one point away from making state a year ago.
"We shouldn't give up six points anywhere," Koehl said. "We will keep matches close and capitalize where our hammers are."
Koehl said Cychner is still recovering from an ankle injury sustained during football season. Allen is filling in for him at 170. Also, senior Connor Ruff, who had never wrestled on varsity before this season, has seen some time at 160. Leonard has missed action so far due to pneumonia.
Despite the program's first preseason top-10 ranking, Koehl said time will tell how good this team can be.
"We're not going to show up and dominate," he said. "The ranking doesn't mean anything until we go out and prove it. It will take consistency and work ethic. We know what we have to do."
Badger will face a tough challenge with an SLC showdown at defending conference champ Burlington Tuesday. Koehl hopes Cychner is ready to go and other wrestlers are down to their desired weights. According to the rules, a wrestler can only lose half a pound a day from their certified weight, so Koehl said the boys may not be at full strength.
"We're going to have to overcome our lineup," he said. "We can't down to our weights yet. Burlington is tough up to 160. It is a big first step, and it will challenge our depth. The SLC title has eluded us the last couple years. We have lost by a couple points or a tiebreaker. We've been so close to going undefeated."
Overall, numbers are up, with 50 kids in the program. A couple varsity newcomers have already came up big for Badger.
"Our younger levels are looking really good," Koehl said. "Our sophomores all came back. I tell them you never know when you're going to get your chance."
Another obstacle will be Elkhorn. The Elks host regionals this year, and Koehl would like nothing more than to win conference and spoil Elkhorn's postseason chances.
"They have tough kids all the way through," Koehl said of the Elks. "We have a little more balance. We must neutralizes their studs and score big in other areas. I would like nothing more than to go in there and win. There's no love lost there."
Koehl said the ultimate goal is returning to team state. He hopes everyone returns to their proper weight classes in the early going and gets back in wrestling shape.
"Some guys needed a little time to recover from football," he said. "We have to get back to a wrestling mentality. There's a goal of going to state, but the SLC is the biggest."
Badger (1-0 SLC duals) returns home to face Westosha Central Thursday.
Starting the season strong
At Saturday's Watertown Scramble, the Badgers nabbed third out of 16 teams.
Only 12 of 14 Badgers scored.
"It was a good start," Koehl said. "We saw a lot of good things."
Randy Shine and Hildebrandt each won titles, and Johnson took second. Allen, Peter and Otero (unattached wrestler) all placed third. Garcia was fourth at heavyweight, and Oberholtzer and Martinez took fifth.
For Thursday's home opener, the Badger wrestling program honored its alumni with free admission, VIP seating and a dedication.
The Badger wrestlers showed their appreciation on the mat.
Sparked by five pins, the Badgers dominated the Comets, 61-12, and sent a message that last year's state run was no fluke.
Badger exacted some revenge on the Comets, who beat Lake Geneva, 40-21, in Delavan last year.
On Thursday, Burlington and Elkhorn also enjoyed blowouts. The Demons beat Union Grove, 64-12, and the Elks crushed Westosha Central, 61-13.
The Badgers got pins from Randy Shine (138), Tristan Steiner (152), Andrew Allen (170), Michael Peter (106) and Alex Martinez (113). Bryan Nugent (138) and Carlos Garcia (285) both picked up decisions, and Badger notched four forfeit victories.