DELAVAN - In the stacked Southern Lakes Conference, winning your weight class is an accomplishment that often requires beating some of the top wrestlers in the state.
On Feb. 3, when the conference championship concluded, a pair of Badgers had conquered that gauntlet: Senior Beau LaDu won the 106-pound class, and sophomore Jake Stritesky won the 113-pound class.
For LaDu, it took beating not one, but two, top-10 wrestlers in the state. As someone who won the conference last year, though, he had experience on the stage.
After competing in the 113-pound class for most of the season, LaDu dropped down to the 106 class for the conference tournament and upcoming regional meet. Doing so, according to head coach Hank Peters, provided him with a set of challenges that he won’t need to overcome if he advances to the state meet.
“Having Beau compete at 106 for the conference tournament was a great step for him. He got down to the weight he needed to be at, and tested himself in tough matches against good wrestlers at that weight,” Peters said. “It is a huge confidence builder to start his state tournament run knowing he can get to the weight and be strong enough to compete with some of the state’s best at 106.”
In Stritesky’s first season on the team, he made the third-place match in the SLC championship, making him a newcomer to the process of vying for the top spot. Just like LaDu, he also had to best a top-10 wrestler. Peters believes that by doing so, Stritesky made a statement, proving just how good of a wrestler he is, despite his relative inexperience.
“In the finals match, Jake was aggressive on top and kept his opponent off balance until he was able to lock up a pinning combination and put the match away. Jake is mentally and physically ready to get to the state tournament and open some eyes around the state to how well he can compete,” Peters said.
In the 132-pound class, senior Stevie Krauss made it to the finals before dropping his first match and finishing in a still-respectable second place. While it wasn’t the storybook ending he may have wanted, Peters believes Krauss is in good position to make a run at the state tournament.
Besides just the three wrestlers who competed for the top spot, Badger had another five athletes competing for a spot on the podium in the third-place match.
Sophomore Brandon Martinez won his third-place match in the 138-pound class in a strong comeback. After losing his first-round match, he was able to win the rest of his matches on the day, including avenging his loss in the final round.
“It was a good day mentally for Brandon. It showed how tough he was mentally to be able to bounce back and beat a kid who upset him earlier in the day,” Peters said.
Sophomore Kyle Freund was also able to take third in his class, the 285, and senior Michael Sanders took third in the 145 as well. Sophomores Dalton Creighton and Patrick Keplar both took fourth place in their respective weight classes.
With five sophomores placing fourth or better, the team’s youth will greatly benefit from having some tough conference championship experience in the coming years, and all of the team’s wrestlers can use the experience when they head to Regionals on Feb. 10.