Last season was all about staying healthy and avoiding illness for the Big Foot/Williams Bay co-op wrestling team, according to head coach Tyler Heck.
They did not participate in any tournaments up until regionals and many events were canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Heck, now in his fourth year as head coach and eighth year coaching at Big Foot High School, is hopeful and expects to have a much more “normal year.”
“Last year was different,” he said. “We got to do five or six duals and we lost out on a couple kids that probably would have been a part of the team in a normal year. It was rough numbers wise to stay caught up with some of those teams.”
In a “normal” season, there would be at least two dual meets throughout the week with an invitational on the weekends with upwards of 20 teams participating.
“We struggled numbers-game wise and had some pretty good kids that wrestled some good matches last season,” Heck said. “We went into regionals thinking we had a good shot to get some kids through and we took two regional champions and two second places finishers to the sectional tournament.”
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One of those kids returning to the fold this season is sophomore Chase Rodriguez, who according to Heck is far beyond his years on the wrestling mat.
“He has been wrestling forever,” he said. “He’s one of those kids that puts in the work, he really knows the sport and understands the little nuances of everything. He’s a kid you have to coach, but it’s very different way of coaching with someone that experienced.”
Heck expects Rodriguez to be wrestling in the 120 lbs. weight class at some point during the season.
Nathan Hoyt, who wrestled at 160 lbs. last season and was a sectional qualifier last year, returns for his senior season as does Christian Carreno.
“They’re starting to expect big things of themselves now too,” Heck said. “They both put in a lot of work over the summer and fall to get ready for the season.”
Heck acknowledged Ashton Robinson as another senior who he expects big things from this season after seeing him continue to put in the work in the offseason.
“I think there are a couple other kids who might surprise,” he said. “Coming from a program that hasn’t had much of a showing the last couple years I think some of these kids will come up and have pretty good years.”
According to Heck, they have about 25 kids on the team this season with three or four coming from Williams Bay, which is an increase from last season where they had around 12 or 13 kids in total.
“In my few years here, there have been very few times where we have had 20 or more kids on the team,” he said. “I’d love to keep all 25, obviously, but if we can stay at 22 I think that’s a great number for us.”
This offseason for Heck and his team has been much more normal as opposed to last season and he understands how important the offseason is not just for wrestlers, but for athletes.
“A big focus for a lot of the coaches recently has been getting our athletes stronger, getting them into the weight room and becoming more athletic and stronger,” he said. “Wrestling wise, we ran a lot of open mats for kids who wanted to be in the wrestling room and just wrestle.”
He believes that wrestlers using the weight room this offseason, wrestling on open mats for 30-45 minutes and having many of the kids coming off of football season, will pay off during the season.
“We have a couple dual meets this year that with teams in the conference (Trailways-South) that we have been very even with the last couple years,” Heck said. “I think this year could be a good jump for us to get a gain on some of those teams and start catching up to some of those middle of the pack teams.”
Heck has seen a shift in the mentality of the wrestlers and while that may not equate to wins right away, things seem to moving in the right direction.
“I have seen the kids continue to put in the work for all their sports and all these different events,” he said. “I think they have started to see that we can compete with these teams. Maybe they beat us, but we fought hard in every match and we really made them work for it. We’re going to show that we have improved and that we’re going to continue to get better.”
The first home meet was Thursday, Dec. 9.