The Badger wrestling team had a bit of a rough record in the Southern Lakes Conference — one of the most talented wrestling conferences in the state.
While the overall team record wasn’t perfect, plenty of individuals shined throughout the season. Of the grapplers who shined brightest, the vast majority were juniors, giving the Badgers a bright outlook for next season.
Jake Stritesky is undoubtedly the Badger with the highest expectations for next year. After making it to two straight state tournaments, and finishing on the podium this year with a fifth-place finish, he expects to take another step forward next season to finish in the top three.
Stritesky thinks the key to improving is to spend as much time as he can getting hands-on wrestling experience.
“It’s mostly about mat time, getting out there and wrestling with as much mat time as I can get,” he said.
He isn’t the only junior who saw success throughout the year, though.
Not including Jake Stritesky, four other Badger juniors finished third or better at the Regional meet in February. Dalton Creighton finished in third place, while Patrick Keplar, Josh Stritesky and Kyle Freund all placed second.
By falling just short of their state meet goals this season, the group is especially hungry going into next season, hoping to build on their postseason experience.
“Being so close, we know what we need to work on to get better and opponents we’ll have to face for next year,” Josh Stritesky said.
When you add in Brandon Martinez, who saw similar postseason success as a sophomore before missing his junior year with an injury, next year’s Badger senior class will have six seniors who all have a legitimate shot at qualifying for the state meet if all goes well.
Despite all being talented wrestlers, they each have different ways of achieving success in the offseason.
The first step that all the wrestlers agreed on is to make sure to clean up any weak spots in their game. All the top-tier wrestlers around the state scout out their opponents, so if a wrestler can figure out what they can try to exploit, they’ll have an upper hand.
“The better your opponents are, the more they’ll watch what you do, and then they’ll see what people have been doing against you and work with that,” Jake Stritesky said.
“You’ve got to strengthen your weaknesses before anyone can exploit them,” Martinez added.
Another avenue of improvement is to add new attacks to their arsenal, which typically involves trying a variety of things and slowly figuring out what works best.
“During the offseason, you have a bunch of moves you think could work. As you get into live wrestling, you try them in matches, and you have to whittle them down so when you’re at the big tournaments like conference and sectionals, you have your go-to moves that work consistently,” Creighton said.
Even if it might take some time away from the wrestling mat, playing different sports at Badger also can help the wrestlers.
“I think all sports bounce off each other and help each other. The more sports you can do, the better for every sport,” Creighton said.
Martinez says he likes to run as a way to strengthen his conditioning.
“Running will help your endurance. You’re bursting every 30 seconds in wrestling, if you can burst the whole match, you’ve got it in the bag,” Martinez said.
For Creighton and Freund, that second sport is football, which the pair thinks helps not only give them a kick-start in building up strength, it also gives them more practice with the important short-burst ability that Martinez alluded to.
“Football is explosive. When you’re in that moment, you’ve got to go,” Freund said.
While a strong group of individuals should give the Badgers a shot at a successful season next winter, the bond within the senior class could make the team more than just a sum of its parts.
“The fact that we have a big class helps us. We all see each other in school, so we can help motivate each other. Also, we can push each other in practice knowing it’s our last ride. So everyone’s just more hungry,” Martinez said.