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PHS wrestling expectations hinge on health

Alex Stuhl is one of nine returning lettermen wrestling for Prescott High school this upcoming season.

PRESCOTT - Paul Johnson believes this could be one the best Prescott High School wrestling teams since the turn of the century, when the Cardinals won their last conference title back in the Dunn-St. Croix in 2000.

But the fourth-year PHS head grappling coach has to keep his fingers crossed and knock on plenty of wood when he says this, because any bought of injury or illness with small, 14-person team and the hopes and expectations for this season will go right up in smoke.

“We obviously have to stay away from injuries and illness, ineligibility” Johnson said. “You do that by first and foremost by taking care of yourself, taking care business at and staying out of trouble.  And you do so by wrestling aggressive and having good position. We’re really stressing this in practice so that we avoid injuries by not being thrown on the mat or having legs or knees be caught in shots or twisted positions.”

If the Cardinals can stay whole, then Johnson believes their potential is considerable, within reason of course. While PHS doesn’t have depth to win the Middle Border Conference or regional titles, finishing in the top three in the conference meet and having a winning dual meet record is not out of the realm of possibility.

“Having eight kids qualify for sectionals, maybe send three or four to state, I believe we can do it.” Johnson said.  

Prescott opens its season this weekend at New Richmond for a dual meet tonight and at the Ellsworth Invitational Saturday. Both meets will be good tests for those expectations. While PHS will forfeit three weight classes against what will be a full NR squad, the remaining match-ups still offer a chance of winning in what’s usually a competitive dual between the two squads. That’s because PHS returns nine lettermen from last season’s team (2-5 in the MBC in duals and fifth in the conference meet, third in the regional).

Five of those letter winners won 20 or more matches starting with juniors Sam Hoopingarner and Paul Hansen and seniors Alex Stuhl, Nick Opdahl and Troy Urman. Opdhal won the regional title at 138 pounds last season and Urman was a state qualifier at 145.

“Sam is going to wrestle back down at 106 this season and he’ll be a good size for that weight class,” Johnson said. “Paul is also coming in the lightweights stronger than he was a year ago and with Alex, Nick and Troy, they just have stay consistent and stay wrestling for the whole season because it will get them to Madison.”

Prescott only graduated two seniors in Austin Tulip and Lee Boles. Four newcomers to the team, freshmen Dillon Kinneman and Matt McMurlin along with sophomores Max Lonetti and Jonah Luksich, will help PHS fill the lightweight classes as the Cards’ more experienced wrestlers move up. Sophomore Bailey Langer, who over 10 matches as a freshman, is another returning letterman in the lightweights who Johnson said has shown considerable improvement after attending a summer wrestling camp.

Getting wins the upperweights will be crucial in meeting the team’s hopes and expectations. Returning lettermen include senior Tyler Miller, who went 14-10 last season, junior Shubel Vento and sophomores River Christenson and heavyweight Rocky Blomker, who will be sidelined until medically cleared after suffering a concussion during football season.

“Right away in practice we’ve seen a lot of improvement in Shu (Vento), Tyler and River,” Johnson said. “They’re applying more what we’ve been teaching in the wrestling room.  From next week through Northern Badger we should be able to fill every weight class except for heavyweight and hopefully get Rocky back by January.“

Again, knock on wood or fingers crossed.