Three-peat? Ellsworth wrestlers will take the season one opponent at a time
It's the most wonderful time of the year in Ellsworth. Disregard the upcoming holidays, the most anticipated winter attraction in the town is the wrestling season and it's right around the corner.
"The school loves it, the community loves it. The fan section, the team, the intensity of it ... everything is just unbelievable," senior Sam Stuhl said.
Stuhl originally wrestled for Prescott, a town that he claims is more fixated on basketball.
"People that are there, it's all about basketball for them. So, coming to Ellsworth was the exact opposite," Stuhl said. "It's a lot more fun here."
During Stuhl's time at Ellsworth, the wrestling team has won two WIAA Division 2 wrestling state championships and the senior wrestler has claimed two individual state titles on his own (Stuhl also won an individual state title during his freshman season at Prescott).
Success like that is probably considered "fun" for any high school athlete.
With repeated years of success come high expectations from the community and the entire state of Wisconsin, but these high standards only match what Ellsworth's wrestlers have in mind for themselves.
"It's not as much pressure, because we've been in this scenario before, we've done these things before, and we just want to keep doing them over and over again," Stuhl said.
"I think no matter what our town supports us, because our program is good and they know that we're going to work hard no matter what," senior Dalton George said. "Yeah, there's pressure, but I think we all want it."
What's the "it"? A three-peat.
Last year was the first time Ellsworth won back-to-back team state championships with a perfect 18-0 dual record. The team sent nine wrestlers to the individual state tournament and seven of those wrestlers placed. Two of those wrestlers, Stuhl and now-graduated Jacob Sigler, brought home first-place plaques.
This year, Ellsworth is aiming to extend their Division 2 reign with a third consecutive title despite losing seven starters.
"Our senior class last year was really big. That's a big loss, but our program is deep," Stuhl said. "The guys that are coming up this year that haven't wrestled varsity before, it's not like they haven't wrestled before. They know what they're doing, and they're going to go out there and give it their all.
"People have talked about it," Stuhl said about a three-peat, "and I say we're going to do it again. We have the guys on the team. We're confident. We're gonna go in there and wrestle our best, and that's the plan."
Head coach Mark Matzek supports and encourages his team's confidence, but knows that there's a fine line between being confident and getting too arrogant.
"We pump our guys full of confidence, because wearing that purple singlet with the 'Ellsworth' across their chest does mean something to their opponents," Matzek said. "It's a fine line to walk between confidence and arrogance, because once you cross into that arrogance, that's when you start getting beat by lesser opponents."
And there are a lot of opponents who want nothing more than to see Ellsworth fall from the throne.
"We get booed a lot at sectionals," senior Owen Matzek said. "It's pretty rough, but it's just awesome when you beat opponents and then their whole crowd just shuts up. I like that, personally. You can't take it seriously."
"If I weren't us, I'd hate us, too," Matzek said. "You have to thrive on it."
The Panthers thrive on the pressure and know they have to knock off one opponent at a time before they can start concentrating on their state tournament goals.
"We want to win, that's the outcome goal. Our performance goal is that we are going to train these guys so that they are prepared to go out on the mat and to give their maximum effort," Mark Matzek said. "You can't focus on the outcome goal, we just have to focus on the performance goal: going out there, shaking hands, getting the first takedown, doing the things that you do well, practice correctly, and all that stuff. Doing the little things right. Then we'll do the big things."
The Panthers fine-tune the "little things" by lifting three times a week at 6 a.m. and by wrestling after school for about an hour-and-a-half.
"Practices get shorter as the season goes on, but it's never an easy practice," Stuhl said. "You go in there and you work hard. Everyone there is trying to make you better, so you go in there every day to get better. You just work your hardest, and try to become the best wrestler that you can."
"Just gotta go out there and be prepared," Mark Matzek said. "It's a long season, these guys know it. It's a marathon, not a sprint."