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Panthers make debut back with five champions and one team title

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Ellsworth senior Sam Stuhl was named the Invite's Most Outstanding Wrestler. Stuhl pinned all of his opponents in less than two minutes at Saturday's tournament. Photo courtesy of Jon Claesson2 / 3
The Ellsworth Panthers wrestling team hosted and won the 54th Annual Ellsworth Invitational on Saturday, Dec. 2. The Panthers dominated with a team total of 255 points. Sparta came in second place behind the Panthers with 172.5 points. Photo courtesy of Jon Claesson3 / 3

"People get pretty excited," Owen Matzek said as fans screamed for their wrestlers from the stands.

That's quite the understatement, Owen.

Twelve teams and their fans huddled into the Ellsworth High School gymnasium for a full day of wrestling on Saturday, Dec. 2 for the 54th Annual Ellsworth Invitational.

A day that many have been waiting for in anticipation.

"It's fun finally getting out here and knowing that our practices have prepared us for this," Sam Stuhl said.

Sam, who recently committed to North Dakota State University to wrestle for the Bison at the Division I level, pinned all three of his opponents on Saturday in less than two minutes. His 3-0 performance and prior 48-0 varsity record earned him the invite's Most Outstanding Wrestler award.

Stuhl's excitement for the upcoming season was almost tangible at the end of the tournament.

"It's good to have a home invite," Stuhl said. "We always have a good-sized fan section. They love the tournament, and we love having our fans here watching us."

The Panthers made sitting in the stands for eight hours well worth it for their fans by winning their own invite with 255 team points and claiming five individual titles.

Like his brother Sam, Charlie Stuhl also came out on top in his weight class. The 120-pound sophomore wrestler made his way to the championship match by beating Mitchell Hazard of Cadott and Vince Polhamus of Sparta.

He faced Dane Higgins of Medford in the first-place match.

"For me it was just to score points," Charlie Stuhl said of his thought process in his championship match. "I just tried to extend my lead. That's what we talk about a lot at practice; never settle, just keep working hard."

Charlie is prepared to see Higgins at sectionals later in the year.

"For Charlie to come out like that and almost get a technical fall against [Higgins], that just shows how far along Charlie is," Panthers head coach Mark Matzek said.

Sam wrestled senior Calen Kirkpatrick of Northwestern in his final match. Stuhl defeated Kirkpatrick last year at sectionals.

Like Charlie, Sam said he worked on extending his lead in his match, but also focused on pushing the pace.

"If we get tired, they're going to be more tired than us," Sam said, "So, we like to go out there and give it our all, really try to break our opponents, and just have fun."

Matzek said Sam went out and did what he was supposed to be doing: being physical, quick, intense and a leader.

Despite the success both Stuhl brothers have earned throughout their careers, they still experience the pre-match nerves.

"I had some butterflies right away," Charlie said about entering the championship match, "but once I got out there in the second period and started scoring some points, it felt good."

"If I'm not nervous, I'm not going to wrestle good," Sam said. "You need some nerves, that makes you excited to go out there and wrestle."

The senior wrestler said he prefers to step onto the mat with some nerves knowing that anything can happen in any given match.

"It just feels awesome; I love it," Sam said about competing. "I'm just going to go out there and do what I like to do."

Owen Matzek, senior 132-pound wrestler for the Panthers, also won his weight class at the invite, and battled through a sore, recovering collar bone that he broke in a football game this fall.

"I was a little nervous with the collar bone," Owen said. "I started off slow, but as the day went on it got better."

Owen won four matches on the day en route of his first-place finish. The senior wrestler finished the day by beating Carter Duerkop of Eau Claire North in an 11-1 major decision.

Coach Matzek said that Duerkop was a "worthy opponent" and that Owen "really laid it on him."

"It's rewarding," Owen said of his final win of the day.

Owen said he was very proud of his teammate Bailey Poellinger who won the 106-pound weight class.

Poellinger took a large leap from last year when he finished fifth at the annual invite.

"I was a little nervous, but excited at the same time," Poellinger said about coming into the invite.

He deals with his nerves by "just wrestling."

Poellinger faced Ryan Pederson of Prescott in the championship match, and said he focused on "controlling the match and wrestling my match."

Poellinger beat Pederson on a 10-4 decision.

"For him to go out the way that he did and take control of every single match that he wrestled, I was impressed," Matzek said. "It's nice to have a little guy like that to start the team off."

Ellsworth's final individual title came from junior Jared Lansing who defeated Sparta's David Hayes with a 12-2 major decision in the 145-pound weight class' first-place match.

"For him to get a cradle and some near-fall points in that match was big for him, development-wise," Matzek said. "It was a great day for Jared. I'm proud of him."

Along with his five champions, Matzek was pleased with his entire team's attitude and effort on the day.

Especially that of Dalton George.

"He had a tough draw that first round, and that'll happen from time to time," Matzek said about George's first match against Mathia Krein of Sparta, "but he did what he was then asked to do, which was to come back strong and basically pin his way to third place. I was proud of Dalton for taking one on the chin early, and being a man about it."

George secured a third-place finish by pinning Danny Schroeder in just 46 seconds.

"We really pushed the pace of the match and were just wrestling hard no matter what the outcome was," Matzek said of his team. "I was impressed with the kids."

Anyone who follows Ellsworth wrestling knows this won't be the high point of the team's season, though. The Panthers are already focused on their next challenge, their dual at Amery.

"It was a great first outing for us," coach Matzek said. "At this point in the season we have a lot of technical issues that we're not that good at right now, but that's why we compete.

"We can see which positions we're struggling at, and we need to attack them this week."

The Panthers will take on the Warriors at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7.

ELLSWORTH INDIVIDUAL RESULTS

106: First place: Bailey Poellinger, third place: Cole Nelson (alternate), eighth place: Jack Olson (alternate)

113: Second place: Carter Huppert

120: First place: Charlie Stuhl

126: Fifth place: Jared Toenjes

132: First place: Owen Matzek, sixth place: Jordan Schlicting (alternate), eighth place: Gunnar Allyn (alternate)

138: First place: Sam Stuhl, fourth place: Reed Olson (alternate)

145: First place: Jared Lansing, third place: Sawyer Hamilton (alternate)

152: Third place: Wyatt Hines, fifth place: Alex Matzek (alternate)

160: Fourth place: Cedric Kosnopfal

170: Third place: Dalton George

182: Third place: Connor Ekholm

195: Sixth place: Mike Hines

220: Third place: Logan Peterson

285: Third place: Caleb Linder

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