The Spartan wrestling team has a mantra, and they repeat it often: Control what you can control.
They couldn’t control when they started practice, which was a month later than other Wisconsin teams.
They can’t control whether they will have a postseason.
And most of all, they can’t control the coronavirus pandemic.
So coach Bob Coleman and his wrestlers are focusing their attention on the changes they can effect: working hard in practice, adjusting to wrestling in masks and taking each day as it comes.
“We’re just not going to let COVID define us,” Coleman said. “We’re not going to change. We’re just going to battle like we always have; have the same attitude; keep moving; control what we can control.”
The team is looking to build off last season, when Connor Krueger (106) and Wyatt Johnson (113) took regional titles and were among five wrestlers who made it to the Division 1 sectional tournament. Krueger, a freshman at the time, advanced to the state tournament, finishing 0-2.
Coleman said he expects to see strong showings from Krueger and Johnson again this season, as well as from Johnson’s twin brother, Tucker (126); Jason Thomas (132); Henry Huber (138); and P.J. Kerr (170).
The wrestlers also have a little chip on their shoulders, Coleman said, and they’re using it as fuel.
“They feel like we’re behind, because most teams started Nov. 23 and we started Dec. 21, so I think they feel that they’ve got to go above and beyond just to get caught up so when we step on the mat the first time, we can compete with the other teams.”
Unfortunately, they hit a setback because of COVID-19. Instead of having their first meet in early January, they won’t compete against another team Friday, Jan. 22, due to safety protocols. The details of that meet were still being ironed out as of the Telegram's deadline.
And while the students are frustrated with how the season has gone so far, they’re doing their best to look at the bright side.
“It’s been pretty frustrating so far, seeing other teams able to get a bunch of matches in so far while we started a lot later than everyone else, but I’m just happy that we’re allowed to have a season and I just wanted to get out on the mat and start working,” said Tucker Johnson, a senior.
Tucker Johnson is one of the wrestlers Coleman said he’s seen a change in this year. As a junior, he was one place away from making it to sectionals.
“His leadership and passion to lead during some of our discussions in the summer and fall of his expectations and things — he’s just a lot more focused and it’s showing up in practice, too,” Coleman said.
When asked what he thought about his coach’s comments, Tucker Johnson said making it to sectionals has been one of his goals.
“That made me mad to come up short of my goal — being that close to it — so this year that has just been my goal: to improve myself and work harder so I can make it to sectionals this year,” he said.
Krueger, now a sophomore, said he hopes to make a return trip to the state tournament.
“Going 0-2 last year has really motivated me to really push myself and try my hardest at every practice to get better and try getting on the podium this year,” he said.
Huber, who ran cross country in the fall, said he entered the wrestling season with a different mindset. Before the cross country season began, the senior thought he knew what the season would look like, but the pandemic changed that vision.
When wrestling started, he was more prepared for the rollercoaster of possibilities the pandemic could throw at the team and realized being mentally flexible was a good skill to learn.
And while he sometimes found practice monotonous in the past, Huber said he’s grateful to have the chance to wrestle at all this year.
“When you don’t really know if you’ll have practice the next day, it makes it a lot more exciting and enjoyable going in every day,” he said.
Similarly, Wyatt Johnson said he’s not taking the opportunity for granted.
“I gotta show up and give it my all,” he said. “It’s my last year and there’s not much of it, so it’s the last chance.”