Wrestling kicks off season with high expectations

Nick Gainey

After a COVID-19 delayed 2020-21 season, the men’s wrestling team looks to build on success for the 2021-22 campaign.

The Vikings opened the season on Nov. 1 ranked third in the CCIW, matching their previous season’s finish. They were topped in the rankings by Millikin and North Central, both of which are considered in the top 10 programs in the country. Despite these high accolades, the team isn’t satisfied.

“As a team, our biggest goal is to win the conference,” junior Alex Cruz said. “We’ve come in third place the last two years, and we’re looking to win it this upcoming year.”

The team is led by head coach Tony Willaert, who is in his fifth year of coaching the program. He thinks his team has the talent and work ethic to be a top team, not only in the conference but in the country.

“We finished third in the conference last year. I want to do that or higher,” Willaert said. “I think our team is tough enough where we can be a top 25 team in the country.”

In order to succeed, the Vikings put in lots of hard work at practice. They attempt to balance their training with lighter activities to keep them from overworking.

“We start practice with a game every day just to ease everyone’s nerves,” junior Ellex Williams said. “Wrestling is a tough sport on the mind. Practices are pretty tough, but it’s all just sharpening the sword.”

The team began its season this past week, traveling to cross-river rival St. Ambrose. The Fighting Bees narrowly defeated Augustana 24-23. The Vikings then made a trip to Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where they competed in the Pointer Open. Cruz and Adam Ederar picked up sixth place individual finishes at 149 and 197 pounds, respectively.

On the individual side, Willaert has high hopes for several of his wrestlers, including Williams, a 125 pounder who finished second in the CCIW tournament last season.

“I would love for [Williams] to place at the regional tournament,” Willaert said. “I think he definitely has the talent to do that. Every match, he’s going to have to be ready because we have four guys in the top 10 in the country at his weight class in our regional.”

Other top individuals include junior Trevor Boryla, who finished third at 133 pounds in last year’s CCIW tournament, and junior heavyweight Daniel Skold, who will join the team at the conclusion of his football season.

The 2021-22 season will also be the first year for the women’s wrestling program. The team consists of six first-year students who will compete in several tournaments and duals this winter. They also opened their season at the Pointer Open, where Sawyer Graham picked up a sixth place finish with a 3-3 record.

One thing that the teams hope will happen this season is an increase in fan support at home matches. The men’s team held the “Pins in the Plaza” event last spring to help raise awareness of their endeavors. Now that spectators are allowed at indoor events, they hope the student body will come out and support.

The men’s team will return to action on Nov. 11 with a dual match at Elmhurst. Their first home match will be Dec. 2, where they will host a triangular with Simpson and Central. The women will compete in their first dual on Nov. 19 at UW-Stevens Point, with their first ever home match coming on Jan. 6 against Carthage.