Oconto Falls wrestling program has big shoes to fill

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Panthers lose half of starting lineup

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

Oconto Falls High School wrestlers, from left, Bryce Peterson, Clayton Whiting, Aidan Stary and Noah Stary, will be some of the Panthers’ wrestlers depended on to take the place of the seven talented seniors that graduated last year. (Photo by Alayna Smith)

Last season was a prime example of why the Oconto Falls wrestling program has been so successful.

The Panthers featured a star-studded senior class led by two guys who captured state titles during their careers: Nate Trepanier (160) and Bryce Ash (145). State qualifiers Mac Winkler (182) and Brice Delzer (170), along with Garret Cole (195), Trent Peetz (220) and Connor Scray (152) were also part of the phenomenal senior group that had great careers on the mat.

“That was a pretty special class as far as state champs in it, state qualifiers,” Oconto Falls tri-head coach Marc Kinziger said. “It’s kind of turning of the page of an era here coming up. Definitely, it’s a different group of kids.”

For a program that’s good year in and year out, rebuilding seasons don’t happen too often.

“It kind of feels like one,” Kinziger said. “I don’t want to sound too negative, but they’ve got shoes to fill. I don’t want to say it’s impossible.”

“I think it’s a transition year in a sense,” senior Noah Stary said, “but I still think we can do big things.”

The big question entering this season for Oconto Falls is how it will replace those guys who made up half the starting lineup and the number of almost-guaranteed points each match.

Can those wrestlers be replaced?

“Not in one year like we’re going to have to,” Kinziger said. “We’re going to have guys wrestling out of weight at those big weight classes: 170, 182, 195. We just don’t have those big bodies. We’ll throw some bodies into it, but they’re going to be young.”

Experienced seniors such as Stary (152) and Dan Ausloos, a state qualifier last year at 285, know they will be relied on to fill the void.

“We almost have to step up together in unity,” Stary said.

The seniors taught the underclassmen so many valuable lessons over the years, and this year’s seniors are ready to step forward.

“Leadership is probably the biggest thing I learned,” Stary said. “Having people in the room like Nate Trepanier and Brice Delzer, Bryce Ash, Mac Winkler, all those guys really helped me developed as a leader.”

Oconto Falls is in unfamiliar territory where it has only one proven wrestler – Ausloos – who weighs over 195 pounds. The Panthers typically don’t have an issue going into the season filling weight classes. The addition of Jacob Peterson, who wrestled when he was young and moved back to the sport after playing basketball, should help.

“We don’t like to go in with a hole,” Kinziger said. “I don’t really remember ever doing that. I know we had to forfeit once, I do remember that because we hadn’t had a forfeit in 20 years.”

Despite some gaps in the lineup early in the season, Stary is expecting his teammates to do well.

“I think our strength is going to be from 106 up to like 160,” said Stary, who had to miss competing in regionals last year because of an injury. “From 160 to 220 we might have some difficulty filling a couple spots, but then we have Dan at heavyweight, so that’s really going to help.”

Ausloos went 1-2 last year at state, but had a great offseason. He won a couple national tournaments, including Preseason Nationals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the end of October.

According to Kinziger, in one tournament Ausloos beat every Wisconsin wrestler in his bracket.

“He’s looking like some kind of special,” Kinziger said.

Tyler Budz is coming off a phenomenal freshman season. He advanced to state at 106, but dropped his only match.

Kinziger pointed out Bodee Woods (126) put in a lot of time in the offseason and looks good. Middleweights Kenton Peterson and Bryce Peterson have sectional experience and will be big keys to the team.

“I don’t think we’ll have any trouble filling 45, 52 or even 60,” Kinziger said. “We’re going to have guys wrestling out of weight at 170 and 182 – that’s going to be tough.”

There is a lot of excitement surrounding the incoming freshman class. Aiden Stary (145/160) and Jager Eisch (106) had decorated middle school careers. As seventh-graders, the duo competed in Adidas Nationals with Stary placing first at 133 and Eisch runner-up at 78.

“There’s a couple more freshmen, but it’s still way too much up in the air to see where they’re going to fill in,” Kinziger said.

Kinziger noted the coaching staff is putting a bigger emphasis on strength and conditioning this season.

“We’ve got to get stronger,” he said. “Some of the kids have got to work a little bit harder. I think that’s one of the things with this group; I think there is the talent and I think they got by in the younger years not having to work as hard. But when you get to the high school level, I think they’ve got to work a little bit harder. I think they’ve got to realize that.”

Once again, the North Eastern Conference should be stacked. Division 2 state runner-up Luxemburg-Casco should be the cream of the crop.

“If we beat them, we’ll have earned it,” Kinziger said. “There won’t be a gimme. But at the same time, I can see us beating them. But I could very easily see us losing to them.”

Freedom is going to be strong and Denmark brings in a couple outstanding freshmen and will be in contention. Wrightstown could be a sleeper, added Kinziger.

Where does that leave Oconto Falls?

“Second to fourth,” Kinziger said. “I certainly hope we stay in the top four.”

With a young team, the guys will get plenty of experience early on. Stary believes the team will be ready to go after its first dual meet.

“I think the biggest turning point is going to be Battle of the Bay (Dec. 9),” he said. “Once we’re done with that, a lot of these younger kids are going to develop their character and realize what their goals are.”