By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press
Last season, the Shiocton wrestling team won its first conference title in seven years.
That was good news, right?
Well, yes and no.
The Chiefs shared the Central Wisconsin Conference championship with Weyauwega-Fremont. Not winning the title outright was a sore spot for Shiocton coach Eric Clausen and the guys who were returning this season.
“Going in, we had a sour taste in our mouth,” senior Blake Johnson said. “We definitely wanted to win it outright. We definitely did not want to share it like we did last year, because that really sucked.”
“You want to be the top dog,” Clausen said. “It was all or nothing — either we win it outright or we don’t. We had that in our minds for sure.”
Shiocton closed out an undefeated season at 10-0 by winning the conference title on Feb. 3. And, yes, that was good enough to win the championship outright.
That goal couldn’t have been checked off the list if it wasn’t for the dedication of the wrestlers day in and day out.
“This year, just like every year, we have some blue-collar kids,” Clausen said. “They go out there and they work hard, they work hard all week long. They don’t give up. That’s one thing they take a lot of pride in. Everybody goes out there and they do their job and they don’t give up.”
Clausen has thoroughly enjoyed coaching this year’s team.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Clausen said. “Obviously, it’s a lot more fun when you’re winning. Just this group alone, they’re a good group. No stress this year. That was the biggest thing, no drama, no stress, no nothing. Just show up and go to practice. I like that.”
Shiocton had the majority of its team back from last season, adding just two freshmen to the mix.
“What we lost with seniors we gained back with our freshmen,” Clausen said. “We were pretty much the same team we had to step up. The big thing was to try and not drop any duals and obviously come back at the tournament. In the past, we’ve always been viewed as a tournament team.”
Johnson, who is one of five seniors on the squad, knows he and his teammates have competed as one all season en route to capturing Shiocton’s third-ever conference crown.
“Coming together as a group and pushing each other to work hard every day, it’s definitely been the big reason for all our success this year,” Johnson said.
Shiocton, which finished with a 12-0 dual record this season, has been steady since the first practice. When it came time for an all-important multi-dual at Pittsville on Jan. 20, the Chiefs grapplers were ready to roll. Most of the top teams in the conference were competing in the meet: Weyauwega-Fremont, Wittenberg-Birnamwood, Pittsville, Rosholt and Tri-County.
“That was the turning point, because basically we had to wrestle Pittsville to Weyauwega to Wittenberg, back-to-back-to-back,” Clausen said. “We survived that and came out of that on top. And I think that’s when we realized that, yeah, we are the best team in the conference right now.”
One major reason for the strong season has been the performances by the seniors. Johnson (182), Sammy VanStraten (138), Levi Snortum (145) and Ben Gunderson (285) have a combined record of 117-18. The final senior, Gunnar Oskey, has also been an important piece to the puzzle.
“They set the tone for the rest of these younger guys,” Clausen said.
Winning back-to-back titles – which had never happened at Shiocton – will cement a solid legacy for this year’s senior class.
“It means a ton to me and I hope it means a lot to the other guys, too, because they put in a lot of work for the program as well,” Johnson said.
Shiocton has seven wrestlers who are either ranked or honorable mention in Division 3, according to WIwrestling.com. Jericho Helser (106) is No. 12; Ethan Flannery (120), No. 11; VanStraten (138), No. 4; Snortum (145), No. 7; Billy Reif (170), honorable mention; Tyler Hess (195), No. 12; and Gunderson (285), No. 9.
The balance throughout the lineup played an important part in the team’s success.
“You have all these teams and some teams are stacked up front, Weyauwega’s stacked up front, all their light guys are phenomenal,” Clausen said. “But once you get past that 38 range and then it kind of falters a little bit. We’re well balanced all the way through. We were able to adjust our lineup with our duals and all that stuff.”
After a strong regular season, the Shiocton wrestlers turn their attention to the postseason. The guys competed in regionals on Saturday, Feb. 10 at Amherst. Those wrestlers who advanced to sectionals will be back on the mat on Feb. 17 at Shawano.
Three current Shiocton wrestlers have advanced to state in the past: VanStraten, Snortum and Reif. VanStraten, who is 36-3 this season, has been to Madison the last two years, placing runner-up at 138. He lost 5-1 in the championship match and is motivated to win a state title as a senior. Snortum, who has a 26-4 record, lost his only match at state a season ago. Reif got to state as a sophomore. All three have shots at getting back to the big stage.
Another wrestler vying for his first state appearance is Johnson, who lost in the sectional semifinals last season. That tough defeat has been the driving force for him to get over the hump as a senior.
Shiocton has had a successful run at sectionals the past two years, sending a school-record five wrestlers to state in 2016 and three last season.
“In the postseason, we’re hoping for a lot of big things individually,” Johnson said. “I think we can break the record for sending the most kids down to state this year individually. Hopefully we can get it done.”
Brady Volkman brings down his opponent in Manawa on Saturday, Feb. 3 at Amherst. – Photo courtesy of David Gomm
By Greg Bates