The Chi-Hi wrestling team is young this season.
The team also had plenty of youth last season but a core that gained experience last winter is back as the team looks to build around it to compete in the always tough Big Rivers Conference.
Sectional qualifiers Jakob Anderson (19-20, Dylan Schimmel (26-18), Matt Pomietlo (21-15) and Jared Woodhull (21-12) return after solid postseason performances a season ago. The team also returns previous letterwinners Daniel Moucha, Austin Smith, Brady Weyandt, Hayden Hedrington, Kyle Bowe and Ross Kaz.
The team has 13 combined juniors and seniors to go with four freshman and 14 sophomores with plenty of competitors in the middle weights, working hard in the early weeks of the season to get to their ideal weight to best fill out a full lineup for the program.
“The beginning of the year is going to be about trying to get a lineup out there and as they hit their ideal weights we’re going to be very competitive,” Chi-Hi coach Tom Pomietlo said. “The kids are working really and that’s all I can ask from them.”
A team also has an influx of young competitors, especially in the upper weights with a number of linemen from the Cardinal football team trying their hand at wrestling for the first time. Pomietlo said getting the opportunity to work with athletes new to the team and help their improve is one of the many things he enjoys about the sport.
“As a coach it’s rewarding to take a kid that’s raw and a blank slate and bring them along,” Pomietlo said. “That’s the theme of the year. As a team we’re going to be really young, we’re going to take our lumps but we’re just going to stick to our drilling and our program and core beliefs and just try to get better by the end of the year.”
The team opened the season with a Big Rivers Conference dual at Menomonie last Thursday with a 36-35 victory over the Mustangs, winning five consecutive matches midway through the dual to help clinch the victory. The team came back on Saturday to finish 3-2 in a day’s worth of duals at an invite hosted at Stratford, including victories over Chequamegon, D.C. Everest and Wautoma/Wild Rose.
“Overall, the team battled hard all day,” Pomietlo said of the performance on Saturday. “Our takedown and pin totals are above last year’s totals. We are a year older and getting more confidence. Our team should be close to full strength from here on out.”
The Cardinals host their first home dual of the season on Thursday against Rice Lake. It is the only home event for the Cardinals in the month of December before hosting River Falls in a dual on Jan. 11 and the team’s annual Chi-Hi invitational on Jan. 13.
Pomietlo enters his 23rd season leading the program and picked up his 200th career dual victory a season ago. This year his team is focused on improvement, being at their best once crunch time comes.
“I say this every year but I mean this, we’re really working on conditioning and working hard,” Pomietlo said. “These kids, a lot of them have been working for a couple of weeks before the season started to get ready. The enthusiasm with them is as high as it’s ever been, especially with the younger kids.”