Cornell/Gilman wrestling coach Greg Sonnentag and his team know the challenge that awaits next month.
A little under five weeks from now, the Wolfpack open the Division 3 postseason with regionals at Spring Valley/Elmwood, a playoff pairing with perennially talented schools like Boyceville, Cadott, Clear Lake and the host Cardinals among others.
The path to next month’s state tournament in Madison will be a bit tougher for teams in that regional as weight classes are packed with multiple state-ranked wrestlers. Cornell/Gilman returned seven letterwinners for this season, grapplers that are primed to take a big step forward with the postseason around the corner.
“We’ve got to keep working and be ready to beat those kids when the time comes,” Sonnentag said.
Sam Pickerign is off to a 16-4 start and was ranked fifth in Division 3 at 120 pounds in the most recent Wisconsin Wrestling Online state poll. Pickerign won 31 matches as a sophomore a season ago and fell one match away from advancing to state. This past weekend he finished third at the Cadott invite, overcoming a semifinal loss to G-E-T/Melrose-Mindoro’s Julian Purney to finish third. Purney was runner-up in Division 2 at 120 pounds at state a season ago.
Like Pickerign, senior Zach Person has started the season strong (17-4) and knows the feeling of just missing out on advancing in the postseason. Person took third at regionals last year at 145 pounds, one position from moving on to sectionals. Person was runner-up at the Cadott invite, falling in the finals to Cadott’s highly-ranked Brady Spaeth by an 8-4 decision at 152 pounds.
Cornell/Gilman’s other runner-up finish in Cadott came at 220 pounds with Bryce Nichols, who powered his way to the finals with two first-round pinfall wins before falling by decision to Durand’s Jake Zeilinger. The Wolfpack graduated a pair of heavyweight state podium finishers from a season ago with the departures of Matt Kostka and Takoda Lee and perhaps nobody on the team knows better what they brought to the mat than Nichols, who was tasked with battling the duo in practices. It was some tough on-the-job training, but Sonnentag said those battles proved their worth in performances like Nichols showed on Saturday.
“It’s confidence. He got some big wins and he’s feeling better about his abilities to be able to compete with those better kids,” Sonnentag said after Nichols’ performance on Saturday. “We saw him trying things with good effort and finishing matches.”
Spencer Kraus had to forfeit a matchup in the quarterfinals due to injury but battled back to take fifth and carries a 12-5 record into the second half of the season, as does Cooper Boehm (8-6) at 145 pounds with Ethan Person (106) also spending time in the state rankings this season.
The Wolfpack are in action the next two Saturdays, wrestling in tournaments at Ladysmith (Jan. 13) and Saint Croix Falls (Jan. 20) before hosting the Lakeland Conference’s dual meet championships on Jan. 25 in Cornell with the Lakeland Conference tournament at the start of next month (Feb. 3).
Bruce at Lake Holcombe boys basketball, Tuesday, 5:45 p.m.
The two remaining unbeaten teams in East Lakeland Conference play lock up in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday in Holcombe as the Chieftains host the Red Raiders. The winner will have an early leg up in the conference title race with the second meeting coming on Feb. 16 in Bruce.
River Falls at Chi-Hi boys basketball, Tuesday, 7:15 p.m.
This week features a pair of important Big Rivers Conference games for the Cardinals, beginning at home on Tuesday against the Wildcats. Chi-Hi has won seven of its last eight games and will be faced with the task of slowing down the conference’s leading scorer in Jaxon Knotek (21.6 points per game). The Cardinals will then turn around and play at Eau Claire North on Friday, the team Chi-Hi enters the week tied with atop the conference standings.
Eau Claire Regis at McDonell boys basketball, Thursday, 7:15 p.m.
Both the Macks and Ramblers come into the week one game behind Altoona and Osseo-Fairchild in the Western Cloverbelt standings in what is shaping up to be a wild season in the league. McDonell has lost three games in a row, but only by a combined seven points, while Regis is coming off a win over Stanley-Boyd last Friday.
Cadott boys basketball at Altoona, Thursday, 7:15 p.m.
Another contest of major importance takes place in Altoona where the Hornets battle the Railroaders. Cadott is also at 3-2 in the conference along with McDonell and Regis and has a chance to gain ground on the leaders. Cadott has won six of seven overall, most recently picking up a 70-57 win at Fall Creek.
Bloomer boys basketball at Hayward, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Sticking with the theme of important boys basketball games this week, the unbeaten Blackhawks hit the road to face Hayward, a team entering the week one game behind Bloomer in the Heart O’North standings. The Blackhawks host Barron at home on Tuesday, the team that knocked off the Hurricanes in overtime last week.
Chi-Hi wrestling invitational, Saturday, 9:30 a.m.
This week will mark the first time this season the Cardinal grapplers are in action at home as Chi-Hi hosts three events. The third and final event of the week is the team’s annual invitational on Saturday morning, an event that brings many teams from the area in, including Stanley-Boyd/Owen-Withee.
Athletes of the Week
Boys: Garrett Roth, Cadott
The Hornet senior scored 23 points to lead Cadott past Fall Creek 70-57 last Friday. Roth is averaging 10.9 points per game for the 7-2 Hornets and has two games with at least 23 points this season. Roth scored 25 points in Cadott’s 70-57 win at Flambeau on Dec. 5.
Girls: Kaylee Frenette, Chi-Hi
The senior scored five goals in Chi-Hi/Menomonie’s 8-3 win over Viroqua on Saturday. Frenette had a hat trick against Appleton United on Dec. 28 and on the season leads the team with 13 goals and 21 points.