The influx of freshman talent that joined the Holmen High School wrestling team three years ago was significant.
But there was no way around the fact that it was going to take time to feel its true impact.
“They were a bunch of little guys,” Holmen coach Jason Lulloff said Wednesday as his team practiced for today's and Saturday’s Bi-State Classic at the La Crosse Center. “They were good, but they were all pretty close in weight.”
Tanner Schultz, Trevor Plomedahl, Isaac Lahr, Reed Williams and Zach Gordon were part of that group and spent a lot of time wrestling each other to determine lineups for varsity meets.
Then, they started growing. Some grew more than others, which couldn’t have been a better scenario for the Vikings.
Filling out a 14-weight lineup isn’t easy, and the separation between all of those wrestlers had a big hand in making Holmen what it is today: the state’s top-ranked Division 1 team.
“I usually enter every season looking to see what kind of disrespect we get in the rankings, and I have always used it as motivation throughout the season,” Lulloff said. “To our surprise, we were on the list when the season began. We belonged there, but we’ve belonged there before and not been ranked.
“Now, we’re on top. I think it’s a testament to what we’ve done the last couple of years.”
The Vikings came to the Bi-State with three of those wrestlers in the lineup three years ago. All five have found homes now, and that fact has turned Holmen’s lineup into something special.
On Thursday, Holmen listed Plomedahl (16-2) at 132 pounds, Schultz (19-2) at 138, Gordon (13-3) at 152, Williams (13-4) at 160 and Lahr (15-3) at 182. The Vikings have received at least 12 wins from 13 wrestlers as they enter Bi-State with the goal of scoring more points than any of the other 60 teams.
“Everyone has a role on this team,” said Lahr, who wrestled Bi-State at 120 pounds as a freshman. “We’ve been able to spread everyone around more this year than we ever have, and it’s given us a really good lineup.”
Lahr jumped from 126 pounds as a sophomore to 170 as a junior, and that was one way things started to open up last season. The others have made more consistent — and smaller — jumps to fill out the middle weights.
The end result has left opposing coaches with limited flexibility with their lineups because there is nowhere to really go for a better chance of points. It has also limited Lulloff’s strength of adjusting his lineup on the fly, but he doesn’t need anyone to remind him how fortunate he is.
Finding 14 good wrestlers is one challenge. Finding 14 at different weights is another.
That will be Holmen’s biggest asset while attacking the Bi-State field over the next two days. Points will need to roll in consistently if the Vikings are going to win the Division 1 or the overall title.
Stratford is loaded. Hudson, Luxemburg-Casco, Lodi, River Valley and Kenyon-Wanamingo are all capable of walking away with big numbers.
Kyle Burkhardt (13-4, 195) and Jack Westcott (17-2, 220) are also seniors having good seasons for the Vikings, and Westcott has been in the lineup since he was a 195-pound freshman.
Westcott, according to Lulloff, has been wrestling more consistently this season than any other. He joined Schultz, Lahr and Kalyn Jahn (12-3, 170) at last year’s WIAA individual state tournament and went 41-12 to set up his final run with the team.
“Building consistency really has nothing to do with the physical aspect, it’s more mental,” Westcott said. “I’ve changed my mental attitude the last couple years with the way i react or losses or bad matches.
“I concentrate more on the reason I lost than the fact that I lost.”
Losing is something the Vikings haven’t done much of. They went unbeaten during a dual invitational at Wausau West and won the Waunakee Invitational handily with seven individual champions.
The Vikings even performed better than they ever have at a tournament in Rochester, Minn., on Dec. 15-16. Holmen was fifth out of 39 teams that weekend and had five wrestlers finish among the top six with Westcott’s third-place performance leading the way.
“We’ve had times when we’ve finished second-to-last there,” Lulloff said. “We did better than we ever have, and we were also concentrating on how well we did compared to (second-ranked) Kaukauna.
“We wanted to finish ahead of Kaukauna (the four-time defending Division 1 state champion), and we did that (by one spot).”