Let’s face it. It would be a lot to expect for the Viroqua wrestling team to accomplish what they did during the 2016-17 season. The Blackhawks began the season winning four consecutive invitational tournaments at Royall, Tomah, Arcadia and Weston. The VHS grapplers capped off an undefeated Coulee Conference season by winning the Coulee Conference tournament, crowning five individual champions in the process.
Then it was on to the Division 2 WIAA state tournaments, where the Blackhawks claimed the regional team championship, with seven individual champions. To cap it all off, the Blackhawks advanced four wrestlers to the WIAA State Tournament, marking the first time in the 50-plus year history of the program that Viroqua had qualified more than three individuals to the event.
VHS head coach Eric Anderson knows it will be a difficult task to replace the seven seniors from last year’s squad, four of whom competed in the upper weights, including Dalton Bernett (160), Jake Baumgartner (195), Nathan Normann (220) and Harley Springborn (180). Max Dach 132), Jansen McClelland (106) and Ray Firebaugh (152) will see their presence missed in the lower weight brackets. McClelland and Bernett were both state qualifiers last year.
As for his team’s prospects for the season, Anderson said, “We will have to replace a strong senior class, but we have a good core of returning wrestlers and a solid freshman group entering” the varsity program. “Work hard and train to beat the best” is the straight-forward motto for this year’s squad, according to the veteran coach, who has seen 25 different wrestlers qualify with 39 appearances at the WIAA State Tournament during his 23-year tenure.
The solid group of returnees are led by Hannah brothers — senior Ryan and sophomore Tyler. Ryan Hannah enters his final season as a Blackhawk with an impressive career record of 137 wins and just 15 losses, including a 132-pound state championship in his sophomore season and a second-place finish last year in the 139-pound weight class. He will be seeking his fourth-straight trip to the WIAA State Tournament.
Coming off an impressive freshman season at 170 pounds, winning 46 of 54 matches, Tyler Hannah will attempt to improve on his third-place finish at last year’s state tournament.
Casey Leer returns for his senior season as a two-time sectional qualifier and sophomore Josh Frye looks to improve on his 34-10 record from a year ago.
Incoming freshmen Cale Anderson, Kaylee Congdon, Aaron Dobbs, Brecken Fortney, Jay Lind, Case Mayberry and Kody Nelson will be called on to fill the void left by last year’s seven graduating seniors.
A fan favorite, free T-shirt Night, will come early in the season on Dec. 12 when the Blackhawks host Richland Center. Added to the VHS tournament schedule this year is the Lodi team Invitational on Jan. 6.
Anderson’s assistant coaches include Jerrod Getter, Bill Hannah, Rob Zube and Ken Manning.
With a large group of returning athletes Anderson said he believes that the G-E-T/Melrose Mindoro co-op will be a strong contender for the Coulee Conference title this year.