WEST SALEM — Dalton Schams and Aaron Bahr don’t remember meeting on a wrestling mat, but they probably did.
If nothing else, wrestling mats all over the area are where they grew into what they have become in the sport. It’s where they left their sweat, their energy and probably even their sanity at times.
And while the starting point isn’t a clear memory, the steps they have taken together heading into their final postseason with the West Salem/Bangor wrestling team are.
“Not only are they working together every day, they are working against each other,” West Salem/Bangor coach Josh Brewer said. “They are trying to drive to be as good or better than the (other) person.
“It’s been interesting. They, at times, are their best teammates. And at times, they just want to tear each other apart.”
The bond has become particularly tight because they have always been the same size.
Schams (21-3) is the taller of the two, but he will wrestle at 138 pounds in Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 regional at Mauston High School. Bahr (38-4) will compete at 145.
The hours of mat time spent together have familiarized each completely with the other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Both have their eyes set on regional championships as immediate goals. Bahr has won three and Schams two, and both are three-time sectional qualifiers attempting to get there a fourth time.
Bahr has rolled through the season without skipping a beat, but Schams didn’t know if he would get this chance after injuring his elbow in January. He didn’t wrestle in the Coulee Conference meet last weekend but is ready to go, according to Brewer, after being medically cleared on Thursday.
The return gives Schams and Bahr the chance to finish out their careers and fight for what have been — to this point — elusive state championships together, just like they’ve done most things in the sport of wrestling.
The two don’t just bring skills to practices against each other, they bring elite skills to test each other.
“I think we make each other a lot better,” Bahr said the week after both finished as runner-up at the Bi-State Classic.
“I think that’s why we’re where we’re at right now and wrestling so well.”
Bahr, the program’s career leader in wins, continued his path after that Bi-State performance — he finished fourth, sixth, third and second in his four appearances at the prestigious meet — while Schams — his Bi-State finishes were fourth, sixth, fifth and second — had to take time and recover from his injury.
“Dalton has been dominant just like he was before the injury,” Brewer said of the return. “He went into rehab with the same work ethic and determination he has for wrestling.”
That determination has kept both pushing through practices with the high school team, as well as competition through La Crosse Area Wrestlers and regional and national meets in the offseason.
They have traveled from location to location with LAW, which now has a facility on Hwy 33 near St. Joseph Ridge.
“We’d go to a church and wrestle or sometimes to a school,” Schams said of their early days with LAW. “But recently my dad and a a couple of friends built this wrestling center in a barn, so that’s where LAW is right now, and we go up there every weekends, Sundays, to wrestle there.”
Spending so much time on the practice mat together has made Bahr and Schams one with each other’s tendencies during matches. They probably know what’s coming when watching each other compete as they do while competing themselves.
They also know how to get on each other’s nerves while practicing together.
“Whenever we do drills, even a light drill, he goes hard, really hard,” Schams said. “I don’t know why. When I want to take a break, I want to take a break, but he keeps pushing me.”
Bahr, who broke his brother Devin’s record for career victories in the program, said Schams makes him work extra hard at certain aspects, too.
“When he’s on bottom, he’s so good at staying nice and compact,” Bahr said. “I can’t get in on anything, and it makes me mad.”
But they will gladly use what they have learned from each other to make their final runs at the WIAA state tournament.
“They, at times, are their best teammates. And at times, they just want to tear each other apart.” Josh Brewers, West Salem/Bangor coach