M&O ALL CONFERENCE WRESTLINGIssue Date: March 15, 2017
Blanchard Leads M&O's Top Wrestlers
Another wrestling season has come and gone, and another storybook ending has been written for the Coleman Cougars. Coleman has won its 14th straight M&O Conference title, and the dynasty continues with 12 of the M&O's 16 first-team all-conference wrestlers representing the Cougars. Not only is Coleman dominating the all-conference selections, they were also represented by the conference's most outstanding M&O wrestling, in the form of 170-pound senior, Jordan Blanchard.
Blanchard posted a 39-4 record this season came with more than just competition from his opponents. Blanchard has overcome many obstacles throughout his career, but Coach Kevin Casper knows, these obstacles just gave Blanchard more motivation.
"He is an all-around great kid that has had to work hard and different injuries and things of that sort. Some kids may have thrown in the towel whereas Jordan wouldn't let those things stop him from continuing his life-long dreams. He's a good leader and a hard worker. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis which is something you don't normally get until you're older. He's overcome that, shoulder injuries and just always worked hard," said Coach Casper.
Although he wrestled at 170 this season, including the Division 3 state meet, Blanchard wasn't always at that weight. Coach Casper described Blanchard's work ethic as second-to-none, and a reason Blanchard now wrestles at that weight.
"He jumped a lot of weights in his career, starting out at 113 as a freshman and he just kept moving up. He had to change his style of wrestling and that's not easy to do, but he did that with flying colors. He's a good all-around, hard-working kid that you love to have in your program. He is willing to help other kids, he's not all about himself, he's about the team and anywhere he can help others he will," Coach Casper explains.
Fellow Cougar senior Josh Pillath wrestled his way to first-team all-conference honors this season. The 182-pound, 6'6" Pillath is well known for his track abilities, but also displayed his wrestling ability this season en route to a 25-7 record. Coach Casper highlighted Pillath's ability to take advantage of his unique size on the mats.
"Josh is just an all-around great athlete and a good kid. A kid that is 6'6", you don't see too many of those on the wrestling mat. With his leverage and length, he was a force in wrestling and had one of the best cradles I've ever seen because of that length," Coach Casper exclaimed of his senior.
Rounding out the senior group of Cougars on the first-team was 285-pounder Donovan Salewski. After an impressive season that included a 39-6 record, Salewski earned two pins and a 4-2 decision at the Division 3 state meet to become a state champion. Coach Casper said it's Donovan's unique style of wrestling that put him above everyone else.
"I was very happy to see him become a state champion. Every kid has that dream or goal to become a state champion and Donovan, especially the last month of the season, right at the right time, started to wrestle with an attitude. From that point on, no one really came close to him because of that aggressiveness. A lot of heavyweights will sit back and be more defensive, waiting for an opportunity, but he didn't wrestle that way. He went after people and got aggressive and made things happen," said Coach Casper of Salewski.
Out of Coleman's 12 first-team all-conference selections, nine are underclassmen including eight of which are sophomores. As if area teams did not already have enough to worry about when they read Coleman on their schedule, they now face not only good wrestlers, but experienced as well.
"I feel pretty good about the future for the next couple of years with that sophomore group. We knew that coming in as freshmen, if these kids continue to progress, work hard, and keep doing the things they need to do to get better, that this could be a very special group of kids. Hopefully they all stick together, keep pushing one another, and keep working hard. As we all know, it might look good now, but if you don't do the things you need to keep bettering yourself, that could all fall by the wayside. But, with this group I don't think that will happen," said Coach Casper of his young Cougars.
Coleman's first-team all-conference sophomore group includes: Jake Baldwin, Kasey Casper, Billy Ganter, Caleb Gross, Koltin Gryzbowski, Bryce Karban, Brock Martinson, and Jacob Zeitler.
Coach Casper said of these fine young men, "That sophomore group, and you can put all of them in the same group, I would say the same thing about every one of them. They're just kids that love wrestling. They put a ton of time in the off season into it as well. Just this past weekend there was a tournament in Wisconsin Dells and I think six or seven of those sophomores were down there. They do the extras to make themselves better and are just hard working kids, that have great attitudes and love the sport."
"The ones that put in a ton of time into this sport are Karban, Gryzbowski, Gross, Baldwin, Ganter, Martinson, and Zeitler. Those kids just put in a ton of extra time, not only just lately but ever since they were little. All of those things have paid off for those kids and they're where they are because of that. All have great parents and are good kids that will do everything and anything you ask of them," added Coach Casper of that group.
An interesting storyline that Coach Casper highlighted about that sophomore group is that Caleb Gross and Koltin Gryzbowski are not only first cousins, not only are they practice partners, but can now both say they are each state champions after winning at their respective weight classes this past February.
"Those kids are good practice partners, two state champions that practice together every day to make themselves better not only during the season but also outside of the season. They're first cousins and their grandpa was a state champion at Coleman in 1964," said Coach Casper of their gold medal bloodline.
Coach Casper also added about Gross, "He is a very complete wrestler, in other words, he good at every position. He's good on his feet, he's good on top and he's good on bottom. Some kids are better in certain areas than others, where he's just good in all three facets. He's got a lot of good things going for him."
Kasey Casper, Coleman's 120-pound sophomore, is most well-known for his ability on the golf links. But, Coach Casper says, Kasey has plenty to be proud of on the mats.
"His first love is golf, but Kasey had a lot of great improvement from last year to this year. I would like to see him more aggressive, but he had a lot of improvement throughout this season and unfortunately he ended his season early because of an injury with a torn labrum," said Coach Casper.
The youngest person on first-team all-conference is Coleman's freshman 160-pound John Bieber. When wrestling at that weight, many of Bieber's opponents are upperclassmen, but Coach Casper says that just helped John grow.
"For a freshman to come in and wrestle anywhere from 150 to 160, anywhere in there, you're competing against mainly upperclassmen, but he really improved throughout the year. From start to the end of the year, he really made a lot of gains and it was nice to see him make it to sectionals." Coach Casper added, "I think we will see a lot of good things from John in the future."
The Peshtigo Bulldogs were represented on first-team all-conference as well in the form of 182-pounder, Cam Lepkowski. Although he wrestled in conference at 182 pounds, Lepkowski qualified for the WIAA's state wrestling meet at 195 pounds with a 32-12 record. Peshtigo Coach Warren Howard credits Lepkowski's will and determination.
"He was a special wrestler who started wrestling as a freshman and four years later qualified for state. He was one of those wrestlers who had a goal and did all the right things to make it happen. Our coaching staff, including Tim Howard, Al Peterson, Mack Dress, Josh Bayer and myself worked with him to improve, but the bulk of the credit goes to his supporting parents and Cam's extra work in the offseason where he traveled to Kaukauna to get extra mat time," said Coach Howard.
Beginning wrestling his freshman year, Lepkowski faced his fair share of ups and downs. In his freshman season, Lepkowski had just one win compared to 22 losses, and Coach Howard says, that's all evidence he needs to see to know Lepkowski worked hard.
"That in itself shows how much his hard work paid off. He was a great team captain and a great leader. I think one of Cam's best matches was his last second takedown at sectionals vs Wild Rose where he hit a move as time was running out," Coach Howard said.
Michael Retza, junior from the Crivitz Wolverines, also earned first-team all-conference honors. Wrestling at 145 pounds, Retza finished the season with a 20-11 record. Crivitz Coach Tim Corrigan says Retza was able to accomplish several of his goals.
"Michael did a nice job of completing his goal of winning conference, while also completing another goal of beating his Coleman opponent. By accomplishing these goals, he met another by being named to first-team all-conference," Coach Corrigan said.
After a good regular season, Retza was ready to make a push in the post season. Unfortunately, sectionals did not quite go as planned, but Coach Corrigan knows, Retza did a good job this season and looks forward to next year.
"Sectionals may not have worked out the way we thought, but Michael will work hard next year for his senior season, improve, and make a push to state. With limited numbers in practice, it can be tough to have great practices, but with those circumstances Michael had a good season," said Coach Corrigan.
Lena/STAA's Nathan Cruz earned himself a first-team all-conference nod thanks, in part, to a 3-1 conference record. Cruz finished with a 10-8 record overall and his coach, Chad Misco, says there was a certain match that truly defined his season.
"The match that sticks out for me is the Gillett/Suring match against Austin Perkins. Nathan was losing 6-2 in the third period and he ended up pinning Perkins. If he didn't win that match, he wouldn't have become all conference," Coach Misco said.
Cruz had to learn quickly on how to adapt to the wrestling of the M&O conference as he did not have as much experience under his belt. Although he is a senior, Coach Misco talked about the quick turn-around Cruz faced.
"Nathan is a senior this year, but coming into the season he really only had one year of high school wrestling. He didn't wrestle last year and only had a couple of matches his freshman year," said Coach Misco.
Gillett/Suring's sophomore Sam Lemens was also named the M&O conference's first-team.
After posting a 22-11 overall record, including 3-1 in conference, Gillett/Suring coach Brian Tesch says, it's not just natural talent that Lemens relies on.
"My favorite thing about Sam is his work ethic. He works hard, shows up to practice and gives his best, and is just a very coachable athlete. He's the type of guy to give everything he has," Coach Tesch said.
Success from anyone can spark a program, but especially a younger athlete like this sophomore. Coach Tesch looks at Lemens as a focal point of the Gillett/Suring program for years to come.
"It's nice to see a young wrestler, within a young program, have success. Sam had a very consistent, rock-solid season for us, which is something our program looks to build upon," said Coach Tesch. "The best part about Sam is that he is an outstanding person that gets along with everyone. Even Sam's teachers are always speaking highly of him, he is just an overall well-respected person. His greatest asset is that he is a leader by example for this team."
Coach Tesch talked about a one of his favorite match by Lemens, "Sam was wrestling, in I believe the third-place match, in the Oconto Falls tournament when all of a sudden the ref stopped the match. He told us that Sam forgot his mouth guard and gave him an injury timeout. Sam sprinted to the locker room, got his mouthguard and was back within one minute and two seconds. It was a one-point match before he left, and after that Sam won by two."
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