SPASH Wrestlers Near Focus on Hudson
By Ken McKenzie
On the surface the thought of a bus ride to Menomonie High School on a Tuesday afternoon in February doesn’t sound like a grand reward for months of hard physical work.
But the SPASH Panthers have hours of collective blood, sweat and perhaps even a few tears invested in the opportunity of earning the bus ticket to the WIAA team sectionals this week.
“We’ve battled through a lot this year,” said Coach Duane Groshek. “It’s been a season with injuries, some untimely sickness and unscheduled setbacks. We’ve known all along we’ve had great potential and lately we’ve started to turn the corner in filling in the spots. The varsity reserves have stepped in on a number of occasions, when needed. ‘Next man up’, they always say.”
“Now this team has made some history in doing something that’s never been done here before in our program. All year our mantra has always been ‘no regrets’.”
When asked of what changes in practice and planning for this quick turn-around week, Coach Groshek credited the help from other conference coaches in the WVC ‘fraternity’. “These teams have been there before,” said Groshek, “We got advice from other coaches throughout the day (Saturday) as things progressed. We all love to see Valley teams do well in other competition and downstate.”
The WVC teams beat on each other throughout the dual season and pay close attention to how each team competes against everyone else in the various challenges and invitational events held during the season. Far too often the Panthers have had to live in the shadow of the Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln program and their storied wrestling tradition that boasts 21 state championships and 42 individual state champions. The shift of school enrollment among schools across the state has resulted in SPASH being assigned along with most other WVC schools the past three years, instead of joining Rapids in assignment over to the Fox Valley area regional.
After looking upward at top performances by Wausau West and then Merrill in the past two year’s regional gatherings, SPASH stepped up to Saturday’s opportunity, despite not having healthy and available competitors at 132# and 285# weight classes.
Collectively, the Wisconsin Valley Conference wrestling teams did well on Saturday, advancing some 54 wrestlers Saturday on to sectional hosted competition at either Eau Claire North or Green Bay West/Southwest. Rapids advanced 13 wrestlers with five champions, six second places and two thirds at Neenah Saturday to parallel the success of everyone else who competed at Marshfield. The Red Raiders travel Tuesday to Pulaski to take on Bayport in sectional team competition.
The team dual Tuesday night at Menomonie matches a veteran Hudson team with a more youthful SPASH team who will do what it can to adjust competitors in the weight classes to fill out a competitive card. Each team has a returning state qualifier and a mix of state ranked and honorable mention athletes.
What happens on the mat will help shape the next chapter of SPASH wrestling history. And, if the Panthers rally around each of their team brothers and enjoin a complete team effort; they’ll find a way to advance past Hudson and make Tuesday night’s bus ride home a joyous short one.