The Ellsworth Panthers wrestling team has perhaps the most storied history in western Wisconsin. The high school’s trophy case is filled with team state championships and head coach Mark Matzek wants the team to return to greatness this season.
In this winter sports preview, head coach Matzek spoke about his roster, how well balanced it is, and how the successful football season impacted the wrestling season.
“The wrestling team has a pretty balanced roster this year regarding the age,” Matzek said. “I suspect our 14-man varsity roster will have two or three freshmen, four or five sophomores, two or three juniors and six or seven seniors. The wrestlers who were a part of the football team started on Monday, Nov. 29. What excites me most about the kids on this roster is that they are hard workers and are very coachable.”
Every team has its fair share of leaders. For Ellsworth, those leaders will be the upper weights, a section of that team that is filled with juniors and seniors. The players that Matzek mentions have been wrestling for years and are the foundation of the Ellsworth wrestling program.
“The leaders on this team this year will be our upperweights,” Matzek said. “Juniors Louis Jahnke, Anthony Madsen, and seniors Ryan Matzek, Ian Matzek and Kyle Anschutz have the most varsity experience. I expect these wrestlers to show the underclassmen how to train and compete. I also have high expectations for my first three weights. I have three very good wrestlers in sophomores Landon Lampman, Logan Mueller and William Penn. These three will be important in the dual aspect of our competition. In high school wrestling, you can win and lose a lot of duals with a strong or weak lower weight lineup. There are also a number of wrestlers that I didn’t name that will be working hard to make a name for themselves this year.”
When discussing the expectations, Matzek spoke about some lofty goals for the team. He stated that the team as a whole has five goals that they would like to achieve this season. However, he stated that because of a banged-up football team, some of these goals will be slow to progress until everyone is back healthy near the end of the season.
“Expectations are high for this squad,” Matzek said. “The entire conference is more competitive, plus, the reigning team state champions are in our conference. Our team goals this year are 1.) Conference Champions. 2.) Regional Champions. 3.) Team Sectional Champions. 4.) Team State Champions. 5.) Place three to five individuals at the state tournament.”
Doing that is going to be difficult, Matzek said. One of the reasons is that all of his wrestlers essentially lost a full year of experience because of the COVID-19 protocols that were implemented last season. Matzek provided his thoughts on the protocols and put them into context for non-wrestling experts.
“Last season was detrimental to the program with the COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the WIAA,” Matzek said. “What outsiders to the sport don’t understand is that my wrestlers were able to get 7-12 matches for the entire year. That is only a quarter of what they usually would have gotten. To give readers some perspective, how would the season have gone for a basketball team if they would have only had five or six games all of last year? And this is only one aspect of last year I will point out. The coaching staff and returners are focused on what is within their control this year. It’s already a better year.”
In addition to being excited for the wrestlers that he has on his roster, Matzek also had high praise for his coaching staff. He spoke about what is perhaps the most experienced wrestling coaching staff in the state of Wisconsin.
“Rob Heller, Owen Matzek, Roarke Langer, and Jack Radabaugh are the varsity assistant coaches,” Matzek said. “Rob (Heller) has been with the program for eight years now and has been part of two state championship teams and three state runner- up teams. Jack Radabaugh has been with the program for 43 years and has been part of every state championship team and state runner-up team. Owen (Matzek) is a two-time state placer and was part of two state championship teams as well as two runner-up squads. Roarke (Langer) is a state champion for the program, state placer, and was a part of a state championship squad as well as a state runner-up squad. The varsity room has a lot of experience. The middle school program is headed by Josh Erlandson and Carson Huppert. Both men are state placers for the program and have been instrumental in the past success of the program. I believe they have been with the program now for 14 years. We have one of the most experienced and qualified coaching staffs MS-HS in the state.”
With high expectations, talented wrestlers, and perhaps the most veteran coaching staff in the state, Ellsworth is hoping to return to state championship contenders. The final aspect that Matzek spoke about was how excited he is for this season and what the future might hold for this specific roster.
“I am excited for the season,” Matzek said. “This summer, Jack (Radabaugh) and I spent a week in South Dakota with most of the team, training and working on team unity. I honestly enjoy coaching each one of these guys and I can’t wait to have real wrestling season.”
The next Ellsworth wrestling match was on Tuesday, Dec. 14. The Panthers competed in the Baldwin-Woodville quad which was slated to begin at 5 p.m.
The 2021-22 Ellsworth Panthers wrestling team. Photo by Reagan Hoverman