By Reagan Hoverman
For the Ellsworth wrestling team, the opening month and a half of the wrestling season was plagued by injuries and illness. Now, as athletes begin to get healthy and the roster fills out, the Panthers are starting to compete in larger competitions and are seeing improved results.
On Thursday, Dec. 30, the Ellsworth Panthers wrestling team traveled to Eau Claire and wrestled what was easily their best tournament of the season. The 16-team tournament featured teams from all over Wisconsin and Minnesota. According to head coach Mark Matzek, Ellsworth finished the day in second place, with the only loss coming against the 39th ranked team in the nation, Simley, Minn.
“We beat two teams in Kenyon-Wanamingo, Minn., and Rocori, Minn., that we wouldn’t have before Christmas,” Matzek said. “Several of our team members dropped a weight class which helped make our team more competitive and I forgot how productive a full week of uninterrupted practice is.” While the team had success, a few individuals stood out on the mat for Ellsworth, such as senior Ivan Veenendall, Louie Jahnke, Kehan O’Neil and Willy Penn. Veenendall went an undefeated 4-0 for the day and beat the fourthranked wrestler in Minnesota from Rocori. Jahnke also went an undefeated 4-0 for the day and, according to Matzek, continues to improve each week.
Penn was also an undefeated Panther wrestler. He finished his day 4-0 and competed in a lower weight for the first time this season. As for O’Neil, he bumped up a weight class against Rocori and beat their wrestler in a close match. Matzek spoke about the importance of O’Neil’s match.
“Kehan (O’Neil’s) win swayed the momentum in our favor in a big way,” Matzek said. “It motivated the rest of our team while at the same time taking the wind out of the sails of the opposing team.”
The success in Eau Claire was something that got Ellsworth moving in the right direction. The Panthers were hoping it would translate to the tournament on Saturday, Jan. 8, in La Crosse known as The Clash National Dual Meet Tournament. Matzek spoke about what The Clash would reveal about his team.
“We must continue to train hard and learn to become comfortable when it’s uncomfortable,” Matzek said. “We have a lot to improve on and The Clash will help us focus on what that is as well as reveal what we have been doing well.”
When that day came on Saturday morning, Ellsworth competed against some great teams from around the United States, including Texas, Illinois, Iowa and two teams from Wisconsin. Ellsworth finished the tournament with a 1-4 record overall, but Matzek says that the Panthers still had a successful tournament.
“It was a success for this team because we lost two duals each by a single match,” Matzek said. “We have members of the team that have been taking shortcuts in their training and in this sport, there are no shortcuts. We very easily could have gone 3-2 instead of 1-4, but we didn’t earn those wins through our training.”
Matzek stated that the two close losses will be used as fuel for the team to improve moving forward and that the coaching staff will work to make as many improvements as possible.
“In a high-pressure situation, you don’t rise to the occasion, rather you revert to the level of your training,” Matzek said. “The coaching staff will also put more effort in to ensure the level of training is more than adequate for this team.”
While there are still some lingering injuries, there are far fewer than there were before Christmas break began. Matzek stated that he is not ready to publicly share the status of the remaining wrestlers and their timeline to get back on the mat.
The next event on the calendar for the Ellsworth wrestling team is on Thursday, Jan. 13, on the road against Osceola. That event is set to begin at 5 p.m.