A shorthanded team hurt the Waupaca Comet wrestling program last season.
Despite sending Connor Avery and Brandon Palmer to state, the Comets ended up having to forfeit up to half of their Eastern Valley Conference matches.
Coach Ben Selsing believes the team has turned the corner, however.
“We have a lot of young guys, which is good to see,” he said after a recent practice. “They’re working hard together as a team, so we’ll see what happens.”
He admitted that numbers were the team’s downfall last season.
“We had seven guys consistently for varsity and it’s hard to keep the kids motivated when you say, ‘If we pin everybody, we can tie them,'” he said. “It’s hard, but I give the guys a lot of credit. All the guys that didn’t graduate came back and did a great job of getting more guys out. Our middle school and youth programs have really turned around and we have 10 or 11 freshman to show for it. It’s exciting to see. We even have some upperclassmen that haven’t really wrestled before or they have and they came back.”
Avery is back for his senior season as is Selsing’s brother, Joe, a state qualifier for Berlin who suiting up for the Comets for the first time.
Also back is Seth Deuman, a senior who missed most of last season with an injury, and senior Kelly Lind.
“All the seniors are stepping up and they’re being an example for everybody,” Selsing said. “One thing I like about our team is we have a good group of five or six core seniors. Other than that, our whole team is freshmen and sophomores. We should have good numbers and a good, solid program for the next few years. They’re hungry and they see that we possibly have a full team. They’re going after the same thing: they all want a conference title.”
Wisconsin’s high school wrestling programs are dealing with a handful of new weight classes starting this season. The 14 classes are now 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285 pounds.
Selsing doesn’t think the 10 new classes – all but 145, 152, 160 and 285 – will make a big difference.
“I kind of let things happen,” he said. “It’s up to the kids and where they want to wrestle. We do the best we can and so far, it’s working out. We should have a full lineup. If not, it should be very close. For me, the weight classes don’t change a lot. The guys are who they are and they’re going to wrestle where they’ll wrestle.”
The Comets compete in the Eastern Valley Conference, which includes perennial power Freedom.
“I think everyone’s considering Freedom the heavy favorite and Little Chute’s always very tough,” Selsing said. “We’re coming off of having seven guys last year and now have a potentially full lineup. I’m telling the guys that we’re taking it one dual meet and one match at a time. We’re not going to worry about who’s out there, who’s supposed to win conference, who’s not supposed to finish at the top. We’re going to wrestle our hearts out and see what happens.
“I don’t know if I’d say it’s a different attitude,” he added. “They’re hungry, they’re all back. It’s a different feeling in the room, like ‘Hey, we actually have a chance. We could go out there and win every dual meet.’ I’m not going to say we’re going to, but knowing that we have more than seven guys, they see that and it’s driving them. They’re hearing stories about how nobody’s supposed to touch Freedom and Little Chute and we’re supposed to be at the bottom because we only had seven kids.”
The Comets will open their season at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, with a conference dual meet in Berlin. Two days later, the team will head to Red Robin Invitational in Antigo.
“That’s where we can really test ourselves and see what we need to improve on,” Selsing said. “From then on, we have (meets on) Thursday and Saturday almost every week. I keep telling the guys that all of this is preparation for the end of the year: regionals, sectionals and state.”