Whitnall High School's wrestlers weren't expected to win their season opener at Pewaukee Wednesday night, and they didn't. But the team and its coaches found plenty to build on in the 41-19 loss to the defending Woodland Conference champions.
Pewaukee's win was its 45th league victory without a loss since joining the Woodland Conference. The Pirates have won the last six conference championships, are ranked eighth statewide in Division II, and are currently considered seventh best among all southeastern Wisconsin teams. In their last two meetings, Whitnall was on the short end of 58-7 and 58-8 scores.
The young Falcons weren't exactly overwhelmed by the odds, as sophomores scored all 19 of the team's points.
Blake Leslie (126 pounds) opened his season with a first-period pin. Anthony Senthavisouk (103) was trailing 4-3 before pinning his opponent in the second period. Heavyweight Ethan Harycki added four team points with a 9-0 major decision. And Ryan Olson (152) overcame a 4-0 deficit to notch a 5-4 win in his first conference varsity match.
Olson's effort was one of several that encouraged the Falcons' coaching staff. "We were definitely very happy with Ryan," said John Quinlan, who shares head coaching duties with Craig Austin. "The way he came back showed what kind of shape he is in."
"Overall, we did a pretty good job," Quinlan said, noting that three other matches were close: sophomore Kevin Seyedin, junior Mike Langenohl and senior Zach Price each lost two-point decisions.
Zach Barnhart, Juan Guzman, Dylan Kellner, Mark Burakoski, Nick Monte, Devin Casso and Fred Stewart rounded out Whitnall's starting lineup.
While Pewaukee had only one senior in its lineup, Quinlan noted each member of the host squad had wrestled in at least 15 varsity matches, a situation that will be repeated in upcoming contests. "Our freshmen and sophomores are going to get thrown right into the fire," he said. "Whatever success we might have is going to depend a lot on how fast they grow up."
They'll be tested again Saturday when the team travels to East Troy to face a tournament field that includes highly regarded West Allis Central and Harvard, IL.
"After this week we'll know where we are and where we can stand," said Quinlan. "We'll be competing against some of the area's top-ranked teams. We faced one of them tonight, and it really didn't turn out too bad."
PinPoints: In addition to losing seven of last year's starters to graduation, the Falcons also lost Troy McGee, a frequent starter last year who transferred to a Racine high school.
- Fred Stewart, the Falcon who was pinned at 182 pounds, can clearly cite inexperience as a factor: Stewart was a candidate for the Whitnall basketball team until two weeks ago. When that didn't work out, he was convinced to try wrestling. Lineup changes found him wearing the varsity singlet Wednesday night.
- At Saturday's tourney, Falcon wrestlers will meet one of their mentors: Veteran Whitnall assistant coach Mike Howard, who had previously coached at East Troy, has returned to that school where he is now head coach.
- Wrestling teams combining two schools aren't new to the Woodland Conference--New Berlin and Wauwatosa both combine athletes from their districts' respective high schools. This year, though, there is a three-team co-op as Cudahy, St. Francis and Pius XI high schools join forces for a single team effort.