The Spartan wrestling program has been on an incredible run of team and individual success over the last five years and that run is poised to continue. However, to achieve more of the same, they will have to deal with a lot of the old. Sparta is back in division one for the first time since the 2008-09 season. That doesn’t change much at the conference level. Sparta will again be among the favorites to win the MVC and will be going for their third MVC championship in a row, which is something that has never been done by any Spartan wrestling team.
The primary changes will come at the regional and sectional levels. Instead of the top two advancing at regionals, the top four will advance. However, at sectionals, only the top two will make it to state. In division two and three, it was the top three.
A lot of the same with some new. Gone is the Northern Badger Classic. In its place is a familiar tournament–the Bi-State Classic. The varsity swaps a dual with Weston/Ithaca with the sixth-ranked team in division three in Fennimore. Weston/Ithaca isn’t gone completely from the schedule as the varsity reserve will go on the road for a dual at Weston. Sparta is also swapping the Chula Vista Duals for the Northern Badger Classic, which will feature some tough teams including Freedom, Wisconsin Rapids, Luxemburg-Casco, Two Rivers, Bayport, Pewaukee and Oconto Falls. A lot of consistently solid teams there. Let’s look at what 2015-16 has in store for the varsity…
- December 1st – The varsity kicks things off with what might be their toughest dual of the season–6th ranked Fennimore. A division three school, Fennimore boasts five ranked wrestlers in Riley Blair (3rd D3 at 106), Riley Lull (3rd D3 at 113), Alston Nutter (1st D3 at 120), Justin Tollefson (6th D3 at 126) and Deven O’Brien (4th D3 at 285). Fennimore was one of four division three teams to advance to team state last year and lost their first match to Coleman.
- December 5th – Varsity at Ellsworth Invitational. A stacked tournament, Sparta finished fifth here a year ago. Spring Valley/Elmwood won the team title followed by Ellsworth in second, Boyceville in third, Lake City in fourth and Sparta in fifth. Spring Valley/Elmwood won the division three state team title last year while Ellsworth was runner-up in division two. While Sparta finished fifth, they were only 45 points back of first place and 20 points back from second place. And they did that with only nine guys competing. A full team could make all the difference in this tournament.
- December 12th – Varsity at Battle on the Bay tournament. New tournament here. Hosted by Bayport, this tournament was won in 2014 by Freedom followed by Wisconsin Rapids, Luxemburg-Casco, Two Rivers, Bayport, Pewaukee and Oconto Falls. Some heavy hitters from divisions two and three at this tournament.
- December 17th – At home against Onalaska. Sparta will look to improve to 30-0 all-time against the Hilltoppers.
- December 19th – Badger State. Spartans will look to improve upon a 5th place team finish in 2014. Matchups against Stoughton will be of particular importance as they could be a matchup for the Spartans down the road should they qualify for the state team tournament. Last year, Stoughton won their tournament with 287 points with the Spartans 89.5 points back in 5th place with 197.5.
- December 29th and 30th – Bi-State Classic. The Spartans return to the Bi-State Classic for the first time in a long time. The two-day tournament will feature many top teams from around the state including the following ranked teams: Hudson (2nd D1), Burlington (6th D1), Pulaski (13th D1), Ellsworth (1st D2), Lodi (2nd D2), Luxemburg-Casco (5th D2), River Valley (13th D2), Cashton (2nd D3), Stratford (3rd D3), Riverdale (7th D3), Ithaca/Weston (14th D3) and New Lisbon (15th D3). The tournament also includes a number of ranked Minnesota teams including Eastview (10th AAA/D1), South St. Paul (HM AA/D2) and Goodhue (HM/D3).
- January 7th – at La Crosse Aquinas. The Blugolds have not defeated Sparta since a 40-30 victory during the 2004-05 season. Last year, they lost 60-18 at Sparta.
- January 9th – Varsity at Lancaster Invitational. Sparta will look to improve upon last year’s 3rd place finish. Top teams awaiting the Spartans at this year’s invite include Fennimore, Riverdale and Iowa’s Dubuque Walhert (9th AA/D2).
- January 14th – at Holmen. Sparta will look to win their third straight against Holmen in what might be the dual to decide the MVC. Not counting out Tomah, but Holmen should be the strongest of the other six MVC schools the Spartans will wrestle this year.
- January 16th – Varsity at Stevens Point Tournament. Scramble style tournament. Wrestlers will compete against each other in a round-robin format and results will be compiled into dual scores. Last year, the Spartans finished in 3rd place going 4-1 with their only loss coming against Stevens Point on a day when Sparta only sent nine wrestlers, but went 38-7 in matches wrestled. This year should be different.
- January 21st – at home against La Crosse Central. The Spartans have not lost to Central since the 2004-05 season. This year should be 11 in a row.
- January 23rd – Sparta Invitational. The Spartans have won three of the past four Sparta Invite tournaments after going 14 straight tournaments without winning it once. The Spartans should have a great shot at making it four out of five. Top challengers to Sparta will be Holmen, DeForest, Neillsville/Greenwood/Loyal and Spring Valley.
- January 28th – at Tomah. Need I say anything more? Rivalry week. The rivalry has been one-sided lately with the Spartans winning the last six matchups after the Timberwolves won five in a row. If the Spartans make it seven in a row, they will match the most consecutive wins in a row against Tomah since Sparta won seven in a row from 1992-93 through 1997-98. Last year, the Spartans won 53-15, which was the most points they have scored against Tomah since 53 back in 1995-96.
- February 4th – At home against La Crosse Logan. Sparta will look to continue its dominance of La Crosse schools as they seek their ninth straight win over the Rangers. Last year, Sparta dominated with a 65-6 victory.
- February 13th – WIAA Regional at Tomah. The top four advance and the top team will compete three days later in Baraboo at team sectionals.
- February 16th – WIAA Team Sectional at Baraboo. If the Spartans win the regional team title, they will likely face Sauk Prairie who enters the season ranked 9th in division one. Sparta is ranked 12th. Last year, Sauk Prairie fell 36-30 to Stoughton in their opening dual at team state.
- February 20th – WIAA Sectional at Waunakee. Top two advance to the state individual tournament.
- February 25, 26, 27 – WIAA State Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison. Can the Spartans get eight wrestlers back to the state tournament? The road to state in division one will be tougher, but Sparta certainly has the talent to do so. The most wrestlers Sparta has ever sent to the division one state tournament is five, which was accomplished multiple times.
Mike Roddick is still the head coach, but Jared Rickert will take on the title of co-head coach for the 2015-16 season. Roddick has been involved with the Spartan wrestling program since flat top haircuts were a thing or the early 1990s if you want to get specific. He was a long-time assistant under Mike Montgomery before heading over to the middle school as the head coach. Rickert is a 2007 graduate of Sparta, finished his career as the all-time wins leader with 153 wins (since surpassed by John Roddick, Matt Tourdot and Brock Polhamus) and was a three-time state qualifier finishing third his senior year at 140 pounds.
Sparta loses state qualifiers Corey Zimmerman, John Roddick and Brock Polhamus. Roddick is the program’s all-time wins leader, Polhamus finished 3rd all-time on the wins list and Zimmerman finished 19-6 after moving up to varsity in the second half of last season. Most teams would take a serious hit after losing quality wrestlers like that, but the Spartans might be even stronger this year.
They return five state qualifiers in Christian Lamon, Jaden Winchel, Brett VonRuden, Hayden Krein and Logan Van Tassel and pick up freshman Jon Bailey who Wisconsin Wrestling Online pegged as the 2nd best pound-for-pound freshman in the state. Soon after those rankings came out, Bailey defeated the top ranked freshman. Winchel comes in as the 6th-best junior while Krein is ranked the 9th best sophomore. In other words, there is talent. And those names don’t even include other freshman who will become immediate contributors along with a team full of guys capable of winning 20-30+ matches who did not qualify for state last year. Case in point? Ryan Wisniewski. Didn’t qualify for state, but is ranked 14th in D1 at 160 pounds.