March 5 Vikings Emerge From the Shadows

 

The Wisconsin Lutheran Vikings wrestling team was the best kept secret in Southeastern Wisconsin this year.

Of course, by now the word is out on the Vikings as they prepare for the WIAA team state tournament, schedule to be held Friday and Saturday at the UW Fieldhouse in Madison.

Lutheran (18-1) is to face defending state champion Ellsworth (17-4) in the Division 2 semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday. The tournament begins with Division 1 quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Division 1 semifinals are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Midway through the season, Vikings coach Darrell Roecker, now in his 11th year, was wondering if the team would ever receive a ranking. They had finished highly at two prestigious tournaments – 3rd at the Badger State Invitational and 3rd at the Oshkosh on the Water – yet recognition was slow to come to the team.

Lutheran rose to as high as No. 6 in the area rankings and No. 5 in the Division 2 state poll by wiwrestling.com late in the year. But in yet another slight, the poll of the four teams that qualified for the state team tournament, Lutheran came in at No. 4 behind Sparta, which jumped from No. 8 to No. 3 heading into the tournament.

“On Monday, we had a team meeting,” said Roecker. “I said, ‘You guys aren’t getting any respect. We have a lot of kids who feel that way. These guys are going to come in with chips on their shoulders and be ready to get after it. We’ve had a really nice week of practice.”

The Vikings will need a nasty disposition, winning attitude and a deep desire to topple Ellsworth, a team that has lost only once this year to a Wisconsin team, has qualified for the state tournament 10 straight years and 14 times overall and has won six state titles.

It’s definitely the new kids on a historic run this year against a Division 2 dynasty.

“There’s no way we can match (Ellsworth’s) state dual experience,” said Roecker. “But we have kids who have battled all year long and have battled to reach their goals. I think they will battle Ellsworth as best that they can. Ellsworth is a very good dual meet team.”

The Vikings have battled all year despite not having a 120-pounder on the roster. That’s the way it will be – short-handed – against Ellsworth.

“We’ve done it all year,” said Roecker. “We haven’t had a 120-pounder since the second week of the season. We aren’t afraid to move some people around. Our kids are very hungry. They set a goal to get to team state and they did it. I’m definitely extremely excited. This is a special and awesome thing.”

Lutheran’s run this year is noteworthy. Despite a late-season 39-33 loss to Wisconsin Little Ten Conference rival Hartford, the Vikings have been solid this year.

They tied for the WLT conference dual title with Oconomowoc with a 6-1 record. That’s the first conference dual meet title in Lutheran history. The Vikings won the league tournament title for the second time, adding to the title they won in 2007.

Lutheran became the first private school to qualify for the state team tournament since it began in 1992. Lutheran also became the third team from Milwaukee – Milwaukee Custer (2003) and Milwaukee Pulaski (1998 and 1999) – to qualify for the state team tournament.

Lutheran scored the most points of any area team at the individual tournament as it sent seven wrestlers to Madison and had four wrestlers place in the top three. The Vikings top four are senior Tepra Wright (44-2, 2nd at 126) and juniors Tyler Roecker (47-6, 3rd at 106), Bryce Roberts (47-5, 3rd at 220) and Quinton Reid (51-2, 3rd at 285). Wright as a 120 state champion – the first WIAA state champion from the school – a year ago who lost, 4-2, in the 126 final this year to three-time state champion Hunter Marko of Amery.

They lead a talented and athletic group.

“This is a nice blend of athletes that we have,” said Roecker. “They caught onto the sport of wrestling, and they really love it. They are deserving of this. They work extremely hard. They got down to the state team tournament, and I’m really proud of them for buying into what the coaching staff said this year.”