A new reason to wrestle

Story by Anna Soldner

This Friday, the UW-Eau Claire men’s wrestling team will travel to Green Bay to compete in their first season dual against UW-Whitewater.

Missing from the roster is Ricky Gonzales, a senior and varsity captain who died in an accidental drowning in the Chippewa River on Sept. 2.

The news of Gonzales’ death struck his teammates with waves of shock and grief, casting a solemn shadow over the entire Blugold wrestling community during the first few weeks of school.

However,friend and teammate junior Josh Baier believes that in many ways, the tragedy bonded the teammates, creating a more unified and dynamic support system.

“We’re definitely really upbeat about the season,” he said. “Everybody’s really pumped; the morale’s higher than it’s ever been.”

With four returning seniors and several promising freshmen, the 22 member squad boasts a newfound confidence and breadth of experience.

“This is without a doubt the strongest team we’ve had in the last three years,” Coach Russ Peloquin said. “It’s going to be exciting to see how we do.”

Senior Brian Reier explained that the upperclassmen majority has contributed to an unwavering team camaraderie.

“We all get along pretty well just because a lot of us have been together for three or four years now,” Reier said. “We’re a pretty close team.”

Reir, who was to be Ricky’s roommate, is saddened to start the season without his beloved friend, but looks to Ricky’s great sense of humor and character for inspiration and motivation.

“Ricky was that guy on the team who never said a word when we were in the wrestling room — he said it with his actions,” Reier said. “He was one of the hardest workers on the team, but then he was also one of the most light-hearted guys on the team —  one of the funniest
guys on the team.”

As a team, the Blugolds have agreed to devote the entire season to Ricky, honoring him with a dedication wall in the wrestling room and performing according to a certain “Ricky Philosophy”.

“He never gassed; he was always just pushing, pushing, pushing,” Baier said. “He never gave up. So when you’re in that third period in overtime and you just don’t think you have anything left, think to yourself: what would Ricky do?”

Although Whitewater —who’s typically nationally ranked each year ­— will prove to be a tough opponent, Coach Peloquin has confidence in his athletes and hopes they channel Ricky’s spirit for strength and inspiration.

“Whether they know it or not, when they’re thinking about Ricky their emotions go up and then the intensity of their wrestling also increases,” Peloquin said. “Those emotions can be funneled into really positive energy.”