Wrestling takes on top teams in nation

Story by Katie Hoffman

The UW-Eau Claire wrestling team competed in their  largest event of the regular season last weekend at the Pete Willson-Wheaton Invite.

The meet, hosted by Wheaton College (Ill.), was the Blugold’s chance to test themselves against 30 of the strongest teams from the region.

With only six wrestlers competing, coach Russel Peloquin said the team gave a tremendous effort.

“I think they performed well,” Peloquin said. “They wrestled against a lot of kids who are scholarship athletes and some of the best wrestlers in the nation.”

Sophomore Mat Rieckhoff and junior Tyler Kennedy both advanced past the first round, each earning 5.5 points for the Blugolds. Rieckhoff competed in the 184-pound weight class, and Kennedy wrestled at 174 pounds.

Overall, the team totaled 17.5 points, tying with Milwaukee School of Engineering for 24th place.

Kennedy said having a smaller team of guys allowed them to have a coach at each match, making it much easier to handle the large tournament.

“It was overwhelming going in with just six guys, but then it was nice because we were able to communicate effectively … and cheer each other on,” Kennedy said.

The team’s goal was to have two wrestlers make it to the second day of competition, but Rieckhoff said they didn’t go into the invite with the expectation of winning

“We had an attitude that we’d go into every match and wrestle our hardest, making sure we did the best we could individually,” Rieckhoff said.

In his first match, Kennedy pinned his opponent in fewer than five minutes but then lost in the second round.

“I’m actually happy with the pin,” Kennedy said. “If you get that then you get more time to recover, more time to rest before you get back out there to wrestle.”

Peloquin said Kennedy looked good against his opponent, especially on the mat.

“Tyler wrestled well,” Peloquin said. “The last match he lost because he wasn’t doing really good when they were on their feet. But down on the mat, Tyler was dominating the kid.”

Coming off an illness prior to the invite, Rieckhoff said he had to regroup and focus after losing his first match to an opponent he already beat earlier in the season.

“I came out strong the next match,” Rieckhoff said. “I had a pretty quick pin and my next two matches were really solid. In my fifth match, I just got out-wrestled.”

Peloquin said Rieckhoff’s sickness definitely hurt the team. He said if athletes aren’t 100 percent healthy, they will have a hard time beating anybody.

“Mat wrestled hard in every match; he’s having a great year,” Peloquin said. “He just has no control over getting sick, and that screwed up his system.”

Also tallying points for the Blugolds were senior heavyweight Joe Pitsch, who brought in four points, and freshman Brandon Stradel, who added 2.5 points in the 157-pound bracket.

Looking forward to future meets, Rieckhoff said his main concern is staying focused and wrestling to the best of his abilities.

“I think its always important to just make sure I focus on my match and make sure I’m setting the pace rather than my opponent controlling me.”