Leading by example

Wrestling trio looks to qualify for nationals and turn program around

Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

Luke Ortscheid is laid back and always cracking jokes to keep his teammates loose. Ryan Seidler is quiet, serious and wrestles in a finesse, grind it out kind of way. Nathaniel Behnke is “silent but violent” because of his tenacity on the mat.

These three members of the UW-Eau Claire wrestling team all bring different styles to the Blugolds. But the trio shares one common characteristic: dependability.

With only 13 grapplers on first-year head coach Steve Wozniak’s roster, Eau Claire often has to settle for forfeits, giving the Blugolds a win-loss record that doesn’t exactly catch a person’s eye.

But Ortscheid, Seidler and Behnke, fresh off perfect days at the WIAC conference meet two weeks ago, have been rocks in the Blugold lineup and have been the focal points in a program the three said is on the upswing.

“We all push each other in practice to work hard,” Behnke said. “The freshmen are wrestling right now just to win a few matches and learn, but the ultimate goal is for the three of us to go to nationals.  We see that we can do this.”

Wozniak said he knows he can rely on those three to set the tone for the rest of the squad at every tournament or dual meet the Blugolds go to.

“It’s exciting to see those guys come up there and consistently perform and perform at their levels,” Wozniak said.

But before the team even gets to the meet, the three of them pave the way for the rest of the squad in practice.

Ortscheid is vocal, getting guys in place and making sure everyone is doing things correctly. Seidler and Behnke are the first ones to complete the sprints and drills. No matter their styles, they have the same purpose; to make the team better.

“In the room, I think everybody pushes one another,” Ortscheid said. “We just try and tighten up the screws on each other’s weaknesses and get in that right mindset.”

At the meets, the Blugolds are always put at a 12-0 disadvantage because they don’t have anybody on the roster who wrestles at 125 and 133. Behnke and Seidler are the ones who have the task of jump-starting the team’s momentum.

And with Behnke sitting at a 33-9 record and Seidler at 27-6, the two have set the pace with wins more often than not, something Ortscheid, sporting a 25-15 record, and the rest of the team build off.

“We come out swinging there,” Ortscheid said. “It does provide a nice momentum and it sets a nice tone. The team feeds off that energy.”

While the three are very much team-oriented and take their leadership roles seriously, individual goals and the dreams of holding an All-American plaque at nationals constantly consumes them.

Behnke is no stranger to championship wrestling. The sophomore from Bruce won a state title in high school and turned in one of the finest freshman seasons in Blugold history a year ago as he took home All-American honors with a sixth-place nationals finish.

He said after starting out the year hot, he ran into some stepbacks, but he’s wrestling well again and will use last year’s experience to guide him through this year’s championship run. This begins Saturday at the regional meet in Rock Island, Ill.

“Last year, I just went out there and had nothing to lose,” Behnke said. “I beat kids I never thought I would beat, and I think that’s the mindset I’ve got to come with this weekend. I’m just going to wrestle tough and leave it all out there.”

Even though Seidler is a senior, this is his first year as Behnke’s teammate. He took the year off in 2012-2013 to focus on school work and heal a lower back injury.

But the Adams-Friendship graduate returned this season and boasted his best season to date and is looking to qualify for his first ever NCAA tournament. And he didn’t just return to say he did, he has a clear vision with his sights set high.

“I knew I’d be back,” Seidler said. “Now I’m just going out there and wrestle each match like it’s my last, and I hope to walk away winning the whole regional tournament.”

Entering the season, one might have looked at Ortscheid’s 2012-2013 record and thought you’d be crazy for suggesting he’d be on the verge of qualifying for nationals.

But after recording a losing record last year, the senior dropped from 197 to 184 in order to wrestle people with more of his own build, something that’s paid dividends.

He also said he came in more focused in the offseason to put himself in a position to complete the turnaround and qualify for college wrestling’s biggest stage, Saturday.

“This summer, I revamped my mindset,” Ortscheid said. “ I focused on some things to get my mental focus right. Trying to always stay positive and not letting a previous match affect your loss, I’ve used each match now as a springboard to the next match in a positive way.”

The regional meet is Saturday morning at Augustana College. Nationals is the weekend after in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

No matter where the season ends for either Behnke, Seidler or Ortscheid, Wozniak said the influence these three have had on the program can be built on for years to come, and he hopes other wrestlers in the program will hop onboard.

“We’ve continually grown, and hopefully we can keep that snowball going,” Wozniak said.