Wrestling team makes history for UW-Eau Claire

    Drexler becomes first Blugold wrestling conference champion in 15 years


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    Before Fader became head coach in 2015, the wrestling team only had six athletes, Marley said, and they have come a long way since then.

    A third-year wrestler was the first Blugold to become a conference champion in the wrestling program since 2006.

    Jake Drexler, at 149 pounds, took the conference championship on Feb. 28. He led the team to a second place finish out of six on Sunday, which became the Blugolds’ highest conference placement in history.

    “Typically if you’re the best in the conference, then typically you’re one of the best in the nation, and we feel that way about Jake Drexler,” Tim Fader, UW-Eau Claire’s head wrestling coach, said. 

    In the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament in 2020, the Blugolds placed third. They were to go on to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Regional Tournament, but it was cancelled just before the start due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Fader said.

    The goal, Fader said, was to send wrestlers like Drexler to the national tournament, but he is worried if he will ever get the chance. The NCAA tournament was cancelled in 2021, making this the second year in a row without a national tournament. 

    Drexler said the Blugolds’ main contender in wrestling is UW-La Crosse who won by over 20 points in the conference. He said the team’s goal is to win the conference title next year and he “absolutely” believes in receiving a first place win.

    Before the tournament, the coaches made the point that the team had not had a conference champion in 15 years, Drexler said. He did not feel pressured by this fact, he said, and knew he was the guy many looked for to “get the wins and get the pins.”

    “I was very confident going into the tournament and felt like there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to win a conference title,” Drexler said. 

    On Sunday, other Blugolds made many placements in the WIAC tournament as well. 

    “We had 18 guys that wrestled and we had 18 placewinners,” Fader said. “It was the most in the conference and it was the most we have ever had.”

    Evan Lawrence, a fourth-year wrestler at 174 pounds, finished second and collected his third, fourth and fifth wins of the season.

    Mason Hawkins, a fourth-year wrestler at 197 pounds, placed second and finished the season with a 5-2 record. 

    Niall Schoenfelder, a first-year wrestler at 174 pounds, James Huntley, a fourth-year wrestler at 197 pounds, and Austen Hakes, a fourth-year heavy-weight wrestler, all finished third place.

    Jack Marley, a third-year wrestler at 125 pounds, also placed third in the conference — his personal best. 

    Marley said he was proud of his overall performance on Sunday and how the team finished the season, but second place in the conference left the team “hungry for more.” It is apparent that UW-La Crosse is the best in the conference, he said.

    “We want to shoot to beat them and if not us, then who?” Marley said, which was a quote from Fader.

    Marley said the team is competitive and first place is within shooting distance for the Blugolds next year.  He said the main goal for the team has been to close the gap between them and other teams by continuing to improve individually.

    “We just want to keep fighting and not let a bad situation give us an excuse to lose that progress,” Marley said.

    Marley said the season being over after a great WIAC tournament is “anticlimactic” and he had just started to get into the groove of competing again. His hopes are that next season will be mostly normal with more matches and the return of the national tournament. 

    The season is “over” in terms of competition, Fader said, but the team still has many days left for practice out of the 114-day limit for an academic year. Because competition began a month and a half late due to COVID-19 cancellations, the team will continue to practice and work on skills.

    “Usually our season would be over,” Fader said. “We are going to take advantage of these two months and keep building into our guys.”

    Plueger can be reached at [email protected]