By Tim Petermann
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) - For the first time in school history, the Blugold wrestling program has had back-to-back winning records in dual meets at 9-5 in 2016-17 and 11-6 in 2017-18. In the three years that Tim Fader has been head coach, the Blugolds have produced a 26-21 record compared to a 16-96 mark in the previous six seasons. As a veteran of 19 seasons in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Fader's ultimate goal for the Blugolds would be to crack the top three in the conference and the top 10 at the NCAA Division III National Championships. The Blugolds have never finished higher than third in the league and 15th at the nationals. "I'd like to have that expectation every year, that UW-Eau Claire is consistently one of the top programs in the country," explained Fader.
Fader believes his team will be improved this season but the record and conference or national places might not reflect that. "This league is extremely competitive and only getting better. It's one of the top wrestling conferences in the country." He sees more parity in the conference from top to bottom, making upward movement difficult. Since 1989, only UW-La Crosse, UW-Whitewater and UW-Stevens Point have won a league title with La Crosse claiming 17, Whitewater eight and Stevens Point five. Fader was at the helm for nine of those titles, six as the head man at La Crosse and three as the head coach at Whitewater.
His recruiting efforts at Eau Claire resulted in 40-plus wrestlers reporting for the first meeting this fall and he points out his recruiting classes are getting better. He expects to have a final roster in the range of 35 to 40. Last year, the Blugolds qualified three wrestlers for the NCAA National Championships, the most in school history. The growth in the program has also been evidenced in the size of the coaching staff with a fulltime head coach plus five paid assistants and two volunteer coaches. There has been a significant effort in fundraising that has helped in many areas. There is a large, very active wrestling booster club, called the Pin Pool, that has developed the past three years. In addition, UWEC has started summer camps and several wrestling tournaments and events that have helped the sport expand.
Due to the efforts of the Pin Pool, Fader has been able to expand his staff this year. In addition to Elroy Perkin and John Peterson, who have been with Fader since he became head coach in 2015, he returns Jose Quintana and Russ Peloquin for a third year. He has picked up Justin Karkula, a former Blugold national qualifier in 2015, and Eric Hensel, a two-time All-American at Augsburg College. Both of them work in the Chippewa Valley. Former Blugold wrestlers Cecil Philson and Tyler Vogt will assist the program as they finish their undergraduate work. Juliette Larsen will serve as the Director of Wrestling Operations.
Peterson is a former Olympic gold medalist and silver medalist, who won conference championships while competing for UW-Stout. The WIAC Wrestler of the Meet is named after him. Perkin wrestled for Fader at Whitewater where he was a 4-year starter, 2-year captain, a conference champion, three-time national qualifier and two-time All-American. Perkin and Peterson were the most recent recipients of UWEC's Joe Merten Coaching Award presented to an outstanding assistant coach in the Blugold program in 2017 and 2018. Peloquin was the WIAC Wrestler of the Year in 1999 while competing for UW-La Crosse and was a two-time All American. He also had a two-year stint as the Blugold head coach. Quintana, who competed at UW-Oshkosh, is the university's multi-cultural student recruiter and has worked at USA Wrestling in Colorado Springs.
Fader has beefed up the schedule which will make it a challenge to improve on last year's 11-6 dual meet record. The dual meet schedule includes six teams that finished in the top 30 at the NCAA National Championships. They include Augsburg (2nd), La Crosse (7th), Whitewater (9th), Platteville (21st), Stevens Point (23rd) and Oshkosh (29th).
The Blugolds have been invited to the NWCA Multi Divisional National Duals at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. The meet will feature 88 teams from NCAA D2, NCAA D3, NAIA, NJCAA and women's collegiate divisions. All teams participate by invitation only, making for some top-notch competition.
In addition, the Blugolds will make repeat appearances in the Auggie Open hosted by Augsburg; the Budd Whitehill Duals hosted by Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; and the Pete Willson Invitational hosted by Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The Blugolds will also send teams to the Yellow Jacket Open hosted by Rochester Tech in Rochester, Minnesota; the Concordia Open in Mequon; the MSOE Invitational in Milwaukee and the Nebraska Wesleyan Duals in Lincoln, Nebraska.
By breaking up his team at times, Fader is hopeful of getting 20 matches for each squad member. The schedule also provides a look at everyone in the Upper Midwest Regional and many of the top wrestling schools across the country.
In addition, the Blugolds will host the NCAA Regional meet on Feb. 22-23.
Seth Vosters (Jr.-Freedom) is the top returning individual as a Scholar All American and qualifier for the NCAA National Championships. He finished with a 19-11 record at 165/157 pounds, but Fader says he has improved from last year and will likely compete at 157 pounds. "As great of a year that Seth had last year, I think he is ready to change levels. He has been impressive this fall," praised Fader. Cody Vogel (Jr.-Elkhorn) was fourth in the Regional in 2017 and was a part-time starter last year at 133. Evan Lawrence (So.-Hugo, MN) registered 32 victories as a freshman with 19 by fall. Fader said he will be fun for the fans to watch. "He is dangerous if he gets you on your back. He will finish you," stated Fader. Another wrestler that Fader sees as much improved is Hunter Pierce (So.-Tomah) who earned 21 wins at 141 pounds last season. David Dudych (So.-West Dundee, IL), who will compete at 149 pounds, took over the starting position last year and ended up with 21 victories. Grant Balconi (So.-Muskego) will wrestle at 184 pounds, returning from a medical redshirt last season.
Chase Schmidt (So.-Rice Lake) has "made a lot of gains through his hard work," said Fader who added they he should be very solid at 165 pounds after picking up 33 wins last year and placing sixth at Regionals. Toby Mosley (Sr.-Sparta), who was a WIAC runner-up in 2017, will compete at 165/174. Another 2017 WIAC place finisher, Connor Hanson (Sr.-Fillmore Central, MN), could have a strong impact at 157 or 165. Another 2017 WIAC place finisher who returns is Jake Olson (So.-Cambridge, MN/Isanti) at 184. James Huntley (So.-Stillwater, MN) will move up to 197 this season after placing at the WIAC championships at 184 in 2018. The Blugolds have a strong returning group of heavyweight competitors with Tyler Burt (So.-Beloit Turner) being at the head of the pack. Tyler was a fourth-place finisher in the WIAC in 2018. "Tyler put on some very good weight in the summer and has improved his skills," said Fader.
New faces that could have an impact
Jordan Blanchard (Fr.-Coleman) was a three-time Wisconsin state placewinner who Fader thinks "could have a great career here" at 174 or 184.
Fader sees three scrappy kids providing exciting competition at 125. The true freshmen are Thomas Severson, a state runner-up from D. C. Everest; Erik Gerovac, a state qualifier from Ashland; and Jake Marley, a state qualifier from Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau.
Ryan Hannah was a state champion at Viroqua and will wrestle at 149. Jack Fogarty (Fr.-Scott West, MN) will challenge for 133 as will Tanner Deist, a state runner-up at Wild Rose. Jake Drexler, (Fr.-Stratford) was a Greco All-American in the 2018 Fargo Marines Cadet & Junior National Championships and another three-time Wisconsin state placewinner who will wrestle at 141/149. Austin Hakes (So.-River Falls) missed last season but will be a heavyweight candidate. UW-Whitewater transfer Adam Lucast (So.-Lakeville, MN/South) and Grand View University, IA transfer Travis White (So.-Northfield, MN) come to Eau Claire with college wrestling experience.