Prairie wrestlers earn first regional title as hard work pays off for team

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The first-ever regional championship Prairie du Chien wrestling team was crowned Saturday afternoon during the very first regional meet hosted by the school. The Hawks scored 249.5 points in first place, which was well above second-place River Valley with 191. Pictured (front row, from left) are Jackson DeBruin, Matt Rogge, Reid Koenig, Bradyn Saint, Traeton Saint, Chase Fisher; (back row) Mike Rogge, Jason Thiry, Jerrod Osterkamp, Clayton DuCharme, Isaac Avery, Luke Wright, Tyler Smock, Keenan Holley, Colten Wall, Blake Garcia, Nick Rogge, Alex Osterkamp, Jon Quamme and Stephen Ronnfeldt. (Submitted photo)

By Correne Martin

The brevity of a single wrestling season, in the grand scheme of life, is incomparable to the character built through a passionate and supportive program like that which exists in Prairie du Chien. The high school team has a 21-1 regular season record, an outright conference championship and, for the first time in the 49-year program history, a regional title. The young teenagers who represent the Blackhawks are in the midst of the grind, hoping to push their level of success to the maximum this post-season.

But, when this season and the careers of these kids come to a close, it is the character they’ve gained, the core values they will carry on into their future lives that are the MVPs (most valuable pieces) of their wrestling experience.

Ranked fourth in Wisconsin’s Division 2 for most of the year, the Prairie wrestling roster has had good numbers and health on its side. The team’s successes—including 16 straight dual wins and 11 all-conference selections—are the apparent result of a strong K-12 foundation of wrestlers, parents, volunteers, clinicians, alumni and fans that has been gaining intensity over the past 15 years.

“The program was in good standing when I showed up,” said Jason Thiry, third-year head coach, acknowledging the work of his predecessors: Clay Koenig, Mel Dow and Aaron Amundson, as well as longtime assistant coaches Mike Rogge and Alex Osterkamp, along with the volunteers down through the ranks of local youth wrestling.

“When I was in the program, it was really getting going,” noted Jon Quamme, a 2006-07 Prairie du Chien wrestler. “Thiry is so organized and focused on opportunities and those things are paying dividends.”

The program was developed from the bottom up, according to Assistant Coach Mike Rogge. “Mel Dow did a great job developing the youth program and expanding it,” he said. “Wrestling is a different sport, because when you step on the mat, no one can help you, but you have to wrestle well. Everyone matters, every single weight class matters for the team.”

“No matter how well you do, you have to shake the winner’s hand,” added Tom Nelson, who was head coach from 1992-95 and currently broadcasts the team’s meets on local radio. “For six minutes, they challenge themselves to win, but the framework of wrestling also develops lifelong values for these kids.”

“Understanding wrestling is one of those deals where you get taught real quick you’re your greatest obstacle,” Thiry articulated. “If you want to get to the end and achieve your goals, all you got to do is look in the rear view mirror and you’ll figure it out.”

The K-12 program, which boasts about 110 boys and girls, has had great parental support and, as a whole, all the kids understand the techniques and the extras it takes to be successful, Thiry said.

Monty Ames—who attends nearly every meet, has no “dog in the fight” and was named Fan of the Year this season by the team—has seen the abundance of time “some of these parents give,” including a lot of nights and weekends traveling to meets and making practices and trainings a priority for the kids.

Senior standout Nick Rogge believes the hard work of all Prairie’s wrestlers, from high school on down, and the support of the community is what makes it seem like “one big family.” “The family mentality is awesome,” he stated.

Quamme—who lives in Waterloo but regularly assists, attends meets and coaches freestyle/greco in Prairie in the spring/summer—said he is especially impressed by the commitment to the process he’s seen.

“It comes from the top down,” he explained. “This year’s varsity team is the best group of 14 that’s ever wrestled for Prairie. It’s a long season but they’ve stayed focused.”

“The three seniors (Nick Rogge, Stephen Ronnfeldt and Blake Garcia) are all 100-match winners,” Thiry pointed out, noting that there’s only been six 100-match winners in Prairie’s previous history. “They lead by example in and out of the gym.” He said all three have solid plans after high school. (Nick plans to study pre-med and Stephen and Blake will enroll in engineering programs.)

“They have a team first attitude and they’re very nurturing to our younger kids,” Coach Rogge said. “They see everyone as teammates, not as underclassmen.”

Wrestling Board President Ryan Saint, who has two sons on varsity—Traeton and Bradyn—has recognized that as well. “Not one person acts like they’re better than all the rest. The parents don’t have that dynamic either,” he commended. “They do what needs to be done without being asked and those things have played a huge part in the collective of  kids doing well.”

Nelson added, “This year’s team, they really have a sense of team identity. They relish the opportunity to wrestle every single time they go out on that mat. They have a strong sense of pride, yet they are humble.”

Most of the varsity members have been wrestling together since they were in kindergarten and first grade. That bond has afforded them the benefit of being a tight-knit group. The whole team returned from last season and, according to Coach Thiry, has seen significant growth.

“For example, last year, at Stevens Point, we placed third (in the tournament). At Merrill, we got second. At Nicolet, we placed third. This year, we won each of those tournaments,” Thiry said, noting that he made some changes to the program to make the team more familiar with the state of Wisconsin.

“They see competition at a lot of different levels and it ups the total matches we wrestle each year,” he stated.

Thiry said that extra mat time has been key to success this season. “It builds up their confidence. They feel they can compete against anyone,” he shared. “They’re mentally and physically tougher.”

Furthermore, Thiry has brought in some big names to work with Prairie’s wrestlers, including Mike Mena (four-time state champ), Topher Carton (Hawkeye wrestler), Mike Krause (“best youth instructor in the nation”) and Trevor Kittleson (Iowa state champ), among others.

“Our board is big on providing every opportunity we possibly can for our kids,” he said.

“Some of these kids put so much effort into this sport. They’re gonna get out of it what they put into it,” Ames quipped.

Prairie’s varsity wrestlers are certainly seeing triumphant results and they’re making history along the way. A Blackhawk wrestling squad has never achieved a regional championship, until now, meaning Tuesday’s sectional meet will be the school’s first appearance at that level. Also, nine individual sectional qualifiers emerged Saturday, which, according to “From the Maroons to The Hawks” Facebook page, is the most in a single season in program history. The six individual regional champions are a program record as well.

“Everyone’s been so supportive of each other, picking each other up,” Nick Rogge noted.

“These guys don’t ride the waves of emotion and, if a match isn’t going their way, they keep their goals in front of them and work hard to come out on top,” Quamme raved. “Even if they can’t win, they know when it’s important to keep from getting pinned and save points.”

Ames loves the electric energy in the gym during Prairie’s competitions. “I holler and try to coach from the stands,” he laughed. “This is a classy group of kids. They come up and thank me for attending afterward. I almost feel like they’re my kids.”

Coach Rogge agreed: “These kids are wonderful human beings. They’re bright, down-to-earth and mature. Win or lose, there’s nothing better than watching them grow as a team.”

Nelson, as well as the others, feel privileged to get to cheer for Prairie wrestling. “Southwest Wisconsin is a hotbed of great wrestling teams. Prairie du Chien has reached an upper rung of the ladder,” he said.

Overall, everyone involved is thrilled to see the Blackhawks stepping closer to their ultimate goal of getting to team state in Madison.


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