Matt Verbeten has a dilemma every year.
He and co-head coach Bill Verbeten take their charges, the Wrightstown Tigers wrestling team, to one of the toughest prep tournaments in the country, the Kaukauna Cheesehead Invitational. Eight of the top 50 teams in the country compete in this tournament, including 21 individuals that are nationally ranked in their weight class.
The dilemma the Verbetens have is that this tournament is such a grind for the Tigers. Some fans of the program feel that it is too tough of a tournament and worry about injury and burnout. The Tigers themselves aren’t too worried about it, and grappled their way to a 23-place finish in the 27-team tourney.
“This is the toughest tournament we attend by far,” Matt Verbeten said. “People ask why do we go to the Cheesehead. You go to the Cheesehead to cause you learn to battle. You learn to fight through tough matches.”
Mt. Carmel of Illinois took the team title, with Carl Sandburg (IL), Kasson-Mantorville, St. Michaels Albertville, and Apple Valley (All of Minnesota) rounding out the top five. While the weekend may not be up to par to some fans as far as top 5 finishes go, the Tigers had seven wrestlers make the top 16 in their weight classes in one of the top 5 tournaments in the country, with four in the top 12. As far as competition goes, it was a success for the program.
“Part of this tournament for some of these kids is to make the top 16,” Verbeten said. “When Evan Juntunen and Walker VandeHey makes the top 16 or Blake Pahl, who only has three or four matches at varsity, and they win their first match to get into the top 16, that is an accomplishment in itself. You might go 0-4 or 0-5 after that, but you made the top 16 at the Cheesehead. You made some team points for your team, and you wrestled the best kids in the country.”
Juntunen, VandeHey, and Pahl all finished 16th in their weight classes. The top finisher for the Tigers was Stetson Burmeister. The senior, who is currently the #2 ranked 182 pounder in Wisconsin at Division 2, earned a 6th place finish. It was his third top 15 finish at the Cheesehead, grappling to a 4th place finish last year and a 13th place finish in 2014. He earned a 19th place finish in 2013.
“When every one of your matches is a one-point match or two-point match except the semi-final against the third-ranked kid in the country (Beau Breske of Hartford, WI), which was Stetson’s weekend, THAT’S why you go to the Cheesehead,” Verbeten said. “You have got to be proud of Stetson; to place in the top eight in this tournament is a real accomplishment.”
Ben Klister and Joshua Verbeten both earned 9th place finishes for the Tigers. Klister had four pin fall victories over the course of the tournament, and two of his three losses came to wrestlers from the top two team finishers. Verbeten, who was 5-2 on the weekend, had both overtime and sudden victory triumphs in the tournament.
“Ben came through with some big pins,” Coach Verbeten said. “He wrestled well, and Josh had some exciting matches all weekend long, down to the end and into overtime.”
Bryce Herlache earned an 11th place finish, winning his last three matches of the tournament, including two major decision victories. In the place match, he defeated Adam Vosters of North Eastern Conference foe Freedom, who had defeated Herlache earlier in the tournament. A high point for Herlache going into the rest of the season is that all of his victories were against wrestlers in Wisconsin.
The Tigers return to conference action with a dual meet at Waupaca on January 14th. Wrestling starts at 6:30pm at Waupaca High School.