Loaded Cats undergoing transition at the top

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper’s Grant Brescher came off the mat to congratulations from his brother Sean after winning the sectional title in the 145-pound weight class at last year’s sectional. Another Brescher brother, Jace, takes over the Wildcat program this season after the retirement of long-time coach Rick Stenftenagel, and Jace’s first team is well-equipped with the return of six individual sectional champs from a year ago.

Herald Sports Writer

Jace Brescher feels the pressure.

He feels the burden of taking over a program that’s known just one coach for the last 34 years. A Jasper program that won a school-record 21 dual matches and its fourth straight sectional title last season.

But for Brescher, wrestling has always felt like family, and that family will all help each other as Brescher embarks on his first year as varsity coach for the 20th-ranked Wildcats.


The family motif is more than a metaphor for Brescher, though.

Jace is the older brother of senior Grant Brescher, one of the two Jasper wrestlers who return after making appearances at last season’s state finals.

Brescher (10th at 152 pounds), Nathan Schitter (16th at 126), Ruger Kerstiens (16th at 145) and Moises Valenciano (15th at 195) are all state-ranked in their weight classes to open the season and will help carry a Wildcat team that has no intentions of taking any backward steps after former longtime coach Rick Stenftenagel retired and four seniors graduated.

“I’m sure the guys might look at (the rankings),” Jace Brescher said. “But (for) a lot of them we set our goals and we want to set the action steps to reach those goals, and they’re a lot higher than those rankings.”

Jasper returns two state qualifiers in Brescher and Schitter (a three-time sectional champion, along with Kerstiens) and six of seven sectional champions from a year ago. An 11-man senior class is boosted by juniors Dillon Hurst (106 or 113), Ian Songer (182), Cole Kreilein (170) and Carson Popp (220) as well as sophomores Reid Eckert (138) and Tommy Brock (120), all returning lettermen.

Jace, who previously led the Jasper Middle School team, has coached nearly all of the Wildcats wrestlers previously and has plenty of faith in his group, especially the seniors: Kerstiens, Brescher, Schitter, Valenciano, Brandon Hernandez, Jackson Ball, Robin Evans, Eric Gehlhausen, John Gagnon, Adam Schwartz and Cory Buchta.

 “We really have a crew of seniors and they are leaders and hard workers, and they’re really showing of the rest of the team (how to work),” Jace said.

“We’re definitely excited to see how this group looks when we see them in action.”

Finding tough, dedicated kids has never been an issue for coach Dave Schank. It’s finding enough tough, dedicated kids.

“For years, (finding) our 106, 113, even our 120, was going through the hallway, finding a little kid and saying, ”˜Hey man, why don’t you wrestle?’” Schank explained.


But those days have changed. It’s a new year for the Raiders, featuring a new locker room, an expansive new wrestling area and a roster larger than any Schank has had in his seven years as coach. Add a six-man senior class featuring two sectional champions and three semistate qualifiers, and things are looking up in Huntingburg.

Defending sectional champions Ethan Schwoeppe — ranked 10th in the preseason rankings at heavyweight — and Jacob Mundy (152) are seniors headlining a returning group Schank said could feature as many as three potential state qualifiers.

Michael Boyd (132), defending semistate qualifier Andy Fischer (182), Aidan Michel (195) and Alex Merkel (220) are the remaining seniors. Junior Bryce Harter will occupy the 170 spot and sophomore Mitchell Mundy returns at 138 after winning 30 matches a year ago. First-year wrestler and freshman Drew Dearing is positioned at 113 and Prestyn Balsmeyer is slotted at 126. Twin brothers Logan and Hunter Meyerholtz will compete for the 106 spot and Luke Haag will start the season at 120 after wrestling 106 last season.

“About half our team normally is pretty young, but if you look at some of the freshmen we have ... they are experienced wrestlers from middle school,” Schank said.

“Rarely do we field an entire 14-man team. Lots of years we have to forfeit a spot here or there. ... We’re getting to a point now with our numbers — we’ve got 30 guys — we can almost fill two full teams, and that’s really when a program starts clicking.”

A year ago, a Forest Park team that finished sixth at the Pocket Athletic Conference meet and seventh at the sectional featured just one senior.

This season, that number is up to five.

It’s one of the few benefits of a young roster: Guys get thrown into the varsity mix quickly.


“They’re definitely young in age, but experienced (to an) extent,” coach Craig Recker said. “Sophomores all got varsity action as freshmen.”

Cody Flamion (126), Winston Glenn (138), Leighton Fleck (152), Conner Bolte (160) and Tyler Recker, the coach’s son, comprise the unit of seniors. Glenn is the team’s lone returning semistate qualifier.

“We’ve got five seniors this year that have been wrestling their whole life,” Craig Recker said. “Time to show up and get it done when your seniors (are) like that.”

Juniors Landon Fleck and Phillip Rogier will share the 145 spot and sophomores Zach Brosmer (106) and Colton Glenn (132) return after earning spots as freshmen. First-year wrestler Luke Fleck — one of three Flecks on the team — is slotted at 113.

It’s the second year in which the Rangers will not be able to field a full roster, but Recker has confidence in the wrestlers he has retained.

“We’ve got high hopes for this year,” he said.

“We’ve got kids that worked hard and got bigger and stronger, and I hope to have a lot of fun by all means.”

The first of the last two meets for Heritage Hills in 2012-13 went as planned. The Patriots used three individual conference champions to seal the school’s fourth Pocket Athletic Conference crown in five years.

A week later in the sectional? Not so much.


The Patriots finished fourth behind Castle, Evansville Memorial and sectional newcomer Evansville Reitz. After winning the school’s first sectional crown the year before, it was not the result coach Matt Thompson expected.

“I think last year we had a good season, (but) we finished the season not the way we wanted to by getting fourth in the sectional,” Thompson said. “When you at the scores of the top four teams (at sectional) it comes down to one team. We really had one or two guys who came up soft.”

This year, a team with 10 returning lettermen is making sure early that doesn’t happen again.

“Our practices have been pretty intense,” Thompson said. “Much more physical.”

The Patriots return one of the team’s two state qualifiers from a year ago (senior Jake Rickenbaugh at 170) plus fellow senior Gabe Konerding (182), who joined Rickenbaugh in capturing individual sectional and regional crowns last winter.

Levi Schulz (128 or 132), Ryan Dilger (220) and Ryan Baker (heavyweight) complete the senior class. Also back are juniors Davis Jochim and Cordell Miller — who could alternate at the 145 and 152 spots — and sophomore Knowah Rodgers (160) as well junior Ryan Fisher (195), another returning starter.

Freshmen Ben Waninger (106) Matt Graham (126) and Eric Peters (132) could see time early.

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com.

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