Although it has one of its youngest rosters in years, the Lodi wrestling team is poised for another championship season.
“Our strengths are definitely in our seniors,” Blue Devil coach Cody Endres said. “We have six returning seniors, many of whom have been starters for two or three years. They bring a lot of experience and leadership back. A weakness that we have, which is actually a strength as well, is that we have 13 freshmen. We will be young, but these guys give us a lot of hope for future years.”
Last season the Blue Devils earned their 27th straight conference title. It was their 35th crown overall.
Lodi ran away with last year’s Capitol Conference Tournament title after coming up with 322.5 points, while Sugar River was a distant second with 187. The Blue Devils put 10 wrestlers into the finals and came away with eight titles.
“Each season our first postseason goal is winning a conference title and this year will be no different,” Endres said. “Winning a conference title helps set the tone for a hopeful extended postseason run.”
The Blue Devils also won a WIAA Division 2 regional title last season.
“In the past, we’ve talked too much about wins and losses and probably put too much pressure on ourselves,” Endres said. “This year, we just want to focus on creating a championship culture, enjoying one another, having fun, giving great effort, and learning and improving. If we can focus on those things, the results we desire will take care of themselves.”
Lodi has a good nucleus to build around this season with the return of seniors Colton Nicolay and Sawyer Helmbrecht and sophomores Parker Heintz and Chandler Curtis.
“Each of these guys have been wrestling for a long time and they have put a lot of work in,” Endres said. “We feel confident in these guys when they step on the mat and know they can achieve great things this year.”
Nicolay is a three-time state qualifier. He went 30-11 at 152 pounds last season and will move up to 160 this year.
“Colton is a guy who has been right there with the best guys in the state since he came in as a freshman,” Endres said. “Colton has numerous big wins under his belt and always wrestles his best at the end of the year. He is ready to knock the door down and burst through it. I know this is the year he accomplishes those high goals he has set for himself.”
Helmbrecht is back at 170 this season after going 28-4 and qualifying for the state tournament.
“Sawyer just continues to improve,” Endres said. “He jumps levels each and every year. He only had four losses last year and I know he has big goals for himself and this team. He is fun to watch. He has a lot of tricks and can find a lot of ways to win.”
Heintz qualified for state as a freshman and is back at 106 after going 31-10.
Curtis placed fourth at sectionals last season and just missed out on a trip to state. He finished last season 37-11 and will wrestle at 126 this season.
Also, back with varsity experience are seniors Ben Simplot (195, 2-7), Zach Potter (152, 24-10) and Jack Hansen (182, 17-15) and sophomores Brock Beyer (220, 2-2), Dean Finney (132, 0-1), Kyle Pickarts (160, 3-2) and Wyatt Ripp (285, 10-5).
“We also have several seniors, sophomores and freshmen who are ready to have a breakout seasons and show off their talents,” Endres said. “We look forward to these guys continuing to improve and being their absolute best at the end of the year.”
The Blue Devils are again the clear-cut favorite in the Capitol Conference and will be in the mix for regional and sectional titles.
The Capitol Conference Tournament is set for Feb. 8 in Belleville.
The Blue Devils will be in the Jefferson Regional on Feb. 15 and the Evansville Sectional on Feb. 22. Lodi will host the team sectional on Feb. 18.