It’s Lodi, reloaded.
After losing two senior wrestlers who earned places at the WIAA Division 2 state tournament last year, the Blue Devils’ perennially successful program is back at it. Just like always.
Coach Chris Persike’s Blue Devils won the Capitol Conference championship for the 25th consecutive year, then pinned down a WIAA regional title for the 27th straight season.
At the Lodi regional last weekend, the Blue Devils advanced wrestlers in 13 of 14 weight classes to Saturday’s individual sectional, including nine individual champions.
Lodi also qualified for tonight’s four-team dual-meet sectional in Edgerton.
The Blue Devils, ranked fifth in Division 2 by WiWrestling.com, will open tonight’s meet with a 6 p.m. semifinal against Evansville/Albany, while River Valley and Viroqua compete on an adjacent mat. The winners will meet at 8 p.m. for a spot in the state semifinals.
If Lodi advances, it would be the Blue Devils’ 15th trip to state — but its first since 2011. Last year, River Valley beat the Blue Devils 30-21 in the sectional final to earn its first team state berth.
While Evansville/Albany has three wrestlers ranked first or second in WiWrestling.com’s individual rankings, the co-op program has only four mentions in the individual rankings. Lodi has seven ranked wrestlers, led by 182-pound senior Casey Persike, rated No. 4 with a 32-4 record.
“When you get into dual meets, it takes all 14 (wrestlers). If you have just a few really talented kids, your team might not do as well. Matchups are key, and we have been fortunate,” Chris Persike said.
Graduation claimed Skylar Kurt, who finished fourth at state at 285 pounds last year, and Jacob Busser, sixth at 132. But Lodi reloaded with talent, including three wrestlers with state experience in sophomore Garrett Moll (32-4 at 113), junior Jacob Heyroth (31-3 at 170) and Casey Persike.
Coach Persike said the credit for the success goes to his wrestlers’ preparation and readiness to excel under pressure.
“I don’t worry too much about what other teams are doing,” he said. “We just have to be ready to execute. If we do that, hopefully we get the win.”
The secret ingredients are experience and history. Every assistant coach on the Lodi staff is a product of the school’s program — all with state tournament experience.
“We understand what wrestling has meant to us,” said coach Persike, who has been the Blue Devils’ leader since 2006. “As former wrestlers, we want to give back.”
Over the past 20 years, the Blue Devils have earned three WIAA Division 2 team state titles and five runner-up trophies.
“We just focus on Lodi. That’s my coaching philosophy,” coach Persike said.
Maturity and depth will be key.
Evansville/Albany and River Valley have made it to team state only once each, and are honorable mention picks in this year’s WiWrestling.com rankings.
No. 11 Viroqua is seeking its first state trip.
“We have our goals set high, but rankings can be deceiving,” coach Persike said. “River Valley made it to team state last year so I would put them at the top.”
Moll, Heyroth and Casey Persike each won individual regional titles on Saturday. They are joined by champs Colton Nicolay (26-11 at 120), Branden Errthum (26-7 at 132), Hunter Grams (12-3 at 145), Max Barreau (29-7 at 160), J.P. Walterscheit (28-9 at 195) and Tyler Leonard (18-16 at 285).
“We have kids who buy into our program,” coach Persike said. “When it’s their opportunity to step in, they are ready to go.”