New PHS coach upbeat about team

by Greg Ceilley
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – New head coach Rick Gruber is very high on his Plymouth wrestling squad which returns a good core from last season’s successful team.

The Panthers lost only three seniors from the 2016-17 team and have 11 returning letter winners, including three Division 1 sectional qualifiers. Last season PHS finished 12-10 overall in duals and 3-3 in the East Central Conference. The Panthers showed good improvement over the previous campaign when they had a 6-10 overall mark, including 2-4 in the ECC.

“I am optimistic that we will be having a good season. We have a great group of kids that are willing to learn and put the time and effort in to be successful. We also have talented multi-sport athletes giving us a great base to build upon,” said Gruber.

Gruber replaced Ben Chapman who took the head coaching position for the Lakeland University wrestling program after being at PHS the past three seasons. Gruber was standout wrestler at Campbellsport High School and UW-Oshkosh. He was a state runner up at Campbellsport in 1979 and 1980 and helped the Cougars win the Class B state title in 1980.

Gruber was a four-time NCAA Division III All-American in college – placing in the top five at his weight class four times, led by a runner-up finish in 1982. He has coached high school wrestling at Oshkosh North, Campbellsport, North Fond du Lac and Oshkosh Lourdes Academy.

“Our strengths are that we have a good group of upperclassmen with experience and drive. I’m also expecting other returning wrestlers to make their mark on the season,” said Gruber.

“Our weakness is our team numbers as we are currently forfeiting two weight classes. To improve our team we will need more wrestlers to fill spots and to push each other to get better.”

Heading the group of returning letter winners is junior 152-pounder Josh Koll who was a regional champion at 138 last season. Koll, 24-13 last season, was the runner-up at 138 in the ECC Tournament.

Koll, junior 138-pounder Will Birkholz and senior 220-pounder Jesse Schwarten were sectional qualifiers last season. Birkholz took fourth at 126 and Schwarten was third at 195 in the 2017 sectional.

Koll is the Panthers’ highest returning place-winner in the ECC Tourney. PHS has three wrestlers back who earned third in the tourney – sophomore 106-pounder Jack Miller (106 last season), Birkholz (126) and senior 285-pounder Gabe Haun (285).

“Although we have a great group of kids, our numbers are a bit low this year. I’d like to see double our current numbers but that will come with building the program and creating a higher enthusiasm for wrestling,” said Gruber.

“I would like to stress that all our wrestlers are key to the success of each other and the team. Even though wrestling is an individual sport, each wrestler needs other wrestlers to practice with and push them to be better. As far as leading the squad this year, I am looking to our seniors.”

The coach said the keys for the team to have success are attitude, mental toughness, hard work, dedication and more wrestlers in the practice room.

Gruber pointed out his top goals for the season.

“Our goal is to take this one step at a time, one match at a time, one tournament at a time. For each individual on the team, to be prepared both mentally and physically – giving 100 percent each time they wrestle,” he said.

“Overall I’d like to see us finish strong and in the top of the conference, both as a team and each wrestler.”

Looking at the conference, Gruber said based on discussions with other ECC coaches, Campbellsport and Kewaskum are the teams to beat. Campbellsport has won the league tourney the past two years. PHS finished fourth in the tourney last season.

“I want to create a fun, positive learning experience for our team. Wrestling teaches many good life lessons and is a sport that is beneficial to all other sports as it improves balance, flexibility, coordination, strength, endurance and mental toughness,” said Gruber.

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