When W.T. Woodson's wrestling team lost to Robinson three times last year (one dual meet, two second places in postseason tournaments), Cavaliers Coach Paul Labazzetta knew his squad would get its chance.
He realized the Rams, who went on to win the state AAA title, had more experience and depth while his team was relatively young.
Labazzetta chose to view the losses as a teaching tool, something from which his team, primarily made up of juniors, could learn.
Judging from the effort the Cavaliers have turned in this season, the lesson is one they haven't forgotten. They have a 17-0 record, finishing strong with a 33-30 victory over rival Robinson, just in time for this weekend's Northern District tournament, which will be at Woodson.
Woodson's main strength this winter is a sextet of wrestlers who have combined for a 62-4-3 record, plus strong efforts in the upper weight classes. Woodson is deep in the lower weights, particularly in twins Mike and Mark Rehder, who, like many wrestling brothers, grew up in the sport. You may not be able to tell them apart facially, but you do notice the difference in their wrestling styles.
Mike Rehder (98 pounds), the barely older one, prefers the "long" approach to wrestling, methodically wearing opponents down from the top and then going for the pin, of which he has 10 this year.
"I started when I was pretty young, and I guess I just learned the moves," said Mike Rehder, who is 16-1 for the season.
Mark Rehder, nearly as successful (14-2) at 105 pounds, is a bit more reckless. "Just outlasting my opponent" is his motto. While he is quick and strong, he sometimes makes maneuvers that get him into trouble. He cites a lack of footwork as the problem.
The Rehders, juniors, "push each other in practice because we're brothers," Mike Rehder said. "We get into a lot of fights. We're mad at each other (in practice) to try to get that pin or that reversal."
At 119 pounds, Eric Entlich is another patient wrestler, waiting for his moment by making sure his opponent never gets on his feet. "He rides tough, and he's pretty good on his feet as far as takedowns go," Labazzetta said.
The Cavaliers are weaker in the middle weight classes, but the balance in the upper and lower classes had made up for it. Labazzetta says that is the difference from the Woodson team that won the state AAA four years ago.
"That year (1982) we had really tough individual kids," said Labazzetta, who is in his 14th year at Woodson. "This team is more balanced from bottom to top."
One surprise is senior heavyweight Mike Whalen, a 195-pounder with a 16-4-1 mark. He sat out last year to concentrate on improving his grades; this season, he's improving his record.
Against bigger opponents, Whalen has to use quickness. "I rely on moves that don't allow him (his opponent) to use his weight against me," he said.
Whalen, Danny Cook (176 pounds) and Andy Kerns (185) are the "anchors" that lead a strong upper class. Although Cook has a 13-0 record, he said he needs to improve his conditioning.
For Kerns, this season has been a matter of just getting back into condition. He separated his shoulder in November just before the season began, and has wrestled in only five matches (all wins) since his return. But he prefers to look at the bright side.
"It helped, because when I came back, I had been sitting around, and I was hungry," Kerns said. "I'm doing better than I thought I would."
The recent win over Robinson (which delayed Rams Coach John Epperly's 200th career victory) obviously pleases the soft-spoken Labazzetta, but he knows it counts for nothing in this week's district tournament.