Last season was supposed to be a storybook ending for Sandpoint wrestling.
First, there was the redemption story. A year removed from a broken leg, Hyrum Hunsacker’s ended his career on a high note with a 40-win season, all-district honors and a No. 1 seed at the 4A state match.
Then Hunsacker’s teammate Even Stickelmeyer was the Cinderella story in the heavyweight class, as the senior surged at the right time to make a surprise run in the heavyweight division.
Throw in senior Andrew Webster’s 28-13 record, and the trio could have had a finish for the ages.
But things didn’t go as planned. A controversial, blown call amounted in a third-place finish for Hunsacker, who came into the tournament with a 42-5 record. Webster finished on the podium in the 182 lb. class, and midnight struck on Sickelmeyer’s playoff run.
Yet with a strong wrestling community behind them and a loaded 39-person roster, Sandpoint wrestling is in prime position to rewrite the script this season, albeit with a different cast.
“It’s always good when someone leaves that’s pretty tough, because there’s always someone waiting in the shadows, ready to step into the limelight,” Stark said. “Casey Olesen, Isaiah Fleck, Ryan McNelley and Brady Nelson can definitely do that. Then we have some up-and-coming juniors that are really tough. They’re right on the edge of being good to great, and they’ve put in a lot of work in the summer.”
If any team is suited to reload, then it’s Sandpoint.
Headed by the Sandpoint Top Dogs wrestling team, Sandpoint’s wrestling community has grown over the years, giving the Bulldogs not only plenty of talent at their disposal, but also a culture that transcends the action on the mat.
The Bulldogs are aggressive, quick on their feet and hang their hats on attacking.
Not only that, they have the depth to show for it: For the first time in several seasons, the Bulldogs have several wrestlers in every weight class.
“I think we can get at least 10 to 12 wrestlers to state this year,” Head coach Jake Stark said. “Our middleweights and upperweights are pretty solid and we have some good, experienced guys.”
And few wrestlers embody their respective programs quite like rising senior Casey Olesen, who out of his own volition, competed in 60 matches over the summer in order to rewrite the narrative of his career.
“My junior year was my third year at state and I lost in the blood rounds,” Olesen said. “Every single year, it’s been a close match where I’m either one or two points away, or I’m winning in the beginning, but I drop down towards the end and I lose. I was sick and tired of losing in the blood rounds right before I could place. I wanted a change.”
Olesen said he has seen the extra work pay off already, as his summer experience re-shaped his mindset on the mat.
“I still get that nervous feeling when I get on the mat,” Olesen said. “But now when I start wrestling, I can think. I can hear my coaches. It’s easier. I’m in a battle still, but it’s more of a chess game.”
Stark noted Olesen’s experience and work ethic when asked about the three-time state qualifier, who has a bigger responsibility as one of the team captains this season.
“Some of the seniors really filled that void that we needed because we really needed a leader,” Olesen said. “Now that I’m not the little guy, I have to teach everyone and let everyone know what it’s like to compete at state.”
Speaking of state, Olesen wasn’t afraid to set the bar high for himself this season — including a specific goal that might not take too kindly to a certain school in Rathdrum.
“I want to go undefeated and beat [Lakeland senior and defending 4A 113 lb. champion] Sam Edelblute,” Olesen said.
If Sandpoint can match Olesen’s tenacity, perhaps sending 12 wrestlers and re-writing the script will be in the cards this season.