Luther Prep wrestling returns to action

Luther Prep senior Kostia Skorenkyi, originally from Ukraine, prepares for his first wrestling match in the U.S. The Phoenix will compete in varsity wrestling after a 10-year hiatus this season, starting with a dual meet at Walworth Big Foot tonight.

After an interim of over a decade, Luther Prep returns to interscholastic wrestling tonight with a dual meet at Big Foot High School in Walworth. The program has a storied history, but has not wrestled competitively since 2004.

Luther Prep, under the name of its predecessor school, Northwestern Prep, was the catalyst for starting interscholastic wrestling in many of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod high schools.

Under legendary coach Len Umnus, Northwestern Prep helped introduce varsity wrestling at Lakeside Lutheran in Lake Mills, Winnebago Lutheran Academy in Fond du Lac and at Fox Valley Lutheran in Appleton.

In addition to serving as mentor to other wrestling programs, under coach Tom Lindloff Luther Prep competed powerfully is the Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association.

In the closing year of WISAA, Prep wrestlers took a first, a second, and a third place in the state tournament. The very last hand ever raised as a WISAA state champ belonged to Luther Prep heavyweight Jeremiah Backhaus in 2000.

While history is part of Luther Prep’s background, first year coach Ben Ewings is primed to take the team into the future. Coach Ewings is a graduate of the Lakeside Lutheran program, where he twice medaled at the WIAA state tournament.

Ewings borrowed heavily from his Lakeside Lutheran roots to assemble his staff at Luther Prep. Numbered among his assistants are Greg Kutz, a former coach at Lakeside, Taylor Kress, a Lakeside state qualifier and Jamie Richart, who was an assistant coach both at Lakeside Lutheran and with the old Luther Prep program.

Also on Ewings’ staff are Jared Putz (who wrestled at Winnebago Lutheran Academy as well as in Florida and Michigan) and Mike Sievert (Shoreland Lutheran of Somers).

The size of the staff is large, but so are the number of boys in the program.

Thirty-seven wrestlers will make the trip to Big Foot High School, an astonishing number of boys for a first year program.

“We’re helped out by having a boarding school, when it comes to our strong numbers,” Ewings said.

“Wrestling is a hard sport, but it gives the boys an athletic way to spend the afternoon, rather than just sitting in the dorm. It’s also our goal to use this program to help build Prep’s football program, as the strength of both programs almost always go hand in hand.”

The program returns to the mat high in numbers but low in experience. When they wrestle today, it will be the first varsity or junior varsity high school test for every man on the team.

“Some of our guys wrestled in grade school programs or club teams, but because Luther Prep didn’t offer wrestling, we have no match experience outside our own club team.”

Among the intriguing prospects on the team is senior Kostia Skorenkyi, who lived in Ukraine through his freshman year and enrolled at Luther Prep to begin his sophomore year. He was kept off the mat because Prep had no interscholastic team, but comes with experience.

In Ukraine, he did mixed martial arts and judo, and

 Ewings hopes those skills will translate into effective wrestling.

“He’s got the tools,” Ewings said. “Now, we need to get him match experience.”

Ewings, who came to Luther Prep in 2016, ran an intramural program the last two years and will lead the revitalized program in its return to the mat this evening.

Luther Prep’s first home match is Thursday, Dec. 13. Prep also visits Oakfield High School on Thursday and Winnebago Lutheran on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

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