Jay Hanson

Verona sophomore Jay Hanson was a WIAA Division 1 state qualifier as a junior last season. Hanson went 40-8 and is one of four sectional qualifiers back for the Wildcats.

The Verona wrestling team returns four sectional qualifiers and one state qualifier from a team that finished fourth in the Big Eight Conference last year.

Junior Jay Hanson made a run to the WIAA Division 1 state meet as a heavyweight last season. The other sectional qualifiers returning are juniors Logan Neuroth, Cael Wozniak and Adam Murphy. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the Wildcats, who are scheduled to wrestle in a quad at Tomah on Friday, Jan. 15.

Verona wrestling coach Bob Wozniak said about half of the 30 wrestlers he expected to have on the team have opted out of the season because of COVID-19, injury and other reasons.

“It’s hard to have expectations when you go through November and December and don’t know if you even are going to have a season,” Wozniak said. “I’m not sure what everyone’s decisions would be if they would wrestle. I’m just doing this so the kids can see each other, they can work hard lifting weights and see our beautiful new school, wrestling room and have some fun. That’s what it’s about.”

Hanson went 40-8 last year and finished the season ranked ninth by WiWrestling.com. He proved himself to be a state contender with a fifth-place finish at the B-State Classic in December 2019, and was consistent down the stretch.

He placed second at the Big Eight Conference Tournament, won the Middleton regional title and took second at the Verona sectional to qualify for state. Bob Wozniak said Hanson will have a strong chance to make another state appearance this year.

Cael Wozniak is making the jump up three weight classes to 170 pounds this season. He went 30-9 at 145 last year and captured the Big Eight Conference championship last season.

“He’s a lot bigger and stronger from lifting weights,” Cael’s father Bob Wozniak said.

Neuroth went 18-23 at 138 and will wrestle at 145 or 152 this year, Wozniak said.

Murphy is expected to wrestle at 220 after finishing last year at 195. Murphy posted a 22-22 mark and lost in the quarterfinals at the sectional last year.

While Verona has some athletes who have chosen not to wrestle, they did add two student-athletes who transferred into the district. Junior Skylar Young transferred from Minnesota and junior David Jimenez transferred from California.

“We have an excellent junior class with a lot of experience,” Wozniak said.

The other returning letterwinners back are senior Ben Workman and sophomore Achilles Mendez, who Wozniak said would wrestle at 182 again.

Four freshmen on the team that are expected to offer depth are Nathan Kirwan, Bryson Kundinger, Mike Scharenbroch and Ebel Sanchez.

The Wildcats have two multi-team duals scheduled. Verona will wrestle at a Tomah Quad on Friday, Jan. 15 and could wrestle two matches in a triangular at Sauk Prairie on Friday, Jan. 22.

The state tournament will not be hosted at the Kohl Center as usual because of the Public Health and Madison Dane County order No. 11 that limits indoor gatherings to 10 people or less and outdoor gatherings to 25 or less.

The WIAA is planning to host the state tournament at different sites, and 10 regional and sectional sites are needed for the tournament. The WIAA is seeking schools to host the Division 1 state tournament.

Bob Wozniak said wrestling teams aren’t even sure if the format where the top two in each weight class advance to state, to form a 16-man bracket will remain in place.

He said there have been discussions about only having the sectional champion advance to state for an eight-person bracket to complete the state tournament in one day.

“There is really a lot up in the air now and it’s three weeks away,” Wozniak said of regionals.