Eau Claire (WQOW) -- The road to Madison is paved long before February rolls around.
Just ask Eau Claire North senior Mason Phillips, who has been a staple at the Kohl Center in each of his three seasons. The Huskies' all time leader in wins and takedowns is still missing a state title on his resume, but even coming off of back-to-back 1 point losses in the state quarterfinals, he's staying focused on what's still to come.
"I can put a smile on my face and say I was there, I was a Freshman and lost by 2 in the State semis," says Phillips, "Every one of them was a State Finalist and a State Champion, so I don't hang my head about it, it just tells me that maybe there was one little thing that season that I didn't have right, and it just makes me more motivated to work with these new guys that I have in the room, this new coach to find that one thing that's going to set me apart from everybody else this year."
That new head coach is Jake Rebhan - a New Richmond native with experience as a wrestling coach in Marshfield and La Crosse. He brings with him a trio of local wrestlers with state-level experience, including Stanley-Boyd's Sam Burzynski, and their whole philosophy is pretty simple.
"We're all about culture, you've got one year to establish a culture, this is my first year here at Eau Claire North, and we're about doing things the right way, or we do them again," says Rebhan, "To have kids in the room that have wrestled for a period of years, or have had experience with it before is awesome because we have a majority of our guys who are first or second year wrestlers. My three young coaches that I have, coach Burzynski, coach Blanchard, and then coach Garcia all could be wrestling at Division II or III college level right now, so it's nice to have those guys down here in the room, pushing those kids, and helping them get better everyday."
"I like his coaching style, I like practices ran hard, and it really prepares you for the matches," Phillips explains, "I like to be pushed, I like to challenge myself and to push my boundaries just so that on Saturdays people can't push me around, I'm the one setting the pace and pushing them around."
"It's nice having a younger coach who just wrestled last year," junior Carter Duerkop says, "It's kind of like having another practice partner that you're going to school with. You can relate to them better, so there's definitely a change in culture, there's more energy in the practice room, we're pushing a little harder, and I think it's good for the program."
With their sights set firmly at the Kohl Center, it's easy to lose track of the short-term. The Huskies face an early season test this weekend, hosting one of the largest and deepest tournaments in western Wisconsin.
But for Mason Phillips it's all about enjoying the moment, "I'm going to take it just as seriously, but I'm really going to try and bring that fun aspect to it, try and have some more fun out there on the mat, and I think that will lead to more success and maybe it will just make the pressure even more fun this year, so I'm looking forward to it."