Cade Willis (left) competes earlier this season. (Rick Benavides/SLN)



By Tim Wester

Sports Correspondent

A father proudly playing catch with his son has been a piece of Americana for decades.

In Union Grove freshman wrestler Cade Willis’ family, the father and son bond is a little different.

Instead of throwing around the pigskin or shooting hoops, Cade and his younger brother Cooper could be seen on the Willis’ 10-acre farm in Kansasville learning the art of takedowns and reversals from their father Jesse.

Wrestling and working long hours on the farm is sacred to Willis, who proudly grins when talking about his relationship with his family.

“My dad wrestled in high school and my brother also wrestles and will be coming into high school next year,” Willis said. “And my mom also enjoys wrestling and comes to every one of our matches, so it’s really fun to have the whole family together for wrestling.”

A near-decade long family wrestling bond and a gritty blue-collar work ethic has made Willis the prototype for a successful wrestler.

“I enjoy all the time you have to put into wrestling, and in turn it is fun what you get out of it,” Willis said. “A lot of other sports, you are with a team on a court or a field, but in wrestling it’s you out there by yourself and it’s up to you on whether or not you succeed.”

Willis loves wrestling, and wrestling certainly loves him back.

Ranked fourth in the state at 106 pounds, Willis (34-2) has steamrolled through the competition in dual meets and tournaments with 23 pins and 48 takedowns.

Willis will wrestle in his first Southern Lakes Conference tournament tomorrow at Delavan-Darien High School where he’ll be one of the favorites to win his weight class.

And when he’s not competing for the Broncos, Willis refines his skills further at Higher Level Wrestling in Burlington. Higher Level has produced some of the state’s top grapplers over the years, and is the common denominator amongst the many of the wrestlers on the Demons’ state-championship contending team this season.

“Cade is not your average freshman wrestler,” Union Grove coach Andy Weis said. “He had many matches under his belt prior to hitting our mats in high school so he was more prepared for the challenges of varsity competition than most kids.”

Despite the passion and near life-long experience competing in a sport he loves, Willis admits he wasn’t expecting to achieve such an immediate level of varsity success.

“I wasn’t planning on winning as many wrestling matches so fast,” Willis said. “I was planning on getting better and going far at the end of the season.”

Modesty has quickly turned into confidence for the freshman wrestler, who is driven more by two losses than 34 wins.

“Losses stick with me more than the wins because the losses drive me to work harder and get better,” Willis. “Losing makes me focus and work harder on improving technique.”


A rigorous routine

Willis’ ritual for improvement includes watching hours of videotape of his matches and then performing a rigorous routine of 50 to 60 reps on wrestling techniques to address mistakes made in matches.

Then when it’s time to take the mat for competition, Willis follows a strict routine of running a few sprints, hand fighting and taking half shots. When it’s closer to match time, Willis puts the headphones on and listens to a variety of music while running sprints.

The musical genre depends on moods. Some days it’s country music getting Willis ready for battle, while pop music does the trick other days.

“I don’t have any specific songs in my routine,” Willis said. “It just comes down to what mood I’m in.”

Whatever the routine has been, Willis’ success has caught the attention of his teammates, who look to emulate his success.

“I usually let our big leaders like Bubba (Alex Rewolinski), Barron (Masi) and Cameron (Storbeck) take on the leadership role,” Willis said. “They are older and have been here longer, but down the road when I get more experience, I will look to be more of a vocal leader.”

Willis, Rewolinski, Masi, Storbeck, and Keith Storm-Voltz have been the standouts for the Broncos squad that finished 2-5 in the always-tough Southern Lakes Conference. Battling the likes of Burlington and Waterford has helped make Willis and the Broncos better.

“The Lakes is full of tough competitors overall and especially in my weight class,” Willis said. Peyton Jacobson from Elkhorn and Jaden Bird from Burlington are really tough.”

Bird, who has had a standout freshman season for the Demons, has spent countless hours on the mat with Willis as teammates at High Energy.

The duo has wrestled twice in varsity this season with Willis earning decisions in two closely contested matches.

But Willis hasn’t done much bragging after two victories, as the two will likely battle tomorrow and then again at regionals.

“I’ve wrestled him a lot, so there is not a lot of bragging with the wins,” Willis said. “When we are wrestling, it’s all business, but when we are done, it’s back to being friends.”

Willis and Bird will have to put the friendship off a little while longer as the two gear up for a run at the state championship in Madison.

“I’m really excited to wrestle these couple more weeks in conference, regionals and sectionals,” Willis said. “Getting to Madison is the goal.”

With his talent, drive, and work ethic, Willis certainly has a chance to reach his goal of wrestling in the Kohl Center.