Brothers Find Own Paths to Success

Brothers Sam (left) and Ben Engelland qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling tournament a combined seven times at Neenah High School and are making names for themselves in the WIAC.

Ben has darker hair, is more outgoing and likes to hunt and fish. Sam has blond hair, is more reserved and isn't crazy about bagging his limit in Wisconsin's great north woods.

However, the Engelland brothers have one important thing in common: They love to wrestle.

They were among the state's best during their final two seasons at Neenah High School, and they're currently enjoying success in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Ben at UW-Stevens Point and Sam at UW-Oshkosh.

Dave McCarthy has been the Rockets' head man for 20 of his 27 years in coaching, and he said he couldn't have asked for two better kids to build a program around the past few winters.

"They were great kids and a pleasure to work with," McCarthy said. "They represented their school, family, team and community with class. They are humble guys who are willing to help others. A lot of the credit goes to their parents (Donna and Steve)."

While the two knocked heads often at Neenah practices—and long before that in the family's home—they reached similar destinations in slightly different ways.

"Ben never got flustered and wasn't afraid of tight matches," McCarthy said. "He always was focused, which served him well. Even as a freshman and sophomore, he showed the experience of an upperclassman. From a wrestling standpoint, he was always in good position, so it was tough to score against him. Twenty or 30 years ago, everybody wanted kids to be really physical and Ben is a throwback in that way. He's good on his feet, but he's also tough on top. A good example was his junior year at state. Ben broke his hand during his first match, and that's tough considering all of the hand fighting and grabbing. We knew something was messed up but decided to go forward, and he wrestled like that for three days."

Ben is a junior but sophomore eligibility-wise at UW-SP after qualifying for the WIAA state meet all four seasons. He didn't taste victory at 130 pounds and wound up 23-10 as a freshman and went 2-2 at 152 to go 36-6 as a sophomore. Then he finished third and second, respectively, at 189 pounds his final two years, losing both times to River Falls' Trevor Brandvold. As a junior, Engelland suffered an 8-0 setback versus the current University of Wisconsin grappler to finish 40-1, and then he dropped the title showdown in 2006, 14-6, to end up 44-1.

Ben Engelland

"Sam was always much quieter, and he didn't mature physically as fast as his brother, so he took his lumps when he was younger, like in middle school," McCarthy said. "He's maybe had a tougher time, but he's developed and become a real student of the sport and learned the techniques. Sam likes to wrestle on his feet more, but he's enjoyed a great career."

The younger sibling defeated Wausau West's Jackson Hein, 7-5, to win the 2008 state title at 171 with a 45-0 record. That came a year after he settled for third place and a 45-1 mark, the only blemish being a 1-0 setback in the semifinals against eventual titlist Jody VanLaanen of Ashwaubenon. Sam compiled a 26-10 mark as a freshman and reached state as a sophomore at 160 but lost his opening match, also to VanLaanen, to finish 32-10.

Mike DeRoehn is in his fifth season in charge of the UW-Oshkosh program, and he said he's just happy that Sam Engelland chose the Titans over more recognized schools such as Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Cleveland State, St. Cloud State and UW-La Crosse.

"We got together for a team meeting Sept. 8, I believe, and that's when I have the guys fill out a sheet that lists their goals, and I expected them to be posted on the board before the first practice, which was about six weeks later," DeRoehn said. "Well, the very next day Sam's in here and sticks his sheet up and at the top of his list is that he wants to be an All-American. That tells you that he has laser focus and sets high goals.

"I call him ‘Silent but deadly Sam,' " DeRoehn added of a standout who started 12-2 between 184 and 174 pounds. "He's quiet and is a super nice kid, but he's extremely driven on and off the mat. The reason I believe he can reach his goals is because he always does something extra after practice, whether he stays for three minutes or 10 minutes, or if it's working on a technique or to do 100 more push-ups, he's always doing something more. After our first match, and I kid you not, he was the first person to start rolling up the mats. He's special and does all the right things."

Sam chose his own path, but plenty about him has rubbed off from his older brother, who competes at 184 for the Pointers and got off to a 12-0 start this season.

"We pretty much competed together most of our lives, and Ben helped me a lot and he's the main reason I'm wrestling," Sam said. "I got into it because I followed him, but I wasn't really into it like he was when I was little, not until about middle school. I kept watching him win all of these tournaments and bring home all of these trophies. From then on I knew I wanted to wrestle in college."

Many people thought Ben would have gone down that path, but the two-time all-Fox Valley Association choice decided to play football his first two years at UW-Stevens Point, where he served as a reserve linebacker.

"Coach (Johnny Johnson) called me as a freshman, but after two days I got hurt and didn't stay out," Ben said. "He asked me again last year, sometime at the end of November, so I started late. But I was 17-2 and finished second in the conference tournament despite spraining my ankle. I qualified for nationals but lost both matches."

Still, Ben is glad he chose the Pointers over other prospective suitors such as Wisconsin, NIU, UW-Parkside and Cumberland University (Tenn.).

However, he's had to overcome health issues this season. First, he cut his left hand putting up a deer stand and required 11 stitches, and second, he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and missed two weeks.

"Sam and I have been practice partners pretty much our whole lives," Ben said. "He didn't take it as seriously when he was younger, but he's gotten a lot better. If you don't know Sam, you might think he's not friendly, but it's just that he's quieter. We've always been pretty close. I remember when I was a senior and we both made it to state, I wanted him to win more than I did."

I guess that's another thing they have in common.


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