In some ways, Mitch Bradberry served as the ultimate understudy for Geneva’s wrestling team last season.
He held his own sparring with established seniors Tony Castelvecchi, Mark Henriksen and Mike Villanueva in the mat room each day, but simply was unable to consistently supplant them.
In some ways, Bradberry wasn’t the ultimate understudy last season. Coach Tom Chernich ultimately cited unprecedented depth in the middle of the lineup as the reason Bradberry had to wait until his junior season to start at 182 pounds.
“Probably on any other team I coached besides last year’s team, Mitch would have wrestled varsity the whole year,” Chernich said.
Knowing as much certainly boosts Bradberry’s confidence, which has remained steady since workouts began earlier this month.
A fresh set of practice partners circles around Bradberry now, and he’s looking forward to making new connections. Still, he won’t forget he had to be the low man in the rotation before upperclassmen could look up to him.
“It improved me a lot wrestling Tony, Mark and those guys. It really did,” Bradberry said. “Wrestling with those guys, I don’t think I would be how I am today, so it helped me out a lot.”
The younger brother of former Geneva wrestler Nick, Mitch Bradberry has since supplanted his sibling’s service time on the mat. Nick Bradberry is studying at Western Illinois, which does not offer a wrestling team.
Mitch Bradberry began wrestling in fifth grade with the Batavia Pinners club, then competed for Geneva Middle School South. His high school career began at 152 pounds in 2011-12. Although he only had a handful of varsity matches last season, Bradberry was in the lineup at 170 pounds.
His current 182 slot once was held by another recently graduated one-time practice partner, Jake Boser.
“I’ve just been wrestling for a long time and working as hard as I can to get where I am,” Bradberry said.
Classmate Mike Huck, slotted in at 145, doesn’t usually face Bradberry in practice because of the weight difference, but the pair often trade notes on moves and scenarios.
“It’s a little of both,” Huck said. “Sometimes we bounce things off each other or [show moves], but he’s helpful.”
Around this time last season, Bradberry thirsted to free himself of two shackles. First, there was the desire to create his own niche in the lineup. Then there was the traditional early-season itch to stop sparring with teammates and face other schools.
With duals and tournaments beginning this week and a starting spot in place, Bradberry now can channel his focus on varsity opponents he know he will face. Not just Castelvecchi and Co.
“Mitch will probably surpass those guys, and those guys were 25-, 30-match winners,” Chernich said. “He’ll be a rock in our lineup.”