By Kelly Fenton, The Denmark News
After being pushed around in his early days as a freshman, Denmark’s Josh Frerk has become the intimidator
DENMARK – Josh Frerk wasn’t exactly given an opportunity to ease into his wrestling career at Denmark High School.
Rather, it was the equivalent of a father throwing his toddler into a swimming pool. It was sink or swim. It was baptism by fire.
Frerk, a three-sport Viking star who just last week signed with St. Cloud State University to play football, was tossed into the fray in his very first high school varsity match when he faced off against West Bend West heavyweight Zach Klemstein, who would go on to a runner-up finish at sectionals and a slot in the state tournament. That one ended in 71 seconds with a Klemstein pin.
Frerk’s second opportunity lasted only a little longer – 82 seconds – and resulted in a pin for Reedsville’s Jordan Brandt, who would win sectionals later that season and earn third place at state.
“It was intimidating,” the Viking senior recalls as he prepares for this weekend’s D2 Sectional. “I was coming in as a tiny 230-pound freshman going up against the top guys in the state who were barely making it in at under 285. It was hard to get into matches like that. But I was able to put those into perspective. It’s set me up to be where I am today.
“Now I’m the guy no one wants to wrestle.”
The Denmark freshman found his footing quickly and went on to post victories in 15 of his next 16 matches, losing only to the D1 heavyweight state runner-up along the way.
That first season would produce a 37-12 mark, including 23 by pin, a third-place finish at sectionals and a spot in the state heavyweight bracket.
A freshman reaching state in the heavyweight division? That just doesn’t happen very often, and it provided a glimpse of just how good Frerk might turn out to be.
“He Grinds Out Matches”
Fast forward three years and that potential has been fully realized. Frerk, who earned a fourth at state last season, just picked up his second straight regional title and is a prime contender – and, let’s just say it, a heavy favorite – to win the sectional this weekend in Oconto Falls. Then, barring something unforeseen, it will be a third trip to Madison to vie for a state title.
While Frerk’s junior season was his breakout year (35-6, 20 pins, a regional title, fourth place at state), this is the year it’s all coming together for the 6-3, 275-pounder. He won his first 33 matches before suffering his only setback thus far – a 7-4 decision in the Pulaski Invitational final. He has since won five straight to improve to 38-1 and run his career mark to 143-26 with 78 pins. He is within eight pins of tying the school record set by Central Michigan’s Brock Bergelin last season.
What has accounted for Frerk’s singular success? His coach, Tim Kapinos, says his senior heavyweight is just an all-round solid wrestler with no weaknesses. But it may be his smarts and his stamina that have carried him to the point where anything short of a state championship will be considered a letdown.
“He never gets tired,” Kapinos says. “Never once in four years have I seen him wear down. He grinds out matches.”
It’s true, but the fact that more than half of his victories – significantly more than half if you back out the wins via forfeit or bye – are by fall suggests its more than just attrition that factors in to his success.
“He’s smart,” Kapinos adds. “He catches kids a lot of times in a bad position and pounces. He has the ability to pin anybody and he’s pinned some good ones in his time.”
Kapinos says Frerk is quiet and mostly unemotional in the heat of battle, content to let his preparation and focus do the talking on the mat. That Frerk chose a team sport over individual glory at the next level says quite a bit about him, too, Kapinos insists. It’s especially notable given that no one is quite as anonymous as an offensive lineman.
“It was always clear he wanted to play football after high school, but if he changed his mind, there are plenty of colleges that would love to have him,” Kapinos says.
Equally impressed with Frerk is his high school football coach, Chris Haese. Though the Vikings struggled the past three seasons, Frerk was a highlight on both sides of the ball.
“Josh has made tremendous growth as an athlete and a leader this year,” says Haese, who stepped down as head coach in October. “His participation in three sports throughout high school has given him the competitive drive and work ethic that all colleges are looking for.
“Josh is going to display significant improvement quickly when he can solely focus on his football career. We are very excited for his future and congratulate him on extending the Denmark lineman tradition.”
Frerk says his primary reasons for choosing St. Cloud State was that he prefers working as part of a unit on the line and that it was one of only two universities in the area that offers a Tech Ed degree, something Frerk is eager to pursue.
A Cruise Through The Regional
Frerk admits that reaching state as a freshman, while immeasurable in terms of experience and confidence, may actually have worked against him the next season, when he came up short of a repeat trip to Madison. Despite going 32-8, he lost a 3-2 Ultimate Tie Break in the second-place regional match, thereby not even reaching sectionals as a sophomore.
“I went into those regionals thinking I would win right away,” Frerk admits. “I was overlooking matches and I would up losing. At that point, it was a matter of getting refocused.”
But despite taking nothing for granted, winning regionals and reaching state last season, Frerk says he was disappointed with last year’s fourth-place finish, especially given that he lost to the same wrestler twice – Spencer Catholic’s Logan Zschernitz — a foe he had beaten earlier in the season in the Freedom Invitational championship. Frerk repeated the feat last month, when he beat Zschernitz in a major decision in the Freedom title match.
Despite that, Zschernitz holds the top spot in the D2 heavyweight category, according to WIWrestling, supplanting Frerk after Frerk dropped his only match of the season on Jan. 27. Nothing is a given, but it seems safe to say Zschernitz will provide the most significant barrier to Frerk and his goal of wrapping up his high school career with a gold. Frerk figures Zschernitz is probably the only wrestler who can take him out in Madison, assuming they both advance from their sectionals. The top three qualify for state.
“(Zschernitz’s) plan is to throw me, which he was able to do last year,” Frerk said. “I just got back to my game plan (at the Freedom Invitational), trying to wear him out and wrestle a six-minute match. We’re really looking at doing the same thing again, getting him tired. His cardio isn’t as good as mine. If we can get to the second and third period, I can wear him down.”
If it sounds like Frerk is already looking ahead not only to Madison but to a potential final, well, he is, and he isn’t. He freely admits he expects to win this weekend at the sectional at Oconto Falls and adds that anything short of state championship in his final opportunity would be a real disappointment, given the season he’s had.
“I was expecting what I did at regionals,” Frerk says. He was barely challenged at Valders last week, drawing a pair of byes before winning in 1:14 in the semi and by a 9-0 major decision in the championship. “I’m expecting the same thing this week. But it’s one person at a time.”
Leaving A Legacy
Kapinos says when you add it all up – the wins, the pins, the championships, the sheer domination in the toughest weight class – Frerk has to be considered one of the all-time greats at Denmark High School. It may be both a blessing and a curse that he came along at the same time as Bergelin, a three-time state champion. A blessing in that Frerk says he and Bergelin fed off each other the previous three seasons. A curse in that Bergelin set a nearly impossible bar to clear.
For Kapinos, who took over from Hall of Fame coach Stan Yazawa five years ago after Yazawa’s 48-year tenure, it has been only a blessing.
“Stepping into Stan Yazawa’s shoes was a huge deal,” says Kapinos, whose Denmark team produced three regional championships and qualified seven Vikings for this week’s sectional. “Having Brock and Josh here not only made it easier for me, it has led to tremendous team success. And it has opened up the eyes of he younger wrestlers when they see what Brock and Josh have done. They each did it their own way. Brock was a year-round wrestler. It’s pretty amazing that Josh is a three-sport star and still has been this dominant.”
Frerk likewise is happy to leave a legacy behind him for the younger kids coming up.
“We have all those names on the board, all those state qualifiers,” he says. “And Brock and I up there the last few years. All the youth wrestlers look at that. It makes them want to get better. It makes them want to get their names up on that board.”
Frerk says he’s aware that after more than 150 matches, he’s down to his final 10 or so before he hangs up the singlet for the final time. He’s more focused, though, on the prize he’s after and figures he can get sentimental about it all after he’s gone for it.
“I know that was my last regionals and this will be my last sectional,” he says. “So I just want to keep going, to make it last as long as possible.”