Eric Schmoldt: As state events go, wrestling tough to top
A few leftover ramblings as we've now had a couple days to let the dust settle on the WIAA state wrestling championships at the Kohl Center …
• There were more exciting post-match reactions than those of Dalton Shea and Brady Koontz.
There were backflips, hugs, gestures, tears, flexing, wrestlers running into the stands to find family, wrestlers running to a back hallway to hide their frustrations—the entire emotional gamut.
I thought the end of Shea and Koontz was the coolest.
Shea, Milton's 113-pound senior, had just ridden out Koontz for 30 seconds in the seventh period, the ultimate tiebreaker, for a 5-4 victory in the title bout. As they met in the center of the mat to shake hands, they shared a hug and an understated glance with one another that just screamed, “Yeah, that was epic.”
Asked about it, Shea told me, “We just kind of looked at each other and said, 'Wow, that was a great fought-out match for wrestling.' We gave everybody a show, that's for sure.”
• Benji Peak is a confident young man.
The Elkhorn junior admitted he came to high school thinking he'd be a four-time state champion. And he told me Thursday, after beating the top-ranked wrestler in the 126-pound bracket that he felt he should have been ranked No. 1.
On the first matter, believing he'd win four titles, it's fun to see a student-athlete grow out of an attitude that many would consider cocky to a point where he's now a team captain. I remember glancing across the Craig gym at sectionals and watching him shouting instructions to one of his teammates who was wrestling. He's clearly made a transformation.
That said, on believing he was No. 1 heading into state this year, he's still very confident in his abilities. And he backed them up by winning the state title.
He won't finish with four of them, but he could become Elkhorn's second two-time state champ.
The other? Jake Stilling, who won at 170 pounds in 2012 and 2013 and currently wrestles for the University of Wisconsin.
• The Elks came into this season under the radar, rose through the ranks and beat Milton at regionals.
I don't think they're going anywhere anytime soon.
On top of Peak, their other podium finishers at state both return in will-be senior Grant Truesdale and will-be junior Danny Stilling.
• Evansville/Albany's impressive run continues.
The Blue Devils have made four straight appearances at team sectionals, and at the individual state tournament littered the top three again.
Lucius Rinehart was second in Division 2 at 195 pounds, and Chase Katzenmeyer and Nolan Kicmol each took third.
“We had a good run,” Blue Devils coach Rob Kostroun said. “It's really hard to win in this building. We've seen it all weekend. Returning state champs and guys with good seasons going didn't even make the finals.
“We've got great kids, and we try to focus on people and building people, and the outcomes are the outcomes. But you like to see them achieve at the highest level possible, and I thought this weekend they did well.”
Can Evansville/Albany keep it going?
Rinehart and Katzenmeyer graduate, leaving Kicmol, a will-be senior, and his stepbrother Branden Lange, a 285-pound state qualifier, to continue carrying the torch.
Whitewater, with a bevy of youngsters, finished second at the Rock Valley Conference tournament and won a regional title, and the Whippets could press the Blue Devils next year.
And Beloit Turner loses state fifth-place finisher Tyler Burt, Tony Bivens and an important senior class but had a really good freshman group this year.
• Janesville didn't have a wrestler on the podium for the first time in three years, but I don't think we're looking at an extended drought.
Craig's Keeanu Benton was the only sophomore to make the D1 285-pound bracket and has loads of potential.
Junior Nate Ellis narrowly missed out on a trip to state this year, and fellow junior Ethan Smith also made it to a second-place wrestleback at sectionals.
Parker's best bet next year looks to be will-be senior Brett Perkins, who was 36-6 at 120 pounds this year.
• I've been back in Janesville for four years, and I have yet to make it to every WIAA state event.
But the individual state wrestling tournament might be my favorite that I've seen.
It's nice to be able to sit outside at the baseball and softball diamonds. Basketball has the “March Madness” type of atmosphere. The enormity of all that's going on at track and field is a spectacle.
But at wrestling you've got so many towns and cities from across the state represented in one place, a full Kohl Center where everyone can see every single match that is wrestled and the hair-raising moment of the Walk of Champions just before the state championship matches begin.
Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org