Milton High foursome aim to add to wrestling tradition

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Thursday, February 23, 2012
— When four Milton High wrestlers step on the mat today to open their WIAA Division 1 state tournament run at the Kohl Center, all will carry a wealth of experience, confidence and extra incentives into their bouts.

Seniors John Wells, Landon Shea, Garrett Whitehead and Ian Johnson know that the tradition and pride of the Red Hawks’ wrestling program is in their favor.

That tradition includes 19 straight conference dual meet titles, which spans both the Southern Lakes and Badger conferences.

It continues with seven state individual champions, along with a state team championship in 2003, and a state team runnerup finish in 1994.

“I know a lot of kids put their name up on the wall in the wrestling room for going to state,” said Wells (40-4), who opens against Slinger’s Reed Luengen (43-4) at 113 pounds. “And I know a lot of kids will look a Milton singlet and say, ‘Crap, I have to wrestle him.’ It’s a psychological edge sometimes because some kids know the program, and it has been successful.’’

Wells is a four-time state qualifier and was a state champion at 103 pounds his sophomore year.

“You have to have a certain amount of pride, just not too much to where people think you are carrying yourself too highly, but it’s definitely important to wear pride when you wrestle,” Wells said.

Shea (37-5), a three-time state qualifier who has a fourth place medal, faces Franklin’s Colin DeClark (28-7) in his 126-pound opener. Shea said Milton’s wrestling tradition is a key to success.

“It carries a lot of weight,” Shea said. “It’s knowing that from youth this program has been built up for years and years, and I guess knowing that, it just puts you in a better spot mentally.’’

Shea watched Wells win his 103-pound state title, and he wants to experience the same thrill.

“From what I’ve seen, it looks pretty invigorating,’’ Shea said.

Whitehead (37-7) faces Holmen’s Ryan Stalsberg (27-15) in his opening match at 132.

A two-time state qualifier, Whitehead lost last season’s 130-pound title match to senior Jesse Thielke of Germantown, who finished 53-0. Thielke finished third in the recent U.S. Olympic trials.

“(Thielke) was the best kid in the nation at that weight,” Whitehead said.

With that experience behind him, Whitehead is focused on winning a state title.

“I’m just going to wrestle my matches and keep going hard,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll win it this year.’’

Whitehead is glad to be taking Milton’s colors to the state mat.

“People are aware of what Milton wrestling is about,” said Whitehead, who wants to wrestle in college.

Johnson, a four-time state qualifier and 171-pound state champ last season, carries a 40-0 record into his opening 182-pound bout against sophomore Tom Mitchell (38-6) of South Milwaukee.

If Johnson defeats Mitchell, he might have to hurdle Muskego’s Roland Dunlap, last season’s 189-pound champ. Dunlap is ranked fourth in the nation at 195.

“I guess he is a good measure, a good standard to judge yourself against,” Johnson said.

After Johnson won his 40th straight match, his thoughts were not on the milestone.

“Honestly, I didn’t think about that match,” Johnson said. “It was just wrestling.’’

Johnson said he will not continue wrestling after this season, and he is dealing with the end of a successful high school career.

“It’s bittersweet, I guess,” Johnson said. “I’m going (to state) with these three guys, and I honestly think I’m more excited for them than I am for myself.’’

Johnson carries Milton pride beyond his personal accomplishments, including beating fellow Badger Conference power Stoughton, 44-22, in a dual meet on the Vikings’ mat in December. That marked the third straight time the Red Hawks beat Stoughton in the teams’ dual-meet meeting since Milton joined the Badger.

“I feel like it’s something bigger than myself,” Johnson said. “Personally, the best thing in wrestling was winning the state championship, but in general, to the public eye, us not losing to Stoughton in the dual meet and proving to them that we were the best every single year, says a lot.’’

Johnson, Wells, Whitehead and Shea all want to make statements at state—for themselves and the Milton program.

Last updated: 7:40 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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