Nate Ellis may not have been able to stomach another close call.
The Janesville Craig senior made sure he wouldn’t have to Saturday at Fort Atkinson High.
One year after missing out on the WIAA state individual wrestling tournament by a mere two points, Ellis secured a trip to the Kohl Center by finishing second at 138 pounds at the Fort Atkinson Sectional.
He’ll join teammate and junior Keeanu Benton in wrestling at state beginning Thursday.
“Finally,” Ellis said after he had a moment to exhale. “I was watching that final (wrestleback) match and just started to have that feeling that this could go just like last year. But when he (Stoughton’s Luke Mechler) hit that takedown in overtime, it was just a feeling of relief.”
Ellis lost the 132-pound final to Elkhorn junior Daniel Stilling in a close, 5-1, decision. Then Ellis was left to watch Mechler in the third-place wrestleback.
Had Mechler lost, Ellis would have been forced to wrestle one more match, for second place, with a state berth on the line. And as a junior, Ellis had lost in the sectional finals and then lost 7-5 in the second-place wrestleback to leave feeling heartbroken.
Not this time.
This time, it was Ellis’ clutch victory over Mechler in the semifinals that paved his way to state. Mechler tied that match, 8-8, late in the third period, but Ellis was able to score an escape in the final seconds, winning 9-8.
Ellis said he couldn’t pick between which feeling was more gratifying, scoring that late escape and winning the semis or seeing Mechler win in overtime in the third-place match to clinch Ellis’ spot at state.
that second match or I might not get a shot at a wrestleback. So to get that escape was a great feeling,” Ellis said. “Then, to see that match end in overtime, I could finally breathe.”
“We couldn’t ask for a better kid to make it to state than Nate Ellis,” Craig coach Mark Mullen said. “He does everything you ask of him in practice. He’s the ultimate role model.”
Ellis won’t be alone at the Kohl Center, as Benton rolled to the sectional title at 285 pounds to qualify for state for a second straight year.
Benton, who pinned Stoughton’s Aodan Marshall in the third period of the sectional title match, will carry a 43-1 record to state, with his lone loss coming to an out-of-state competitor.
“I’ve been doing a lot of conditioning and getting ready for state,” Benton said. “I’m not going to be nervous this time. My confidence level is way higher than last year, so I feel like I’ll do better and be on the podium, at least.”
Three other area wrestlers won sectional titles at Fort Atkinson, and four others took second to advance to state.
Lake Geneva Badger won the lightest two weight classes, with senior Beau LaDu and junior Jake Stritesky earning decisions at 106 and 113 pounds, respectively.
Stilling improved to 40-5 in winning at 138, and he’ll be joined by teammates Payton Jacobson (106), Grant Truesdale (120) and Colman Karl (138).
Milton junior Mason Dutcher fought through a wrestleback to take second over Craig’s Mayson Maclennan at 113. Senior teammate Jerry Lipke lost a tough second-place wrestleback to Beloit Memorials’ Linzell Burks at 195 pounds.
Division 1 preliminaries begin at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Kohl Center, with quarterfinal matches to follow.
Division 1 Fort Atkinson Sectional
(Top two finishers in each weight class advance to the state tournament)
TITLE MATCHES AND SECOND-PLACE WRESTLEBACKS, IF NECESSARY
106—Beau LaDu (Badger) dec. Payton Jacobson (Elkhorn), 7-0.
113—Jake Stitesky (Badger) dec. Mason Dutcher (Milton), 10-6. Second place: Dutcher pinned Mayson Maclennan (Janesville Craig), 5:15.
120—Hunter Lewis (Stoughton) pinned Edward Wilkowski (Watertown), 1:11.
126—Braeden Whitehead (Stoughton) pinned Grant Truesdale (Elkhorn), 5:03.
132—Daniel Stilling (Elkhorn) dec. Nate Ellis (Janesville Craig), 5-1.
138—Nick Logan (Watertown) maj. Dec. Colman Karl (Elkhorn), 13-4.
145—Drew Scharenbrock (Sun Prairie) pinned Nico Roscioli (Fort Atkinson), 0:34. Second place: Roscioli tech. fall Cody Suddeth (Stoughton), 17-2, 5:24.
152—Austin Rauls (DeForest) dec. Cade Spilde (Stoughton), 3-1. Second place: Keagan Lazar (Oconomowoc) dec. Spilde, 12-9.
160—Tyler Dow (Stoughton) tech. fall Devin Keast (Oregon), 19-2 6:00.
170—Hunter Valach (Wilmot) dec. Luke Geister-Jones (Stoughton), 4-2.
182—Brooks Empey (Stoughton) dec. Reid McNeill (Westosha), 6-4. Second place: McNeill pinned Nathan Welsh (Elkhorn), 4:39.
195—Stephen Maule (Watertown) dec. Jerry Lipke (Milton), 12-10. Second place: Linzell Burks (Beloit Memorial) pinned Lipke, 1:54.
220—Matt Brewster (Watertown) dec. Gavin Miller (Stoughton), 8-6. Second place: Mason Smith (Sun Prairie) dec. Miller, 8-2.
285—Keeanu Benton (Janesville Craig) pinned Aodan Marshall (Stoughton), 5:25.