Keeanu Benton’s high school wrestling career has been marked by steps.
And standing 6-foot-4, the Janesville Craig junior can make some big strides.
Benton went from missing the WIAA state individual tournament as a freshman to qualifying as a sophomore to advancing all the way to a state championship match.
Benton simply ran into a competitor with an even more-experienced resume in the title bout.
Kaukauna senior Keaton Kluever successfully defended his 285-pound state championship at the Kohl Center on Saturday night, pinning Benton late in the first period.
“We told him to treat it like any other match—to wrestle, be tough and watch out for a snatch single, because that’s what he (Kluever) does all the time,” Craig coach Mark Mullen said. “Keeanu was a little wide-eyed, and that’s the hard thing, to stay entirely focused on wrestling in this atmosphere.”
Kluever came out on the offensive almost immediately and grabbed a single leg of Benton’s on the way to a takedown just 25 seconds into the match.
Benton escaped to make it 2-1, but Kluever again went back to the leg and got a takedown and two-point near fall to take command.
Benton never recovered, and Kluever finished off a 48-2 senior season with the pin.
Benton finished 46-2, with Kluever his lone loss to an in-state wrestler.
“We told him, two years ago, you were nowhere near a state tournament, last year you were out in the first round and this year you were in the state finals,” Mullen said. “You work a little harder, and where will you be next year?”
Ellis joins Benton on podium
Craig finished with two wrestlers on the state podium.
Along with Benton’s second-place finish, senior Nate Ellis finished in sixth place at 132 pounds.
“Very proud of both of them,” Mullen said.
Other area podium finishers
Among other area state qualifiers, Elkhorn junior Daniel Stilling posted the best finish. At 132 pounds in Division 1, he outscored his opponents 20-2 in two matches Saturday to finish in third place.
Lake Geneva Badger senior Beau LaDu was fourth at 106 pounds, while Milton junior Mason Dutcher was sixth at 113.
In Division 2, Whitewater senior Jimmy DuVal closed out his career by winning a consolation semifinal and finishing fourth at 182 pounds.
Edgerton sophomore Cole Bavery (132) and Evansville/Albany junior Branden Lange (285) each earned pins to win fifth-place matches.
Spacing> There, after breezing through his first two matches, he beat Dolata 3-2 in the semifinals to earn another shot at Hauri on the way to a state championship.
“There was a doubt (I’d be here) at some point, but in the back of my mind, I knew these coaches have always put me in the right position and know what’s best for me,” Kicmol said. “It’s honestly been a blessing to wrestle for them the past four years.
“And to have all the practice partners in our room to get me here. Ben Barmore and Tyler Aasen hammered on me all year. It’s as much their state title as it is mine.”
It’s the third state title in program history. Mitch Hull won the first in 1975, and Brian Benash followed with another a year later—both competing for what was then just strictly and Evansville program.
Hull, a Wisconsin Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Famer who went on to compete at Wisconsin, later qualified to compete for Team USA on the World Championship stage and coached with USA Wrestling for more than two decades, was at the Kohl Center to witness Kicmol’s feat.
“I had to be back for this one,” Hull said. “He’d be the same great kid whether he won or not, but he’ll be a state champ now forever.
“Hopefully we don’t have to wait another 42 years.”
WIAA state wrestling
Kohl Center, Madison
106—Consolation semifinal: Beau LaDu (Badger) dec. Sam Lorenz (Waunakee), 9-3. Third place: Cody Minor (Ashwaubenon) dec. LaDu, 8-2.
113—Consolation semifinal: Zeke Smith (Sauk Prairie) pinned Mason Dutcher (Milton), 0:27. Fifth place: Reuben Guzik (Rhinelander) dec. Dutcher, 7-4.
132—Consolation semifinals: Daniel Stilling (Elkhorn) dec. Reese Thompson (Oshkosh West), 9-2; Isaac Riddle (Germantown) dec. Nate Ellis (Janesville Craig), 4-2 (OT). Third place: Stilling maj. dec. Riddle, 11-0. Fifth place: Thompson dec. Ellis, 8-1.
285—Championship: Keaton Kluever (Kaukauna) pinned Keeanu Benton (Janesville Craig), 1:43.
132—Consolation semifinal: Nathan Ronsman (Luxemburg-Casco) majl dec. Cole Bavery (Edgerton), 12-0. Fifth place: Bavery pinned Mike Smith (Amery), 2:25.
152—Championship: Nolan Kicmol (Evansville/Albany) maj. dec. Jackson Hauri (Brodhead/Juda), 10-2.
182—Consolation semifinal: Jimmy DuVal (Whitewater) dec. Matt Koelbl (Campbellsport), 6-2. Third place: Andrew Henschel (Wautoma/Wild Rose) maj. dec. DuVal, 9-1.
285—Consolation semifinal: Josh Frerk (Denmark) dec. Branden Lange (Evansville/Albany), 9-2. Fifth place: Lange pinned Jon Rolle (Elkhart Lake), 1:39.