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Fennimore senior wins 138-pound D3 title
Fennimore senior Robert Callahan won the 132-pound WIAA Division 3 state title Saturday night at the Kohl Center with an 8–6 decision over Stratford's Max Schwabe. Birchman (38–11) became the seventh individual state champion in Fennimore history. - photo by Robert Callahan

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.

Alex Birchman, Sr., 132, Fennimore wrestling

      MADISON — Senior Alex Birchman scaled the mountain to win the 132-pound Division 3 title at the WIAA Individual State Championships Saturday night at the Kohl Center. Birchman (38–11, ranked #2 in Division 3), a four-time state qualifier, no stranger to bright lights on the state’s biggest stage, but in his way was an imposing challenge in top-ranked senior Max Schwabe of Stratford, the reigning D3 132-pound state champion.

     Birchman got off to a great start and led 8–3. He gave up back points in the third period, but fought off the pin and held on for an 8–6  upset victory, to clinch Fennimore’s seventh individual state wrestling title. 

     “We are extremely proud of Alex,” said Fennimore head coach Chad Steldt. “He really has made his way. Alex has had to mentally and physically fight for everything he accomplishes. I have not met a more mentally focused kid when the times get tough. This is ultimately what led to his title win. On paper Vegas would of had Schwabe a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 favorite based off his resume (past state champ), but Alex was determined to make the match his. He forced Schwabe to wrestle Alex’s way and that is when Alex is at this best. It was a great match for the fans as well. The way wrestling should be. Both kids went for big moves, both scored, but in the end Alex just was more dominating with his hand control and strength.”

     Birchman, who was the D3 state runner-up at 126 as a junior, opened his final state tournament with 17–1 technical fall victory over Cadott’s Tristan Drier (39–14) in Friday morning’s quarterfinals. He then  pinned Cedar Grove–Belgium’s Cael Erickson (46–3) early in the second period (2:47) during Friday’s night’s semifinal round.

     “When I saw Alex Sunday night, I asked him ‘how does it feel?,’” said Steldt. “He said, it feels great, it feels amazing. We are all living in the moment as of right now, but as time passes, Alex and the rest will realize the moments that led up to his great accomplishment proves it is all worth it. Alex will be hard to replace. He definitely has left his stamp on Fennimore Wrestling history.”

HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order):
Remington Bontreger, Jr., 113, Lancaster wrestling

     Bontreger, who was a state runner-up 106 pounds last season, brought home another silver medal this year with a second-place finish at 113 pounds at last weekend's WIAA Division 3 State Tournament. Bontreger (46–3) defeated Clear Lake's Dominic Leintz 12–10 in Friday morning's quarterfinal, then pinned Troy Dolphin (3:09) of Kenosha Life Christian in Friday night's semifinal. He closed the season with an 11–8 loss to Cameron's Tanner Gerber (48–1) in Saturday night's finals.

Josie Nies, Sr., PG, Platteville girls basketball

     Nies hit two of the biggest baskets of her standout career late in the second half to lift undefeated, top-ranked Platteville to a 47–38 victory over No. 4 seeded Madison Edgewood in Saturday night's WIAA Division 3 regional final. Nies, who was just 3 of 11 in the games first 32 minutes, buried a step back jumper to give the Hillmen a 38–33 lead with 3:53 remaining, then after an Edgewood turnover drilled a pull-up jumper from the wing to extend the lead to 40–33 with 1:58 left. Nies finished the game with 12 points, four assists and three steals. Two nights earlier, the senior point guard had the best shooting game of her standout career, pouring in a game-high 22 points on 9 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers. She also had a game-high seven assists and just one turnover.

Aaron Ragels, Sr., 220, Fennimore wrestling

      Senior Aaron Ragles also wrestled for a state title Saturday night, but came up short when he was caught on his back and pinned by top-ranked senior Ethan Heil (31–0) of Edgar with 22 seconds left in the first period of the 220-pound championship. Ragels wasn’t supposed to reach the state finals. Less than a year ago he torn his ACL and missed all of the 2019 football season. He wasn’t even cleared to wrestle at the very beginning of the season, but hard work paved his rode to championship Saturday night. Ragels (34–4, #2) defeated  Cumberland’s Milan Monchilovich (26–8) 8–4 Friday morning, then defeated Mishicot’s Frank Koeppel (39–7, #3) 7–2 in Friday night’s semifinals to earn a spot in Saturday’s finals. Ragels placed fifth at 195 pounds at last year’s state tournament. 

Will Schaefer, Sr., 182, Belmont/Platteville wrestling

      Platteville senior Will Schaefer finished off his prep career by placing second in the Division 2 182-pound weight class at the 2020 WIAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament held at Kohl Center Feb. 27–29. Schaefer (40–7) was seeking to become Belmont/Platteville’s fourth state champion and the first from Platteville since Dusty Jentz in 2012 after advancing to the finals at 182-pounds with an 11–2 major decision over Gale–Ettrick–Trempealeau/Melrose–Mindoro senior Jacob Summers (42–11) in the quarterfinals Friday afternoon and a 1:47 fall over Port Washington junior Lucas Schumacher (35–18) in the semifinals Friday evening. The Platteville senior matched up against Luxemburg–Casco senior Reece Worachek (48–1) in Saturday night’s state finale. Worachek, the defending 170-pound state champion for the Spartans, pulled ahead 5–0 with a first-period takedown, a second period escape and a third-period two-point near fall. Schaefer got an escape with 20 seconds remaining, but Worachek scored a late takedown to go up 7–1 and held on for a 7–2 decision to claim his second state title and third career state medal.

Brooklyn VanNatta, Jr., Platteville/Belmont/Lancaster Gymnastics

      The Lancaster junior earned a spot in the WIAA D2 individual state championships, that will be held Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids, with top-5 sectional finishes in the balance beam, floor exercise, vault and all-around at last Saturday's WIAA D2 Platteville Sectional. VanNatta placed third on the floor exercise (8.975), fourth on the balance beam (8.35), tied for fifth on the vault (8.45) and fifth in the all-around (33.60) to help the Hillmen post a season-best team score of 131.975 to edge SWC rival Dodgeville/Mineral Point (130.325) for second place and berth in this Friday's WIAA Team State Championships. The PBL tri-op will be making its third straight appearance at Team State and 10th in the past 11 years under coach Jessica Hill.