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GAME OF THE WEEK (WIAA Wrestling Team State D3 Championship): Fennimore 31, Stratford 24
Lees pin clinches D3 Team State title
fennimore wrestling
The Fennimore wrestling team won the WIAA Division 3 Team State Championship with a 3124 victory over top-ranked and two-time defending D3 team state champion Stratford Saturday at the UWField House in Madison. The Golden Eagles (110) defeated St. Croix Falls 4719 in Saturday morning D3 Team State semifinals

GAME OF THE WEEK (Feb. 28–March. 6)

PREP WRESTLING (WIAA D3 Team State Championship): #2 Fennimore 31,  #1Stratford 24


By Jason Nihles

MADISON — Stratford came into Saturday’s WIAA Division 3 Team State championship dual with three individual state champions, back-to-back D3 team titles and the number one ranking.

But Fennimore proved they had the better more versatile team and left the UW–Fieldhouse with this year’s D3 Team State title after sophomore Brody Lee’s second-period pin of freshman Logan Gaulke at 106 pounds. 

Lee’s victory in the final match of the dual secured the Golden Eagles’ 31–24 victory and their second team state title in the past four years.

The Golden Eagles (11–0) led 25–24 entering the final match, after Stratford’s senior heavyweight state champion Dylan Schoenherr earned a 7–0 victory over Fennimore senior Brayden Leffler at 285.

It all came down to one match for the state title.  

Lee (29–12) built a 5–0 lead in the first period. He chose neutral to begin the second period and hip-tossed Gaulke (25–21) to his back and pinned him 52 seconds into the second period to clinch the 2019 D3 team state title.

“I sat Luke Blair and Brody Lee down months before season and explained to them that one of them need to be at 106 in March for us to win the title,” said Fennimore head coach Chad Steldt. “Lee took on the challenge. It is extremely hard to put into words how hard it was for Brody and his parents to be discipline enough for him to get to weight while keeping up with school work and competing in a very tough schedule. 

“As it came to be, that talk in September worked out just as perceived and the team title came down to Brody Lee at 106, and we were quite confident that the training would payoff. We were right. Brody’s hip toss to a pin will be forever etched in Fennimore wrestling history.”

Fennimore finished second to Stratford each of the past two years after beating the Tigers 27–26 on a tie-breaker in the 2016 state championship.

“Success comes with much sacrifice,” added Steldt. “This is fitting for the 2019 team state champs. The building of a team state title comes years in advance. The planning comes from the coaching staff, parents, and community. This team was being built two and three years ago as they attended summer camps, wrestling competitions around the upper Midwest, and trained beyond the normal four month season. 

“The weight room training the last two years has really helped, thanks in big part to our lifting coach Chris Lull. In the last five months we sharpened the skills, perfected individual’s technique, and improved their conditioning. This all is possible because the parents and coaches were willing to sacrifice so their boys were provided opportunities to improve. It is great when it all comes together.”

113: The championship dual began with Fennimore junior Luke Blair (34–10) taking on Stratford freshman Gavin Drexler (46–2). Drexler was undefeated and ranked number one entering individual sectionals, before he was upset twice. Blair, who finished fifth at state battled Drexler throughout, but fell 7-3. Stratford 3–0.

“Luke set the tone against Stratford,” said Steldt. “Gavin Drexler is one of the best wrestlers in the state right now. He is extremely talented. For Blair to wrestle him to a 7–4 loss on a knee he just had surgery on today was amazing. This was a match that Stratford needed a tech or better, so a regular decision loss was very deflating for them.”

120: The next match was the first of six in the dual that pitted a pair of state qualifiers. Startford senior Manny Drexler (47–5), a three-time state finalist who finished second at 120 this year, scored a 4–3 victory over junior Mason Lull (36–15). Drexler got a takedown late in the second period to take a 4–3 lead, and Lull could not get away from the bottom position in the third period. Stratford 6–0

“Mason came to wrestle in the finals against Manny Drexler,” said Steldt. “Once again this was a match on paper that Stratford needed bonus points. We thought Lull could stay close if not win in the third period, and that he almost did. We had a game plan going into the match and he stuck to it perfectly.”

126: Junior Alex Birchman (35–12) gave the Golden Eagles a huge boost with a first-period pin over freshman Dillon Kirsch (21–11) at 126. Birchman got an early takedown, put Kirsch in a cradle and that’s all she wrote as Birchman’s pin evened the match. Birchman finished second at individual state. Tied 6–6.

“Birchman was on at the end of the year,” said Steldt. “He wrestled faster than he ever has, and had a lot of confidence. He was told we needed a pin and his intensity just overwhelmed his opponents on Saturday. He really is growing into a great wrestler.”

132: Stratford sophomore state champion Max Schwabe (49–2) scored a 16–0 technical fall over senior Kohl Wardell (6–7), but Wardell saved the Eagles a team point by not getting pinned. Stratford 11–6.

138: Junior Aidan Nutter (42–8) moved up a claas and again displayed his stand-up wrestling dominance with four takedowns in a 10–4 decision over sophomore two-time state qualifier Jacob Heiden (32–12). Nutter finished third at 132 at individual state. Stratford 11–9.

“Nutter’s ability to attack is the best on the team,” said Steldt. “He has reaction and explosion that really takes his opponents by surprise. This is the best overall year he has put together. We move him up in the finals to wrestle a state two-time state qualifier and he wrestled according to plan. He took his opponent down at will and controlled the whole match. I know he really wanted to throw his opponent, but we did not need it, and he stuck to the goal we set forth for him.”

145: Senior Trevor Wanek also bumped up a weight and gave the Eagles their first lead of the dual with an 11–5 decision over senior Maverick Licciardi (44–9), who finished fourth at individual state. Wanek (36–15) built a 3–0 lead in the second period with an escape and a takedown, then put the match away with a flurry of four third-period takedowns. Wanek finished third at 138 at individual state. Fennimore 12–11.

152: Junior Nick Blascke (16–23) stepped in the circle next for the Eagles and took junior Devin Denne (41–14), a fourth-place state finisher, the distance. Denne scored a 14–0 major decision, but Blaschke saved the team two bonus points by not getting pinned. Stratford 15–12.

“Nick his job,” said Steldt. “By the skin of his teeth he saved the team two points. His loss to Dennee really helped us spread the lead going into the upper weights.”

160: Senior Maguire Fitzgerald (39–8) scored a crucial 3–0 victory over senior Derek Marten (23–6) for Fennimore at 160 to even the match. Fitzgerald got a second-period escape and a pair of stalling points in the third for the win. Marten finished fourth at 152 at state. Tied 15–15.

170: Kyrgyzstan exchange student Atai Berdaliev (6–5) had the tall task of challenging Startford junior state champion Trevor Denne. Denne (49–1) scored a first-periodpin to give the Tigers a 21–15 lead. Stratford 21–15.

182: Coach Steldt moved junior Will Ahnen (42–11) moved up to 182 to get a better matchup for the team and Ahnen responded with a  dominating 10–2 major decision over sophomore Hunter Ford (36–9). Ahnen, a state qualifier at 170, had a pair of first-period takedowns and a two-point nearfall to build an early 6–1 lead. Stratford 21–19.

“Will hit several high technical skilled moves, and attacked with the upmost confidence,” said Steldt. “He is often energized and motivated by one of his biggest fans [his grandfather], who passed away this last year, and I think he wanted to do him proud. That he did! His win in the championship really put us in the driver seat, and brought a smile to the coaching staff, knowing we had the right line-up in place to close the deal.”

195: Junior Logan Klaas (24–10) scored a huge Fennimore victory with a wild 12–8 decision over senior Jediah Knetter (9–7) at 195 to give the Eagles a 22–21 lead. After a high-scoring second period, Klaas fell behind 8–6 early in the third when Knetter escaped. Klaas was awarded a stalling point with 51 seconds remaining, then scored a dramatic takedown with 10 seconds left, and a 3-point nearfall to pull out dramatic win. Fennimore 22–21.

“Logan just likes to scare us,” said Steldt. “Winning in typical Klaas fashion, he waited for 10 seconds left in the match to secure the win. But hey, it added to the excitement, so I cannot blame Logan.”

220: Junior Aaron Ragels (40–12) added to the Fennimore lead with a 9–4 decision over fellow state qualifier, senior Trevor Steiner (32–14). Ragels scored an reversal early in the third and got a 3-point nearfall off the move to take a commanding 9–2 lead. Ragels finished fifth at 195 at individual state. Fennimore 25–21.

“Aaron did a great job controlling the match,” said Steldt. “The score did not reflect it, but Aaron did a great job controlling the match and mentally breaking his opponent by the third period.”

285: Senior Brayden Leffler (34–14), who finished third at state at 220, bumped up to 285 to take on the mighty Schoenherr, who was a two-time state medalist and the 285 D3 state champion this year. Leffler took Schoenherr (45–3) the full six minutes in a 7–0 loss. Fennimore 25–24.

“I think a lot of Dylan Kehoe,” said Steldt. “It was hard to look him the eyes and tell him that Brayden Leffler had to move up to heavyweight for this match. Dylan was steadfast in response, as he look me directly in the eyes and said, ‘your the coach; whatever is best.’ He has come to love this team and what it stands for. Dylan’s attitude towards his fellow teammates has always been supportive and did whatever is best for the team.”

106: In that match, that will live on forever in Fennimore wrestling lore, sophomore Brody Lee (29–12) clinched the team state title with a 2:52 pin of freshman Logan Gaulke (25–20) at 106. FINAL: Fennimore 31–24.

“It will be hard to see the seniors go,” added Steldt. “Trevor Wanek, Brayden Leffler, Maguire Fitzgerald, Dylan Kehoe, and Kohl Wardell. As a whole, they continued  to build the identity of Fennimore wrestling as a team program, and we are better as a whole than as individuals. It seems like this is how all sports should be, but in many parts of Wisconsin wrestling is treated as an individual sport, but not here. We are one, we are a team, and this group of seniors have helped build this culture.” p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 10.0px; font: 10.0px Times} span.s1 {text-decoration: underline ; font-kerning: none}


“Thank you to the Fennimore faithful that seemed to be the loudest fans base there, and for good reason, We won!,” added coach Steldt. “My hats off to the Fennimore Band. I think they won the dueling bands competition hands down. Even my old school [Ellsworth] commented on their superb performance. 

“Thank you parents for allowing me to coach your son and influence him in becoming not only a better student-athlete, but an overall better human. I have learned a lot from the boys and my managers. It has been a great year for Fennimore wrestling. 

“Lastly, to my coaching staff; I cannot say enough about Don Zdanzcewicz, Troy Wardell, and Jeff Muench. These guys are the backbone of daily practices and individual skill building. I cannot ask for a better group of guys to work with. Thank you.”

WIAA Division 3 Team State Championship

Fennimore 31, Stratford 24

(from Saturday, March 2 @ UW Fieldhouse, Madison)

113 - Gavin Drexler (Stratford) over Luke Blair (Fennimore) Dec 7-3

120 - Manny Drexler (Stratford) over Mason Lull (Fennimore) Dec 4-3

126 - Alex Birchman (Fennimore) over Dillon Kirsch (Stratford) Fall 1:29

132 - Max Schwabe (Stratford) over Kohl Wardell (Fennimore) TF 16-0

138 - Aidan Nutter (Fennimore) over Jacob Heiden (Stratford) Dec 10-4

145 - Trevor Wanek (Fennimore) over Mavrick Licciardi (Stratford) Dec 11-5

152 - Devin Dennee (Stratford) over Nick Blaschke (Fennimore) Maj 14-0

160 - Maguire Fitzgerald (Fennimore) over Derek Marten (Stratford) Dec 3-0

170 - Trevor Dennee (Stratford) over Atai Berdaliev (Fennimore) Fall 1:06

182 - Will Ahnen (Fennimore) over Hunter Ford (Stratford) Maj 10-2

195 - Logan Klaas (Fennimore) over Jediah Knetter (Stratford) Dec 12-8

220 - Aaron Ragels (Fennimore) over Trevor Steiner (Stratford) Dec 9-4

285 - Dylan Schoenherr (Stratford) over Brayden Leffler (Fennimore) Dec 7-0

106 - Brody Lee (Fennimore) over Logan Gaulke (Stratford) Fall 2:52