MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (Feb. 28–March 7)
WIAA D3 TEAM WRESTLING STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS: #2 Fennimore 37, #1 Coleman 23
By Jason Nihles, Fennimore Times/The Platteville Journal
MADISON — Fennimore wrestling coach Chad Steldt summed it up best following his Golden Eagles’ dominating 37–23 victory over #1-ranked Coleman clinched the WIAA Division 3 Team Wrestling State championship.
“Fennimore is back on top!,” said Steldt, who returned to coaching this year after a year away from the program. “What an amazing feeling and experience for the entire community. It was so impressive to have our band and fans there in full force. We had the biggest following out of any school. Thank you Fennimore!”
Impressive indeed; Fennimore shined throughout the UW Field House Saturday both in the stands and on the mat.
After a narrow 35–30 semifinal victory over #3-ranked St. Croix Falls in the Saturday morning’s semifinal round, Fennimore got an early jump on Coleman — winning the first three matches — and did not let up.
“Did the boys save the best for last or what?,” said Steldt. “This was the most complete dual our team wrestled all year. A lot of work, film, planning went into that victory. You could feel the intensity in the air, and you just felt reassured everything was going to work out by the way the boys competed. They were definitely locked in.”
Senior Connar Northouse (8–6) opened the dual with a dramatic 10–8 upset victory over individual state qualifier Brady Gross (41–0) at 132 pounds.
Northouse rallied from an 8–6 third-period deficit, using an escape with 1:28 left, a penalty point to tie the match with 1:06 remaining and a match-winning take down with just 27 seconds left.
Freshman Tristan Steldt (17–6) followed Northouse’s win with a commanding 10–0 major decision over two-time state qualifier Chance Gruber (34–14) at 138 pounds.
Senior Kaden Hahn (35–17) then came up with an improbable 5–3 comeback win at 145 pounds against 2022 state qualifier Micha Kuchta (35–14), scoring all five of his points in the final 36 seconds with a takedown and a three-point nearfall with just seven seconds remaining to clinch the victory.
Hahn’s win gave Fennimore an early 10–0 lead in the team score.
“Connar’s win and Coleman not really knowing about him was so, so big,” said Steldt. “Connar won in dramatic fashion against a state qualifier. This got the ball rolling in our favor. Then, to have Tristan Steldt take out a two-time state qualifier and prior state placewinner by a major decision, followed by Kaden Hahn’s last second victory over a state qualifier really put us ahead of our point schedule. Out of these three weights we pre-planned worst case scenarios, which had us losing two out of those three matches, so to win all three was well above expectations.”
Coleman (17–2) responded with back-to-back major decisions at 152 by two-time senior state champion Karson Casper (47–3) and 160 Will Bieber (47–8) to narrow the gap to 10–8.
The key to these matches for Fennimore, was freshman Syler Zdanczewicz at 152 and sophomore Wyatt Ahnen (15–14) at 160 not allowing pins or technical falls to save the team valuable team points.
“We knew Syler and Wyatt were against very good senior kids. Syler kept Casper to a major decision, saving the team points,” said coach Steldt. “Wyatt did the same thing against a kid that placed third at individual state. Syler and Wyatt were just so darn gritty all day; pretty impressive considering they are both underclassmen in a very pressure-cooked situation.”
Fennimore freshman Nathan Blaschke scored his own 12–3 major decision over Isaiah Nowak (15–10) at 170 pounds to make it 14–8.
“Nathan Blaschke was clutch!” said Steldt. “We knew between 152 and 182 pounds that we needed one win or to not get pinned at all, and we did both. Wyatt and Syler not getting pinned and then followed by a huge major decision win by Nathan Blaschke really put Coleman in a tough spot points-wise. They needed at least 21 points by 182 to stay with our lower weights and they were only at eight. We were feeling pretty darn good when Nathan took his opponent down with a blast double with three seconds left to give us a major and a 4-point team victory.”
Coleman studs, senior Cole Klimek (46–9) and junior Peter Kuchta (13–5) scored back-to-back pins at 182 and 195 to give Coleman a 20–14 lead.
Senior Cameron Winkers (39–11) pinned Sawyer Seefeldt at the 2:44 mark of the second period to even the dual at 20–20.
Senior Brody Zahn (45–3), who placed third at individual state, scored a 3–1 win over Fennimore sophomore Evan Gratz (30–7) at 285 to give Coleman its final points of the dual.
“Winkers and Evan Gratz competed according to plans,” said Steldt. “We knew we could win one of the two upper weights. The pin was a plus by Cameron. The coaches really felt Evan could have thrown Zahn, but staying true to his discipline and game plan he did exactly what he had to do to keep our team in the race.
“Rounding the corner we felt good, even though we were behind 23–20. Our lower weights are some of the best in the entire state.”
Freshman Amryn Nutter (35–5) dominated his 106-pound match with a 17–1 technical fall over Conner Markiewicz (31–13) as Fennimore regained a 25–23 lead.
Sophomore Ian Crapp (26–7) followed with a commanding 5–0 decision at 113 over three-time state qualifier junior Raymond Lemieux (37–12) with takedowns in the second and third period to make it 28–23.
“Amryn rises to the occasion when pressure rises,” said Steldt. “He loves these moments, and it showed. His tech fall versus a state qualifier just shows how talented this young man is. This win really fed into Ian Crapp’s momentous win over another upperclassmen and three-time state qualifier. It was a huge win by Ian. He was patient and persistent with his feet and hand fighting.”
Junior Brecken Muench (37–7) clinched Fennimore’s team victory with an 11–2 major decision over junior John Nowak (31–16) at 120 pounds.
“We thought Nowak would give Brecken some fits due to his strength and willingness to throw big moves, but Brecken was on,” said Steldt. “He shut down every attack Nowak had and turned him several times to get the major.”
Junior Brett Birchman (49–7) continued the Fennimore celebration with a 21–2 technical fall over sophomore Cameron Kimmell (2–1) in the final bout at 126 pounds.
“We could not have ended with a better wrestler than Brett Birchman,” added Steldt. “Even though he bummed up his knee last week, he was on a mission Saturday. I think in both matches he scored his first takedown in less than five seconds. Brett loves these moments too. His 21–2 win put an exclamation point on the overall dual.”
With the win Fennimore (15–2) clinched its third state title in the past seven years after winning WIAA D3 Team State titles in 2016 and 2019, to go along with second-place finishes in 2017, 2018 and 2020. The Golden Eagles also qualified for the team state tournament in 2015.
“This one was special,” said Steldt. “It seemed more emotional, more urgent than others. I think a lot of the feelings came from what we have all been through in the last 24 months. In the last two years, we have all realized what really brings joy to us as a whole. Wrestling is the beloved sport to many of us, but for other Fennimore fans it is the avenue we use to build a stronger community, a community with pride, Eagle Pride they say. For that I am beyond happy.
“On a personal level it was the first title run I had without my dad,” added Steldt. “He has always been the one that urged me to do better, to not be average. As we won, knowing we had it locked up, it was nice, I finally took a small moment to reflect on those words of advice he once gave me.”
Saturday was the final match for five Fennimore seniors, Connar Northouse, Kaden Hahn, Cooper Fitzgerald, Cameron Winkers and Bailey Schaefer.
“We thank you for your commitment to the program through all the highs and lows,” said coach Steldt. “You wanted to leave your senior year with a team title and that you did. Bravo young men, bravo! Your smiles will forever be etched in our memories. We will never forget unwavering loyalty to your teammates. ”
WIAA Division 3 Team State Championships
(from Saturday, March 5 @ UW Field House, Madison)
Championship — Fennimore 37, Coleman 23
Semifinals — Fennimore 35, St. Croix Falls 30; Coleman 39, Random Lake 33
WIAA Division 3 Team State Championship Match
#2 Fennimore 37, #1 Coleman 23
132: Connar Northouse (F) over Brady Gross (C) Dec 10-8. 138: Tristan Steldt (F) over Chance Gruber (C) Maj 10-0. 145: Kaden Hahn (F) over Micha Kuchta (C) Dec 5-3. 152: Karson Casper (C) over Syler Zdanczewicz (F) Maj 12-0. 160: William Bieber (C) over Wyatt Ahnen (F) Maj 15-3. 170: Nathan Blaschke (F) over Isaiah Nowak (C) Maj 12-3. 182: Peter Kuchta (C) over Cameron Wolf (F) Fall 4:52. 195: Cole Klimek (C) over Dalton Wolf (F) Fall 3:14. 220: Cameron Winkers (F) over Sawyer Seefeldt (C) Fall 2:44. 285: Brody Zahn (C) over Evan Gratz (F) Dec 3-1. 106: Amryn Nutter (F) over Conner Markiewicz (C) TF 17-1. 113: Ian Crapp (F) over Raymond Lemieux (C) Dec 5-0. 120: Brecken Muench (F) over John Nowak (C) Maj 11-2. 126: Brett Birchman (F) over Cameron Kimmell (C) TF 21-2.
Fennimore advanced to Saturday’s championship match with a 35–30 semifinal win over #3-ranked St. Croix Falls (9–2).
SFC opened an early 9–4 lead after 145 pounds and the first four matches, by Ahnen secured a 10–4 win at 152, and Zdanczewicz posted a 10–2 major decision at 160.
After a loss at 170, Fennimore secured three-straight pins by junior Cameron Wolf at 182, Winkers at 195 and sophomore Wyatt Miles at 220 to make it 29–15, and Nutter sealed the victory with a 2:41 pin of Cole Steffen at 106.
“We did not match up the best against Saint Croix Falls, but the guys wrestled well overall,” said Steldt. “ It was big to have Wyatt Ahnen and Syler Zdaczewicz get wins. These were matches that we just did not know a lot about. Both Wyatt and Syler stuck to their offense and kept attacking, mentally breaking their opponents by the third period.
“The Camerons, Wolf and Winkers, came through like they have all year with their pins. These guys are pretty darn good at putting their opponents away. This really sealed the first dual for us.”
WIAA Division 3 Team State Semifinal Match
#2 Fennimore 35, #3 Saint Croix Falls 30
126: 126 - Brett Birchman (F) over Josh Davidsavor (SCF) Maj 11-2. 132: Kaden Clark (SCF) over Nick Needham (F) Dec 9-2. 138: Mason Will (SCF) over Tristan Steldt (F) Dec 9-5. 145: Griffin Marko (SCF) over Kaden Hahn (F) Dec 5-2. 152: Wyatt Ahnen (F) over Sam Glenna (SCF) Dec 10-4. 160: Syler Zdanczewicz (F) over Devyn Rode (SCF) Maj 10-2. 170: Kole Marko (SCF) over Nathan Blaschke (F) Fall 1:10. 182: Cameron Wolf (F) over Bryce Haaf (SCF) Fall 0:35. 195: Cameron Winkers (F) over Bryce McCurdy (SCF) Fall 3:43. 220: Wyatt Miles (F) over Eli Prokop (SCF) Fall 1:57. 285: Kasey Johnson (SCF) over Bailey Schaefer (F) Fall 3:26. 106: Amryn Nutter (F) over Cole Steffen (SCF) Fall 2:41.113: Kellen Kelly (SCF) over Ian Crapp (F) Dec 10-3. 120: Kody Fleck (SCF) won by forfeit.