MADISON — Just moments after pinning Westby’s Ross Withington to win the 138-pound Division 3 state title, Iowa–Grant senior Tucker Sarbacker did what came naturally.
After congratulating his fallen opponent he rushed off the mat, climbed the railing at the Kohl Center and celebrated in the arms of his family.
Among those in attendance were his parents, his five siblings — three sisters, two brothers — and a number of cousins, all wearing black T-shirts adorned with a black panther and a red “T” for their beloved Tucker.
“It was just instinct,” said Sarbacker of the impromptu celebration. “That was the best. Not everyone has a wrestling family like mine. They are really into it and they were all there. It was crazy. It’s almost unexplainable. It was one of the best feelings I have ever had. It was just awesome.”
In the world of prep wrestling, the surname Sarbacker, comes with a bit of pressure to live up to those before you.
Tucker’s father Tim was a state qualifier as a prep and the former Iowa–Grant co-head coach, and Tucker’s brother Cade is a two-time state champion (2006, 2007) and currently a senior on the UW–Whitewater wrestling team.
His younger sister Shania, a sophomore at IGHS, is a sectional-qualifying teammate and youngest brother Sawyer is the next in line in a family born to wrestle.
“Watching Cade wrestle has really inspired me,” said Tucker. “He came back and worked with me in the wrestling room whenever he could this season. He told me to work as hard as I could no matter how much it sucked because in the end it would be worth it. He taught me a lot.”
After Sarbacker (40–6) scored a quick escape early in the second period to snap a scoreless tie, Withington (41–12) took a shot. Sarbacker blocked the advance, hipped in and put his opponent flat on his back.
With the win Sarbacker became the 10th Panther to win a state title, joining 2011 champion Blake Welu, as well as Rory Edge (2006, 2007), I–G’s only other two-time state champion other than Cade. Iowa–Grant has 12 individual state championships.
“Congrats to Tucker! He really wrestled well,” said Iowa–Grant/Highland head coach Ryan Allen. “He believed in himself and worked very hard for this goal. He just kept getting better all season long. I am very proud of him.”
Sarbacker, who also qualified for state in 2010 and 2013, finished his career with a 136–46 record.
Senior teammates Derek Peat and Ben McFall also finished their careers at the Kohl Center this weekend, while sophomore Luke Nowak got his first taste of the state experience.
Peat (39–9) won his preliminary match Thursday night and his first match Friday morning, before being sent to the consolation bracket with a 5–4 loss to eventual runner-up Markus Anderson of Ladysmith Friday night.
He bounced back with a pair of victories Saturday, the last a 5–3 win over Weston/Ithaca’s Atticus Sharp to finish third at 195 pounds.
“Derek had a very tough kid in the first round, but he came out ready to wrestle and got a major decision,” said Allen. “I think that was a bit of a confidence builder and although he lost a close one in the semis, he kept that confidence up all weekend and came back to get third place. Congrats to Derek; he also has worked very hard throughout the season and offseason.”
McFall (35–8) won his opening round match 8–4 Thursday night over Cumberlan’s Tanner Grant, but was bounced from the 285-pound tournament with back-to-back losses Friday.
“Ben ran into the eventual runner-up in the quarterfinals and lost a close one,” said Allen. “I believe Ben could have very easily been in the finals this weekend but things just didn’t work in his favor. I know he was a bit disappointed but in the end, I think he had a great season. Ben was definitely one of the hardest workers on this team and congrats to him on a great season.”
Nowak (33–16) scored a pin in his opening round match at 145 pounds Thursday night against Kenosha Saint Joseph’s Jake Genthner, but he too dropped back-to-back matches Friday and did not place.
“I think Luke gained some valuable experience at the Kohl Center,” said Allen. “He had a great sophomore campaign, as he was another guy who really worked his tail off. I hope this experience helps Luke for next year!”
WIAA Division 3 State Championships
(from Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 21-23 @ Kohl Center, Madison)
Iowa–Grant/Highland state qualifiers
138 — Tucker Sarbacker (40-6) placed 1st and scored 23.00 team points.
Quarterfinal - Tucker Sarbacker (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 40-6 won by major decision over Spencer Bisek (Arcadia) 35-17 (Maj 9-1)
Semifinal - Tucker Sarbacker (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 40-6 won by decision over Erik Ulrich (Clear Lake) 47-4 (Dec 9-4)
1st Place Match - Tucker Sarbacker (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 40-6 won by pin over Ross Withington (Westby) 41-12 (Pin 3:13)
145 — Luke Nowak (33-16) place is unknown and scored 4.00 team points.
Champ. Round 1 - Luke Nowak (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 33-16 won by pin over Jake Genthner (Ken. St. Joseph Cath. Ac.) 28-17 (Pin 3:03)
Quarterfinal - Hayden Krueger (Crandon) 45-3 won by decision over Luke Nowak (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 33-16 (Dec 7-0)
Cons. Round 1 - Cullen Pedersen (New Lisbon) 44-4 won by decision over Luke Nowak (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 33-16 (Dec 6-0)
195 — Derek Peat (39-9) placed 3rd and scored 15.00 team points.
Champ. Round 1 - Derek Peat (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 39-9 won by major decision over William Browning (Brillion) 42-6 (Maj 12-2)
Quarterfinal - Derek Peat (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 39-9 won by decision over David Steinhorst (Kewaunee) 39-9 (Dec 11-8)
Semifinal - Markus Armstrong (Ladysmith) 34-1 won by decision over Derek Peat (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 39-9 (Dec 5-4)
Cons. Semi - Derek Peat (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 39-9 won in sudden victory - 1 over Dondrick Tackes (Stratford) 36-3 (SV-1 3-1)
3rd Place Match - Derek Peat (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 39-9 won by decision over Atticus Sharp (Weston/Ithaca) 42-8 (Dec 5-3)
285 — Ben McFall (35-8) place is unknown and scored 2.00 team points.
Champ. Round 1 - Ben McFall (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 35-8 won by decision over Tanner Grant (Cumberland) 35-7 (Dec 8-4)
Quarterfinal - Silas Petrie (Brillion) 45-2 won by decision over Ben McFall (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 35-8 (Dec 12-8)
Cons. Round 1 - Matt Stensrud (Markesan) 35-9 won by pin over Ben McFall (Iowa-Grant/Highland) 35-8 (Pin 1:17)