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Fennimore's Birchman places second at state tournament
Six Eagles reach the medal stand in Division 3
Alex Birchman
Junior Alex Birchman scored a stunning come-from-behind victory over Phillips Javyn Freeman en rout to a team-best second place finish at 126 pounds at the WIAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament at the Kohl Center. Birchman was trailing, but pinned Freeman with five seconds left in Friday nights semifinal match.

MADISON — Six of Fennimore’s 10 state qualifiers medaled at the WIAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament at the Kohl Center over the weekend.

Junior Alex Birchman used a stunning semifinal comeback to wrestle his way to a second-place finish in Division 3 at 126 pounds.

Seniors Trevor Wanek (138 pounds) and Brayden Leffler (220), and junior Aidan Nutter (132) each finished third, while junior Luke Blair (113) and junior Aaron Ragels (195) placed fifth.

As a team, Fennimore racked up 19 victories in 34 matches to score 86 team points and finished third in Division 3 behind only Stratford (130) and Coleman (104).

“As usual, the Individual State Wrestling Tournament was a roller coaster,” said Fennimore head coach Chad Steldt. “The Fennimore Wrestling program has raised the bar the last four years, so it is like we almost set ourselves up to have lows sometimes. It is important that we reflect and learn from our losses and enjoy the moments of success so we do not become bitter or ungrateful. This past weekend we had plenty to reflect on and plenty to be happy for, but far from satisfied.”

Birchman (33–12) reached the 126-pound finals with a quarterfinal pin of Bonduel’s Max Sokolski and a dramatic semifinal pin of Phillips’ Javyn Freeman Friday night.

Birchman trailed 4–1 in the closing seconds, but was able to get a reversal and a pin with just five seconds left in the match to advance to Saturday night’s finals.

In the finals, Birchman gave Coleman senior Caleb Gross, ranked #1, all he could handle, but Gross (43–3) prevailed in a 3–0 decision. 

“Yes, the finals did not come together quite like we wanted, but Gross is a great kid, very sound technique, and his athleticism was hard for Alex to overcome,” said Steldt. “Alex is tough as nails. Alex has wrestled the last few weeks with a broken nose. His focus was very strong, and his plan of attack was intense. He did not stray from each match’s game plan and that gave him a chance for wins. The last 10 second heroics of the semifinals match sent the Kohl Center into a frenzy.”

Wanek (34–15) closed out his career with a 4–3 decision over rival Kolbe Ubersox of Darlington/Black Hawk in Saturday’s 138-pound third-place match. Wanek was sent to the consolation bracket with a 7–1 loss to eventual champion Kole Marko (46–3), a freshman from St. Croix Falls.

Wanek was a four-time state qualifier and the 126-pound state champion two years ago as a sophomore.

“Trevor had a tough quarterfinal match and came up short, but he did a nice job refocusing efforts and wrestleback to beat his old nemesis Kolbe Ubersox for third,” said Steldt. “As always with these two guys, the match was fun and came down to the last 15 seconds where Wanek hit a nice shot to a arm drag and ride out.”

Leffler (34–12) rebounded from a quarterfinal loss to eventual runner-up Ethan Heil (34–1) of Edgar with three straight victories to place third at 220. Leffler defeated Reedsville’s Cole Ebert (39–11) 9–5 in his third-place match.

“Bradyen deserves every bit of hardware,”said Steldt. “He has been working towards his chance at the Kohl Center for several years and it came together for him this time around. He is a very hard-nosed kid that enjoys the physicality of the sport. It was this mindset that has greatly benefited him in beating some of his state opponents. For a senior, there is only one greater way to go out, and this is to win a team state title.”

Nutter (40–8) suffered a 7–6 semifinal loss to eventual 132-pound champion Max Schwabe (47–2) of Stratford, but came back to finish third after an 8–6 win over Mineral Point’s Caden Carey and a 3–2 decision over Justin Kempf of Weyauwega–Freemont.

“Aidan had a really good weekend,” said Steldt. “The finals match was really the semifinal on Friday night; there is no seeding on WIAA State for some reason. He nearly came from behind and won but he just could not get the final takedown in the closing seconds. Nutter is wrestling well though. His ceiling of potential is very high in this sport, and he is not close to that potential yet. A good offseason regiment and competition schedule will help Aidan get recognized by college recruiters.”

Blair (33–9) opened with a quarterfinal win Friday morning, but suffered back-to-back losses before finishing with a second-period pin of North Crawford/Seneca’s Raiden Steele in the fifth-place match.

“Luke wrestled as best he could on a dinged up knee,” said Steldt. “They do not come tougher than Luke, and he does it all with a smile. I was glad to see him reach the podium. He did a nice job getting to his ties and executing his head-in-the-hole front-head takedown.”

Ragals (38–12) was sent to the consolation bracket with a 4–0 quarterfinal loss to Spring Valley/Elmwood’s Kenny Fesenmaeir, but battled back to defeat Fesenmaeir in the 195-pound fifth-place match, 4–2.

“We felt strongly that Aaron could make the finals, but he just made a technical mistake in the quarterfinals that cost him that chance,” said Steldt. “Aaron epitomizes what our year-round program can do for a kid that really wants to win. He was a JV wrestler a year ago, but he dedicated his time to lifting and wrestling, and now he has become one of the best 195 pounders in the state. Another year of dedication with allow him to spread the gap between him and the competition.”

Senior Maguire Fitzgerald (37–8) opened his final state tournament with a 5–3 win over Reedsville’s Brandon Stelzer in Thursday’s night’s prelims, but suffered back-to-back losses Friday, including a quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Brady Speth (46–0) of Cadott. Fitzgerald was a three-time state qualifier.

“Maguire had a tough run,” said Steldt. “After winning his Thursday match he found himself against Spaeth, and he just never recovered from that loss. He had the next match in hand, and just failed to finish his takedowns and attack on top. This cost Maguire a chance at placing. It was tough not to see him place, especially being a senior, but he has a job to do this weekend, and deep down he rather win a team title. He has to just refocus, and finish the job this weekend.”

Lull (35–14) suffered back-to-back losses in Friday’s quarterfinals and consolation round and did not place.

“Mason had a tough weekend,” said Steldt. “I think mentally he did not have the urgency. He was not wrestling to prove a point. This had a direct correlation with his lack of feet movement. Mason has to really take a step back after this next weekend, reflect, reset goals with the coaching staff, and then carry out a long-term plan that will separate him from the competition. The nice thing is that he is a junior, he has a year to make right what went wrong.”

Ahnen (40–11) suffered an 8–7 tie-breaker overtime loss in Friday’s quarterfinals, then dropped a 3–1 decision in the consolation round later that day and did not place at 170.

“Will missed the podium as well,” said Steldt. “He had two good opponents that could block well and counter attack even better. His shots just were missing the quickness and good penetrating singles that he was doing good up to this point in time.”

Lee (27–12) dropped a 4–2 decision in Thursday night’s opening round and did not place at 106.

“Brody’s first round loss was hard for us to brush off,” said Steldt. “Brody let a winnable match get away from him. There is no easy way around it, but he failed to attack and utilize the skills he has gained in the last two years. The key for Brody’s future in the sport is for him to rely more on himself, more on his own dedication. He is a very skilled wrestler, a great student of the sport, but he needs to channel his anger and disappointment from this last weekend to action, to long-term dedication that last throughout the year, and hopefully life.”

“Overall, we had success this weekend, but we also had our share of disappointment,” added Steldt. “We need to move forward with a new sense of urgency. The boys will grow from this weekend, but they have to understand that the road to success in sport and life is lonely. It is the lonely hours, when they put in time when others are not, that will separate them from the average.”

NEXT: The entire Fennimore team will return to action Saturday at the WIAA Team State Tournament at the UW Fieldhouse in Madison. 

The second-seeded Golden Eagles (9–0) will meet #3 St. Croix Falls (13–0) in a Division 3 state semifinal at 10 a.m.

With a win, Fennimore will advance to face either top-seeded and top-ranked Stratford (24–1) or #4 Random Lake (15–1) in the D3 Team State Championship dual at 3 p.m.

WELCOME HOME RECEPTION: All Fennimore wrestling fans are invited to the team’s welcome home reception on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Fennimore Memorial Building. Food and soda will be provided for $10 a meal. 


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WIAA Division 3 State Tournament

(from Feb. 21–23 @ Kohl Center, Madison)

Top 10 team scores — 1.Stratford 130, 2.Coleman 104, 3.Fennimore 86, 4.Wayauwega–Fremont 74, 5.Cadott 56, 6.Boyceville 53, 7.Random Lake 50.5, 8.Lancaster 49, 9.Bonduel 43, 10.Saint Croix Falls 40. 

Fennimore state qualifiers

D3-106 — Brody Lee (27-12) place is unknown and scored 0.0 team points.

Champ. Round 1 - Luke Thaemert (Saint Croix Falls) 34-12 won by decision over Brody Lee (Fennimore) 27-12 (Dec 4-2)

D3-113 — Luke Blair (33-9) placed 5th and scored 9.0 team points.

Quarterfinal - Luke Blair (Fennimore) 33-9 won by decision over Caleb Delsman (Reedsville) 44-7 (Dec 5-4)

Semifinal - Koltin Grzybowski (Coleman) 43-2 won by tech fall over Luke Blair (Fennimore) 33-9 (TF-1.5 4:00 (20-5))

Cons. Semi - Cash Stewart (Poynette) 39-3 won by fall over Luke Blair (Fennimore) 33-9 (Fall 2:46)

5th Place Match - Luke Blair (Fennimore) 33-9 won by fall over Raiden Steele (No. Crawford/Seneca) 31-6 (Fall 2:07)

D3-120 — Mason Lull (35-14) place is unknown and scored 0.0 team points.

Quarterfinal - Tristen Mascarette (Florence/Niagara) 39-8 won by decision over Mason Lull (Fennimore) 35-14 (Dec 5-0)

Cons. Round 1 - Henry Amborn (Catholic Central) 10-3 won by major decision over Mason Lull (Fennimore) 35-14 (MD 10-0)

D3-126 — Alex Birchman (33-12) placed 2nd and scored 20.0 team points.

Quarterfinal - Alex Birchman (Fennimore) 33-12 won by fall over Max Sokolski (Bonduel) 35-9 (Fall 2:45)

Semifinal - Alex Birchman (Fennimore) 33-12 won by fall over Javyn Freeman (Phillips) 32-2 (Fall 5:55)

1st Place Match - Caleb Gross (Coleman) 43-3 won by decision over Alex Birchman (Fennimore) 33-12 (Dec 3-0)

D3-132 — Aidan Nutter (40-8) placed 3rd and scored 13.0 team points.

Quarterfinal - Aidan Nutter (Fennimore) 40-8 won by major decision over Quinn Hoopman (Cedar Grove-Belgium) 36-13 (MD 15-7)

Semifinal - Max Schwabe (Stratford) 47-2 won by decision over Aidan Nutter (Fennimore) 40-8 (Dec 7-6)

Cons. Semi - Aidan Nutter (Fennimore) 40-8 won by decision over Caden Carey (Mineral Point) 37-8 (Dec 8-6)

3rd Place Match - Aidan Nutter (Fennimore) 40-8 won by decision over Justin Kempf (Weyauwega.-Frem.) 45-6 (Dec 3-2)

D3-138 — Trevor Wanek (34-15) placed 3rd and scored 15.0 team points.

Champ. Round 1 - Trevor Wanek (Fennimore) 34-15 won by decision over Harley Rivera (Ken. Christian Life) 37-14 (Dec 9-6)

Quarterfinal - Kole Marko (Saint Croix Falls) 46-3 won by decision over Trevor Wanek (Fennimore) 34-15 (Dec 7-1)

Cons. Round 1 - Trevor Wanek (Fennimore) 34-15 won by forfeit over Jacob Rogers (New Lisbon) 36-9 (For.)

Cons. Semi - Trevor Wanek (Fennimore) 34-15 won by decision over Luke Pulvermacher (Princeton) 38-10 (Dec 7-3)

3rd Place Match - Trevor Wanek (Fennimore) 34-15 won by decision over Kolbe Ubersox (Darlington/Black Hawk) 38-6 (Dec 4-3)

D3-160 — Maguire Fitzgerald (37-8) place is unknown and scored 2.0 team points.

Champ. Round 1 - Maguire Fitzgerald (Fennimore) 37-8 won by decision over Brandon Stelzer (Reedsville) 37-5 (Dec 5-3)

Quarterfinal - Brady Spaeth (Cadott) 46-0 won by decision over Maguire Fitzgerald (Fennimore) 37-8 (Dec 9-3)

Cons. Round 1 - Josh TeStroete (Cedar Grove-Belgium) 42-6 won by decision over Maguire Fitzgerald (Fennimore) 37-8 (Dec 6-5)

D3-170 — Will Ahnen (40-11) place is unknown and scored 0.0 team points.

Quarterfinal - Hunter Grimm (Pittsville) 40-8 won in the ultimate tie breaker over Will Ahnen (Fennimore) 40-11 (UTB 8-7)

Cons. Round 1 - Travis Reinke (Kewaunee) 40-7 won by decision over Will Ahnen (Fennimore) 40-11 (Dec 3-1)

D3-195 — Aaron Ragels (38-12) placed 5th and scored 10.0 team points.

Champ. Round 1 - Aaron Ragels (Fennimore) 38-12 won by fall over Aaron Duenk (Cedar Grove-Belgium) 30-14 (Fall 1:15)

Quarterfinal - Kenny Fesenmaier (Spring Valley/Elmw.) 32-13 won by decision over Aaron Ragels (Fennimore) 38-12 (Dec 4-0)

Cons. Round 1 - Aaron Ragels (Fennimore) 38-12 won by decision over Cade Nettesheim (Ithaca/Weston) 34-9 (Dec 6-0)

Cons. Semi - William Raatz (Edgar) 19-2 won by fall over Aaron Ragels (Fennimore) 38-12 (Fall 0:38)

5th Place Match - Aaron Ragels (Fennimore) 38-12 won by decision over Kenny Fesenmaier (Spring Valley/Elmw.) 32-13 (Dec 4-2)

D3-220 — Brayden Leffler (34-12) placed 3rd and scored 17.0 team points.

Champ. Round 1 - Brayden Leffler (Fennimore) 34-12 won by fall over Kyle Zehm (Saint Croix Falls) 37-11 (Fall 0:56)

Quarterfinal - Ethan Heil (Edgar) 34-1 won by fall over Brayden Leffler (Fennimore) 34-12 (Fall 1:58)

Cons. Round 1 - Brayden Leffler (Fennimore) 34-12 won by decision over Nathan Pelke (Mondovi) 28-5 (Dec 9-6)

Cons. Semi - Brayden Leffler (Fennimore) 34-12 won by fall over Spencer Karban (Coleman) 28-16 (Fall 2:22)

3rd Place Match - Brayden Leffler (Fennimore) 34-12 won by decision over Cole Ebert (Reedsville) 39-11 (Dec 9-5)