The Fennimore wrestling team crowned five sectional champions at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 3 Mineral Point sectional on Feb. 20 and will send three more to the WIAA Division 3 individual championship tournament later this week.
Fennimore freshman Trevor Wanek (106 pounds), senior Riley Lull (113 pounds), sophomores Riley Blair (120 pounds) and Alston Nutter (126 pounds), and juniors Justin Tollefson (138 pounds), Cody McCollough (220 pounds) and Deven O’Brien (285 pounds) will compete against the state’s best at the Kohl Center Feb. 25-27.
“We took eight in and wanted eight out to state,” Fennimore coach Chad Steldt said. “Louis Heberlein would be pitted, in the coach’s minds, the best kid at 182 pounds at sectionals. Louis wrestled to the plan very well until he was caught in a far side cradle, and was unable to fend off back points.
“Louis did fight off his back and made a run at the end of the match, but the three-point deficit was too much to overcome.”
The quarterfinal loss ended Heberlein’s standout senior season individually.
“This loss really hurt the coaching staff and Louis,” Steldt said. “This is a kid that went from breaking both arms last year in a freak accident, and having very little experience, to having a 30-win season,” Steldt said. “He placed eighth at Dvorak, a nationally-recognized event. He has beaten state qualifiers before this match. He is a SWAL conference champion.
“After a short talk and some reflection, Louis reminded us why he is so dang tough. True to Heberlein’s character, his mind, focus changed directly to his next competition, and his number one goal he had the whole season, Team State (champions). In and of itself, this is the beauty of making it to Team State – it gives all our wrestlers a chance to experience a championship setting with their friends and coaches. A culmination of hard work, and the emotional roller coaster that goes into success and failure.”
Wanek suffered a semifinal loss to Parkview’s Jackson Hauri but rallied to win three straight matches and finished second. His final victory came via pinfall over Danny Pittz of Mineral Point.
“Pittz is an opponent that took Trevor down three times the week before at regionals,” Steldt said. “On this day, the coaching staff and Trevor had a new game plan, and he executed the plan to perfection. After being up 4-1 against Pittz, Trevor pancaked (threw) Pittz to his back and pinned him in the third period. This not only was very gratifying for Trevor, but it also set up a nice state bracket for him.”
Wanek summarized his Saturday experience in two words: “pretty good.”
“It feels good getting a win out of Pittz after losing to him at regionals,” he said. “I felt pretty good today and wrestled as hard as I could.”
Lull pinned two opponents and earned a 3-1 decision over Iowa-Grant/Highland’s Sawyer Sarbacker to win his fourth sectional championship.
“Riley Lull took care of business like usual,” Steldt said. “He did a great job getting inside on his ties and stalking his ever stalling opponents. This was evident in the finals, where Sarbacker from Iowa-Grant ran away for two periods in his failing effort to keep the score close. Lull did a nice job keeping his composure and hitting his head inside singles.”
Lull has appreciated the increased difficulty of Fennimore’s schedule in 2015-2016.
“The schedule that I had this year is by far the toughest schedule I’ve had throughout my whole high school career,” he said. “My freshman year I had four losses, my sophomore year none, last year three and this year I have five. Traveling to Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa – and being in the nationally-ranked tournaments – even though I have more losses now, it has really helped open up my eyes and really realize it is worth taking the five losses I have taken this year to have a good outcome next week.
“It is a process. It is all meant to be. I would rather lose in the middle of the season than when it matters next weekend at the Kohl Center.”
Lull knows his time is now.
“It is kind of bittersweet with it being my fourth sectional title, but more or less bittersweet being my senior year, it is really setting in it is time to get the job done,” he said. “One last try and finally realizing I need to go out and wrestle and have fun, and good things will happen.”
Blair won his second straight sectional title with a 15-5 major decision over Onalaska Luther’s Aaron Raabe. After a quarterfinal pinfall win, he dispatched of Darlington/Black Hawk’s Kolbe Ubersox, 7-0, in a semifinal.
“Riley Blair was on,” Steldt said. “He hit his drags and leg turks with great intensity. Ubersox from Darlington was his best match. They are both really talented kids that move quick and strike fast. Blair’s singles and drags just put him ahead.
"He is looking better every week, and his conditioning is improving every day. He has came a long way since two weeks ago at Conference, which was his first tournament back in two months.”
Blair has bounced back from a concussion at the right time.
“I put a lot of work in over the years. I missed a couple months because of a concussion but I am definitely getting my conditioning back and starting to feel better,” he said. “I have got a little bit of improvements to do before state and work on those, and hope for a good week this week.”
Nutter won his second straight sectional title thanks to a 17-6 major decision over Mineral Point’s Logan Schmitz.
“Alston would be on the attack like usual. He did a great job wrestling within himself, and shooting takedowns,” Steldt said. “The whole state knows he can throw, the difficult thing for Alston is not looking for the throw, but rather using his extremely good leg attacks, and the throws eventually come.
“Alston is doing a lot better job attacking his ties as well, and not just letting the opponent come at him; from his ties he is good. He is strong and has great athletic ability to change direction and attack naturally.”
Nutter will hope to leave the Kohl Center in a matter of days as Fennimore wrestling’s first two-time state champion.
“I am really glad to be back to try to get another title,”he said. “The goal is to take it one match at a time and get the job done.”
Tollefson won his first regional title with a quarterfinal pin of Cashton’s Ty Costello, a 5-2 semifinal decision over top-ranked Johnson Creek’s Adam Becker and a 12-5 championship major decision over Mineral Point’s Brandon Forseth.
“Justin had the match of his life thus far, and we will look to improve upon it in the coming days,” Steldt said. “He beat the number-one ranked wrestler in the state in Becker. His match was intense, with several flurries of scrambles and re-attacks.
“There were several times when Justin was inches away from takedowns, but Becker was very good at circling his hips and re-attacking. The main thing that set Justin apart was he stuck to the plan and he stuck to the attacks that we are strong in. Justin would major decision his Mineral Point opponent, Forseth, in the finals by his relentless attacks. Right now, kids just cannot keep the pace and intensity that Justin has, and on top of that his technique is getting cleaner and more sharp every week.”
Tollefson qualified for state in 2014 and 2015 as well.
“It is just not the same being a third-placer at sectionals and then a first-placer because as a third-placer you have to wrestle on Thursday,” he said. “It is a very good plus to finish first because then you get to see whoever you have got to wrestle and what they do. It is an advantage for you.”
McCollough pinned Brookwood’s Devin Berry in a quarterfinal tilt, followed by a semifinal pin of Cashton’s Dylan Campton (4:35) and a championship pin of La Crosse Aquinas’ Isiah Brown (1:52) to win his first sectional crown.
“Cody had his best tournament to date, beating Campton from Cashton, an opponent he never has beaten, and a talented athletic kid from Aquinas,” Steldt said. “Once again, Cody’s intensity is hard for some of these big 220-pounders to match.
"He just needs to keep the focus, and stay on the attack, and he will be successful.”
McCollough surprised even himself with his three-pinfall performance on Saturday.
“To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to turn out this good, but I was pretty confident I was going to make it on,” he said. “The momentum in that first match really helped me carry on into the second match against the Cashton kid, because the Cashton kid had beat me last Tuesday night. I knew if I wrestled my match and wrestled smart I could beat the Cashton kid.”
O’Brien fell in a semifinal but bounced back to win two straight and advance to the individual championship tournament as a third place finisher. He pinned Bryce Lee of La Crosse Aquinas in 30 seconds in a consolation semifinal and topped Waterloo’s Dalton Utz by a tiebreaker, 2-1, in a consolation final.
“Deven rebounded from an early letdown to take third, qualifying him for state,” Steldt said. “Deven is good when he shoots, as we saw on Saturday and last Tuesday night. It opens up his overall offensive attacks. He just needs to mentally take the fight to the other guy.
“He is getting better at this, and then when he adds his head inside single to his attacks, he can be unbeatable. But, Deven has to make that decision that he is unbeatable. When he does, it is a fun sight to see!”
O’Brien qualified for state in 2015 as well.
“It feels good [returning to state], really knowing that I pushed myself in the finals match and wrestled hard,” he said. “I am really appreciative of the national tournaments that we went to, to get us to the tough competition.”