Redemption was his.
Fennimore senior Riley Lull won the Golden Eagles’ fourth state title in school history Saturday night by virtue of a 7-0 decision win over Random Lake’s Josh Depies in the 113-pound final.
The Feb. 27 championship win came a year to the day from a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 3 individual championships semifinal loss to Stratford’s Jeremy Schoenherr.
“It was bittersweet,” Lull said of the victory over Depies. “Actually, it was pretty emotional. There have been a lot of things I have went through last year. Losing in the semifinals really sucked and I would say was pretty depressing. I didn’t finish my goals. I didn’t end up where I wanted to be.
“After that, my goal from that night losing in the semifinals last year was to make it back to the Kohl Center this year and wrestle under the lights Saturday night and be on top of the podium at the end, finishing my career in first place.”
Lull’s push for a second title began with a 18-6 major decision over Pittsville’s Matthew Grossman in a quarterfinal Friday morning. He punched his ticket to the finals with a 11-3 major decision over Ladysmith’s Nathan Roach in a semifinal on Friday night.
The road to redemption began in Ohio last summer.
“Usually, I would go out to Fargo, North Dakota, and wrestle in the national tournament,” Lull said. “I took a different approach this past season. Instead of wrestling freestyle and Greco I wanted to focus entirely on folkstyle, making sure I could get my techniques crisp and getting so much better at my folkstyle that I could finish on top of the podium again.”
Lull attended a Jeff Jordan State Champ Camp in Urbana, Ohio, in July.
“It is where you stay in this old horse barn for five days,” Lull explained. “You have little cell service. It is you, the wrestlers and the clinicians for the five days in the middle of Ohio, just grinding in the summer, getting better. It was a fun time.”
The road to redemption ended in Madison against a familiar face. Lull, then a member of the Riverdale Chieftains, defeated Depies to win a 106-pound state title in 2014.
“Going into the match I definitely had confidence,” Lull said. “That was two years ago, that was my sophomore year. Different school. Different coach. Up a weight class. A lot of things happened in two years.
“I knew if I stuck to my game plan and if I just believed in myself, like I have been told to – if I just believe and go out there and wrestle my match and not be so nervous – that good things will happen when you are having fun.
“My coaches have told me, ‘You should go out there and wrestle and have fun, and good things happen.’ That is how I took the approach to state. I went out there and just had fun, focused on one match at a time. That is how I took the state finals match, just going out there to wrestle and have fun, not worrying about anything else.”
Lull scored a takedown late in the first period for a 2-0 advantage. A reversal with 51 seconds remaining in the second period gave him a 4-0 advantage. Three near-fall points in the final period accounted for the final score.
Prior to Alston Nutter winning a state title at 120 pounds last season, the Golden Eagles’ faithful last celebrated state gold in 2000, when Mike Kelley won at 135 pounds.
“It is pretty special to be a part of it,” Lull said. “Four is not a lot, but I know in just a couple years we are going to be breaking double-digits. The improvements we are making year-by-year are amazing. Everybody is on board. On this team, everybody is there for everyone.
“I hope we are able to add four more next year and that my name is not going to be the last one on the list. I don’t want to be on the bottom. I want there to be more state champs.”
After defeating Depies, Lull leapt into the Kohl Center crowd, where he greeted his parents, Chris and Debbie.
“I just said ‘Thank you’ for everything they have done for me,” Lull said. “I have been wrestling since I was a little tyke, since four-year-old kindergarten. So them carting me all over Wisconsin and I have been all the way down to Florida to wrestle, to North Dakota, Indianapolis, Ohio, all over. If it wasn’t for them pushing me through the hard times and good times all this wouldn’t be possible. The first thing that came to mind was ‘Thank you.’ I feel like that got it across. That is all I could say.”
Lull and his teammates enjoyed the most successful WIAA individual championships in Fennimore wrestling history. In addition to his title win, sophomores Riley Blair and Nutter finished second, as did junior Justin Tollefson. Cody
McCollough, a junior, finished third, and his junior teammate Deven O’Brien finished fourth.
“Placing six of our seven was really good,” Lull said. “We took second in Division 3 in team points, right behind Stratford, who hopefully we will get a shot at this weekend. But in team scores in all three divisions, we were second place also. Stratford was the only team in the entire state tournament to score more points than us.
“That really shows that we came to wrestle and we showed up and were prepared. The hard schedule we had throughout the season, the gauntlet we went through, prepared us for this state tournament. We showed up with our game face and we were ready to go, and proved it.”