On Sunday, Alston Nutter took a day off. He earned it.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Fennimore freshman became just the third wrestler in school history to win a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association individual championship.
Nutter defeated Weston/Ithaca’s Hunter Dischler, 10-6, to win the Division 3 title at 120 pounds in the WIAA individual championship tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The championship victory left Nutter with a 50-1 mark in 2014-2015. He is the first Fennimore wrestler to win a regional, sectional and state championship in the same season.
Dischler, a junior, hoped to win his third straight WIAA title but was denied. He entered the season ranked number one at 120 pounds by Wisconsin Wrestling Online and maintained that ranking until Nutter pinned him in a sectional title bout Feb. 21.
“I felt to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Nutter said.
Saturday’s much-anticipated rematch appeared to be in jeopardy when Nutter fell behind Coleman’s Joel Blanchard 4-0 after one period in their semifinal contest on Friday night.
“That was a wake-up call for me, actually,” Nutter said. “After that happened I thought I really had to turn it on and score some points.
“We are in good shape. Coach [Chad] Steldt teaches us we can go hard the whole match and just score points.”
Nutter scored two points in the second period and trailed 5-2 as the third period began. He tied the match at five with a takedown. After an escape by Blanchard, Nutter took a 7-6 lead thanks to another takedown. Blanchard knotted the match at even before Nutter scored another takedown for a 9-7 win.
Kirk Nelson, Fennimore wrestling’s first individual state champion (145 pounds in 1982), witnessed Friday night’s semifinal match firsthand.
“The very first match I saw Alston wrestle was Friday night and it was very exciting,” he said. “Down 5-2 to start the third period, the chances looked bleak. But then Alston took over, scoring an escape and three takedowns in less than a minute and held on for the 9-7 win.
“At one point, Alston spectacularly jumped behind his opponent to secure the takedown. That was one of the greatest comebacks I have ever witnessed – an epic comeback for the ages. That had to give him confidence going into the finals.”
No one knows how rare Alston’s day off was more than his father, Jamie. He said Monday that between March and the Asics/Vaughan National Championships in Fargo, North Dakota, in July, his son trained 25 hours per week.
“He trained over 300 hours between March and the end of July last year,” Jamie said. “He won the semifinal match on Friday night by two points. After he won, I asked him if he thought 300 hours would be worth two points.”
Jamie said Alston’s Fennimore teammates push him each night in practice, which better prepares him for the tests he faces in competition.
“That six-minute match, that is a two-hour practice,” he said. “That is what it looks like every night. To have those quality practice partners in the wrestling room just prepares those guys for the matches.
“Without those guys, there is no way. Alston can do a lot on his own, but if you don’t come prepared, you are going to be looking at the lights all night long. The work day in and day out, I think that is why they have the success they have.”
Fennimore junior Riley Lull had more than one reason to root for his teammate in Saturday’s championship.
“[Dischler] is the same kid that beat me in the finals my freshman year,” he said. “I lost 6-5 to him right in the last couple seconds.
“He is a good kid, but I wanted Nutter to win so much. It was almost revenge for me for Nutter to beat him. It was good.”
Lull watched as Alston recorded a takedown in the first period and held a 2-1 lead over Dischler as the second period began. Dischler tied the score with a takedown at the onset of the second period, but Alston answered with another takedown.
A reversal by Dischler evened the score at four, but Alston escaped soon after. Dischler scored a takedown to grab a 6-5 lead late in the second period, but Alston rose to the occasion with a takedown and two near-fall points to take a 9-6 lead into the final period.
“Right there, I thought I could get to my positions and score even more there,” Alston said. “He was going to have to open up, so I thought that I could score off of his mistakes because he really had to open up and go hard.”
Alston was allowed an escape to start the third period to widen his lead to 10-6. Dischler was unable to mount any offense as Alston closed in on the title.
“[Alston] really controlled that match,” Nelson said. “When a move did not quite go his way, he did not let that faze him. And under the bright lights in front of 15,000 fans at the Kohl Center, he kept focusing on what it was going to take to win.
“He wrestled with such great composure and confidence – you just don’t see that in a freshman – yet we did! It was an awesome performance.”
As the clock expired, Alston pointed into the Kohl Center crowd, where his family, including his father, watched on.
“When I was little [dad] really pushed me to go to training,” Alston said. “Now that I have learned you have to work hard, he has really helped me along with that and taught me a lot.”
A total of 60,571 spectators were on hand during the three-day championship tournament.
“The whole Kohl Center atmosphere is crazy, especially for a freshman when you go up there and you see all the crowd and all the lights,” Alston said. “And the March of Champions really gets the nerves going. It is pretty crazy.”
Fennimore coach Greg Jentz was proud of his freshman state champion’s performance.
“Alston just had a great tournament,” he said. “Everybody wanted to know whether that was really a fluke from the week before. Yeah, maybe that pin happened fast the week before and it is hard to pin Dischler, but Alston had him there a couple of times in the championship and he might of had him pinned in the second period. I didn’t think it was any fluke and he got what he earned.”
Jentz praised Alston’s ability to listen to instruction, whether the score is 0-4 or 4-0.
“He knows what he needs to do, but he listens well when he goes out of bounds and he knows what we are yelling at him to use and he does a good job with it,” he said. “We stay with his strengths too. It is coaches reminding them what their strengths are and go after it. Yeah, he could probably wrestle without us, but it sure helps, and I’m sure he would say that too.”
Alston was back to work Monday, practicing with his teammates, as the fact he is a state champion continued to sink in.
“It feels really good, but now we have to turn around and go win that team state championship,” he said.
If that happens, another day off might be in order.