The trip to the WIAA Division 1 individual state wrestling meet was cut short for Baraboo's two qualifiers.
John Gunderson and Pablo Ramirez both dropped their first-round matches at the Kohl Center on Thursday. The Thunderbirds were in contention to come back Friday morning, but were eliminated from the three-day meet when the wrestlers they lost two each dropped their next match.
"It's disappointing, but what are you gonna do?" Baraboo head coach Joe Bavlnka said after the meet. "I'm really proud of how we wrestled as a team and of how hard we worked. I'm really proud of Pablo and John and hopefully we can do better next year."
Gunderson was the first Thunderbird to take the mat on Thursday. The freshman, sporting a wrap around his left hand after breaking it in practice on Feb. 14, opened his first career state meet against Mukwonago sophomore Lucas Benn.
Gunderson fell behind early, getting into a tough position and falling into an 8-1 deficit before scoring the final two points of the second period. Gunderson continued to chip away in the third, pulling within 8-7 with about 16 seconds left before Benn held on to advance to the quarterfinals.
"He just got in that body lock position, the kid was in an over-under, kicked us to our back and that cost us five points," Bavlnka said. "You can't be giving up big points like that and win down here, but I really liked how he battled back and didn't give up. He gave himself a chance to win the match in the last 15 seconds.
"Having a broken hand really hindered him on top, because he's very good at the cradle and he just didn't have anything to grab with. He needs to get his hand healed up. Once he's got two healthy hands, he's going to be pretty darn tough to wrestle."
Benn went on to lose to Elkhorn's Daniel Stilling in the quarterfinals, ending Gunderson's season. Bavlnka believes that Thursday was just the first trip to the Kohl Center for Gunderson.
"I give him a lot of credit for just gutting it out and getting down here. Getting down here with a broken hand is quite the accomplishment," Bavlnka said of Gunderson, who compiled a 40-9 record on the year. "He's a freshman, he kind of broke the ice getting down here and I'm sure he's going to have his goals a lot higher for next year, just not making it to state but hopefully getting on the podium too."
Ramirez was making his third appearance at state and was intent on making a run this year. However, the Baraboo junior drew Oak Creek senior Veliko Kochiu, the state runner-up at 132 pounds last season, in the first round of the 138-pound bracket.
Ramirez jumped out to a 2-0 lead before giving up five consecutive points as Kochiu got a takedown late in the first period. Ramirez came back with a reversal midway through the second period, but Kochiu answered with five points in the final 30 seconds of the period, taking an 11-4 lead into the third. Ramirez was within 15-8 before eventually losing by a 19-8 major decision.
"Veliko took second last year in the state and the year before that he placed too, so we knew going in it was a tough first-round match," Bavlnka said. "He put us to our back twice and it's pretty hard to win a match being put to your back twice."
Kochiu went on to drop a 3-2 decision to Wisconsin Rapids sophomore Wyler Lubeck in the quarterfinals, eliminating Ramirez from Friday's wrestlebacks.
"You think when you've got the state runner-up in the first match, if you do end up getting beat you get a wrestleback," Bavlnka said. "But he [Kochiu] ended up going against a very good wrestler from Wisconsin Rapids that was able to shut down his offense."
Ramirez, who went 1-2 at 126 pounds at the 2017 state meet and 0-2 at 113 pounds in 2016, will have one more shot to reach the state podium next year.
"He definitely was coming here with the attitude that he wanted to get on that podium," Bavlnka said of Ramirez, who went 44-7 on the season. "He didn't just want to show up here and be one and done, that's for sure, so he was really disappointed. The good thing is he's got his senior year left and hopefully this continues to motivate him in the offseason. Get some extra wrestling in, hit the weights and hopefully we can do a lot better next year."
Around the area
Mason McMillen was the lone area wrestler to get through the opening day unscathed. The Reedsburg senior opened the meet with a 13-3 major decision over Germantown's Chase Celichowski in the 126-pound bracket. McMillen battled through a tough quarterfinal match, picking up a 3-2 decision over Elkhorn's Grant Truesdale to advance to Friday's semifinals. McMillen (46-3) will face Stevens Point senior Chance Bailey (24-2) in the semifinals, which start at 7 p.m. Friday.
Reedsburg's Brady Fry (36-16) saw his season come to an end in the first round of the 182-pound bracket. The senior was pinned in 3:41 by Port Washington junior Tristan Griswold, who was pinned by Stoughton's Brooks Empey in the quarterfinals.
Sauk Prairie senior Zeke Smith opened the 113-pound bracket with a 6-0 decision over Marquette's Tom Dineen, who beat Smith in the 106-pound third-place match last season. Smith advanced to take on Hortonville junior Eric Barnett, who is unbeaten the last two years and won the 106-pound title last year. Barnett came away with a 9-3 decision, beating Smith in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. Smith (47-2) will have a third-place finish in his sights when he opens Friday against Racine Horlick senior Antonio Puentes (38-6).
Sauk Prairie's Bryant Schaaf nearly went 2-0 at 152 pounds on Thursday. The junior opened the meet with a 5-4 decision over DeForest's Austin Rauls, who he lost to at the Badger Conference Tournament on Feb. 3. Schaaf went the distance in the quarterfinals before suffering a 4-3 overtime loss to River Falls junior Nathan Fuller. Schaaf (25-10) will take on West Bend East's Bryce Henschel (37-10) on Friday morning.
Sauk Prairie senior Dylan Herbrand will have to fight his way back after opening Thursday's meet with a 3-2 loss to Pulaski's Cole Gille. Herbrand (41-7), competing in his third state meet, will open Friday against Burlington's Cody Welker (40-10).