Zach Licht and Shane Liegel have been bouncing around on wrestling mats since they were young. The childhood friends train together in the offseason and continually motivate each other.
Now, the time has arrived for them to spend one more WIAA postseason run together with the River Valley wrestling team.
Liegel, a junior, won the Division 2 state championship at 160 pounds last year; this year, he has a 35-0 record and is ranked No. 1 at 170 this year by WiWrestling.com.
Licht, a senior, was the state runner-up at 132 pounds last season. This year, he takes a 34-1 record into the postseason and is ranked No. 1 at 132.
The two will compete next on Saturday in a WIAA Division 2 regional at Prairie du Chien.
While the two don’t battle one another head-to-head, Blackhawks coach Curtis Fiedler said they certainly lean on one another for competitive spark.
“Their work ethic is second to none, and because they put in so much work, I wish for their success — not just during the tournament season, but after they graduate high school,” Fiedler said.
A highlight of the just-concluded regular season came when both Licht and Liegel won their weight classes at the 57-team Bi-State Classic in La Crosse. It’s a goal both had thought about for years.
“We always dreamed about winning big tournaments together, and to finally do that at Bi State was an awesome experience,” Licht said.
This year, 17 of Licht’s 34 victories have come by pin as he sets out to avenge last year’s 8-6 loss to Sam Stuhl of Ellsworth in the state final — a match decided on a last-second move by Stuhl.
“Getting second added more fuel to my fire to get back there and win the whole thing,” Licht said. “It hurt because the championship was in my hands.
“But after a while, the great people around built me up and instilled confidence back in me.”
Licht calls this season his “dream season” because he finally gets to chase the dream he has always wanted: To finish his high school career on top. He said he loves the atmosphere of the postseason because of how intense and meaningful it is to every single wrestler competing.
“I’m excited to be there again and get the whole state feel,” Licht said. “It’s totally different from November. “You’re super excited to get out there on the mat and prove to everyone who you are.”
The undefeated Liegel has 18 pins so far this year and takes a 141-14 career record into the postseason.
Just as Licht lost a last-second decision to Stuhl in the state final last year, Liegel pulled out a wild, 5-4 victory over Nate Trepanier of Oconto Falls.
“The last match was a crazy one and I still don’t know what happened,” Liegel said. “It was just unbelievable.”
Liegel is motivated by the fact that he has a target on his back because he’s a defending state champion.
“My motivation is knowing that people are always going to try and gun for me,” Liegel said. “Knowing that they’re working their hardest to try to take me down is making me go the extra mile.”
Liegel also is fueled by the postseason atmosphere, but as a junior, his overall goal is different.
“Trying to improve throughout the year is what my goal is this year," Liegel said, "and hopefully it pays off at the end of the year.”