Kevin Meicher’s freshman season as a Middleton High School wrestler finished with quite a bang last February.

Meicher emerged from a heavily experienced bracket to defeat top-ranked and defending state champion Justin Folley of Wauwatosa West/East to earn the 126-pound WIAA Division 1 state championship.

Meicher’s sophomore season has produced more of the same. He has compiled a 35-2 record across the 138 and 145 pound divisions, and has hung around at or near the top of the state rankings all season.

Not that Meicher really gives those rankings much of his attention.

“I’m definitely aware of the rankings. I mean, I do look at them,” Meicher admitted. “They just don’t really mean anything for me. Ultimately, I need to go out and just focus on the next match. So there’s no real reason to think too much about them.”

In the offseason, Meicher participated in USA Wrestling freestyle and folkstyle events on the national level, although the results weren’t quite what he was hoping for — he finished with a combined record of 0-4.

Meicher responded by using the experience as motivation, an important wake-up call heading into his sophomore season.

“Coming in (to nationals), I thought I was really prepared, with it being my second year competing there,” Meicher said. “I was hoping to see some improvement, but I wasn’t quite as focused as I needed to be, and I think I got caught looking ahead to football season a little bit.”

“That really fired me up. I was pretty mad at myself about that.”

The way Cardinals coach Kent Weiler sees it, Meicher’s inner drive and determination to constantly improve sets him apart — as well as the way he handles the grind of the sport.

“You would never know he’s as highly talented as he is, with how he carries himself,” said Weiler. “And he’s still just a sophomore.”

“I’ve coached a lot of really talented kids over the years, but Kevin’s combination of skill and intangibles is something special.

“He just never stops trying to get better.”

Meicher is ready for the climax of the season, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday with the Big Eight Conference meet at Madison East. WIAA regionals, sectionals and state meets follow on the next three Saturdays.

Despite a series of injuries, the Cardinals are feeling confident as a team as they head toward the final chapter of their season — even after that confidence was shaken a couple of weeks ago.

Middleton finished 4-0 in the Big Eight West Division, but finished second overall in Big Eight duals after falling to East champion Sun Prairie by a score of 60-9.

Meicher and the Cardinals bounced back last weekend with solid performances against Baldwin-Woodville and Spring Valley/Elmwood at the Menomonie Invitational, which could prove to be a vital tune-up with the postseason right around the corner.

“Sun Prairie just kicked our butts,” Weiler said bluntly. “And you never really know how a team will respond to something like that until it happens. But I’m really proud of the way everyone has stepped up since then.”