Zach Licht almost couldn’t believe it.
After a frustrating last-second reversal and loss in the WIAA Division 2 state wrestling final last season, the River Valley 126-pounder was cruising through a spectacular senior campaign with a state title in mind.
He was all set to win the sectional title last week, when at the very end of a semifinal victory, he heard what no athlete wants to hear — a pop in his right knee.
He forfeited the sectional final and went into physical therapy immediately. The pain subsided and rehab had him feeling better by Tuesday night.
And that’s when his coaches decided he was healthy enough to give a state title run a try.
Licht (44-2) and the knee passed the first test, as he overpowered Craig Elsen of Nekoosa, 4-1, in the opening round Thursday night at the Kohl Center.
“It feels all right,” he said. “It was just one of those things last week. We were in a scramble and it just popped. I did the therapy and a little light drilling and I feel ready.”
The win launches Licht into a quarterfinal bout at about 11:15 a.m. Friday morning against Sheboygan Falls’ Kaleb Ison (39-5).
With a heavy pad on his knee, Licht took charge from the start and showed great speed. Though he could not turn Elsen, he was never in any danger.
Licht, who is ranked fourth in state D2 at 126, said he’s ready to make a serious run again.
“All my goals are still in place,” he said. “I’ll get some rest tonight and focus on (today’s quarterfinals and potentially semifinals). I have a lot of motivation this year.”
Licht’s teammate, Caleb Radtke, dropped a 7-0 decision at 120 pounds on Friday. Defending champiuon Shane Liegel, at 170, received a bye into today’s quarterfinal round.
For Lodi sophomore Colton Nicolay (34-14), it was all about making the most of his opportunities when he scored a late takedown and edged Grafton’s Ellis Pfleger, 8-7, in his first-round match at Division 2 132.
“I knew he would be tough, but I have a goal of getting further than I did last year,” he said, referring to the 1-2 record he posted at state in 2017.
“We have big expectations at Lodi. You’re encouraged to do your best and work hard.”
Four Lodi wrestlers are still in the championship hunt, out to make up for a one-point loss in Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau/Melrose Mindoro in the team sectional.
Also for Lodi, Garrett Moll (37-3) advanced at 120, Max Barreau (38-9) advanced at 160 and Jacob Heyroth earned a bye at 182.
Other area Division 2 wrestlers making it through first-round matches were Edgerton’s Cole Bavery (41-3) at 132, Jefferson’s Dean Neff (45-7) at 138 and Evansville/Albany’s Nolan Kicmol (43-4) at 152).
Marshall 220-pounder Justin Chadwick (50-5) pinned Athens’ Dakota Venzke in 1:58 to become the first Marshall wrestler at his weight to join the school’s 50-win club.
He was boosted by a small, enthusiastic fan club that chanted his name after the win.
“I didn’t make it out of the first round last year so I went to Advance Wrestling and worked really hard,” said Chadwick. “Now I’d like to keep going. If I could pull out a state title that would be great, too.”
Mineral Point’s Caden Carey(34-12) won his preliminary match at 132 pounds.