After one last taste of home cooking, four Waunakee wrestlers are off to the big show, in the nearby big city, on the big stage.
And according to Warriors big men Reed Ryan and Alan Olkowski, it was a trip out East that set the wheels in motion for Saturday’s success.
Three Warriors secured weight-class championships and another finished second in Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 individual sectional at Waunakee, giving each a berth in the upcoming state meet — which starts Thursday at the Kohl Center.
Freshman Sam Lorenz (44-4 on the season) won at 106 pounds, Ryan (27-4), a junior, won at 220 and Olkowski (41-6), a senior, won at 285. Senior Ben Statz (37-12) qualified by taking second at 160.
Waunakee scored 122.5 points to finish second in the sectional point standings, well behind Holmen, the state’s top-ranked team, which totaled 221 points and had 10 state qualifiers.
But Warriors coach Mark Natzke — whose Warriors also lost to Holmen in a WIAA team sectional on Tuesday — is pleased to take four representatives to state.
“It’s what we expected. We knew we had three guys that had a shot at winning it, and some others who had a chance for second,” the coach said. “We had one take second, and two guys wound up placing third (and missing out on a state berth).”
Ryan didn’t make state last year, and Olkowski qualified but lost his first match. Both said the seeds for this year’s success were planted when they took a coach’s tip and traveled to Edinboro, Pennsylvania, to take part in four-time Olympic medalist Bruce Baumgartner’s World Class Heavyweight School camp.
“It was one of the best wrestling experiences I’ve had,” said Ryan, who defeated Holmen’s Jack Westcott 8-3 in the final at 220. “They brought in Olympic wrestlers, world champions, and they showed us so many things— lots of ways to set up shots and shoots.”
“In the past, I’ve been a guy that tries to force you (down) with the upper body. Lots of the big boys, that’s all we know. But this was a new thing,” Ryan said.
Ryan is now 4-1 this season against Westcott. “It was a great match against great competition,” he said of the final.
“The biggest thing (about the camp) was just the new confidence that we got from going there,” said Olkowski, who defeated Holmen’s Jesse Fiers 3-1 in sudden victory in the final at 285. “We left being able to try all kinds of new moves.”
Olkowski said he also greatly increased his time in the weight room, in preparation for both football and wrestling. “I’ve always been strong, but I’ve tried to take it to a different level this year,” he said.
Lorenz said he entered his freshman year unsure of how things would pan out against high school competition. But he said that by the holiday break and the Bi-State Classic in La Crosse, “I knew we were onto something.”
Lorenz pinned Holmen sophomore Alex Pellowski in 1 minute, 48 seconds in the final.
“I first wrestled him at the Waunakee Invitational and he beat me 7-0,” Lorenz said. “On Tuesday (in the team sectional), I beat him 8-2, and I ended up pinning him today.”
Statz said his state berth will be his first trip to state ever as a wrestler, even in youth competition.
“I wasn’t the best wrestler starting out. I’ve been wrestling since kindergarten and I’ve never once made it to state,” said Statz said, who fell, 10-3, to Holmen’s Reed Williams in the final at 160. “Now that I’ve made it, I want to go out and show I belong there.”
Middleton’s undefeated and top-ranked 152-pounder, Kevin Meicher, beat Sauk Prairie’s Bryant Schaaf in the final 7-0 to take a 43-0 record to state. Teammate Dion Huff won at 195 with a 7-2 decision over Sauk’s Marcus Hankins, who lost a wrestleback and missed out on a state trip.
Sauk’s Zeke Smith won at 113 and will take a 46-1 record to state. Dylan Herbrand (41-6) advanced although he lost the final at 120 to Portage’s Jessie Tijerina (38-11).
Reedsburg’s Mason McMillen (44-3) won at 126, and Brady Fry (36-15) took second at 182.
Baraboo had two runners-up qualify: John Gunderson (40-8) at 132 and Pablo Ramirez (44-6) at 138. And Madison La Follete’s Kyle Smith (38-9) qualified with a runner-up finish at 126.