STOUGHTON — As Tyler Dow walked off the Kohl Center mat a year ago, he already was taking steps to return to the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling tournament.
Disappointed with a 12-8 loss to Sparta’s Hayden Krein in the 152-pound championship match, Dow became laser-focused on not only making it back to state this year, but climbing one rung higher.
During this season, the Stoughton junior 160-pounder didn’t shy away from declaring his goal. And now, after all the preparation — all the blood, sweat and maybe tears — the tournament is upon us, starting today.
Dow, a University of Wisconsin recruit, has made it back. The moment has arrived.
“It’s obvious that is what this week is all about,” Dow said earlier in the week just outside the wrestling room at Stoughton High School. “It’s where I wanted to be. It is what I have been looking forward to all year, and we’re finally there. It is quite an accomplishment to get to the state tournament. But I’m at the point where a title is my goal right now.”
For Dow (48-2), a potential rematch with the top-ranked Krein (32-1) could take place in the semifinals Friday night.
Dow will not be alone at state. Five other Vikings advanced through sectional competition: sophomore Hunter Lewis at 106 pounds, senior Tristan Jenny (120), senior Brandon Klein (132), sophomore Cade Spilde (138) and senior Garrett Model (145).
UW commit Model was a state champion at 138 last year. Klein was the 106 champion in 2015. Lewis, Jenny, Klein, Model and Dow all are ranked second in the state in their respective weight divisions by WiWrestling.com.
“They all have prepared to make that climb as high as they can at the state tournament,” Stoughton co-coach Bob Empey said.
Stoughton has the largest area contingent in Division 1, trailing the eight from Oak Creek, Pewaukee and Slinger and seven from Kaukauna, Menomonee Falls and Waterford.
“We are excited about the guys who are through,” said Vikings co-coach Dan Spilde, a former Big Ten Conference wrestling champion at UW. “This group of guys has wrestled at the national level, and all have wrestled at big-time tournaments. Over half have wrestled internationally. They are pretty mat savvy. They understand what the big stage is.
“No one will be starstruck by the environment. It’s easy to start thinking too much. But I have seen this group wrestle their best in the big moments.”
Spilde is excited as a coach and father that son Cade will compete at state.
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to coach my son at the state tournament,” Spilde said. “We have a little more to talk about now at the dinner table before the state tournament. We are a family here (as a team), but it’s just a little more fun as a coach when your kid is involved. I’m just lucky enough to be one.”
Dan Spilde and Empey have high hopes for the Stoughton Six, seeking to add to Stoughton’s 46 individual titles — second all-time to Mineral Point’s 50. Spilde said expectations are particularly high for Klein, Model and Dow as wrestlers who previously have been in the finals; Lewis, who has been in attack mode all season; and Jenny.
“The guy who is most locked in is Tristan Jenny,” Spilde said. “He is at the top of his game right now.”
Jenny, who plans to wrestle at UW-La Crosse, is eager for this tournament after qualifying for state the past two years.
“I want to win it — nothing short of it,” Jenny said. “That was the goal from freshman year until now. It hasn’t changed. … I definitely feel I’m ready. I just need to take it one match at a time.”
He has improved on his feet this season, staying late in practice to work specifically on takedowns with teammate Kaleb Louis — each recording 25 to 50 takedowns per night.
Now, Jenny would like to wrap up his high school career with a title.
“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “I have been working for this tournament my whole life, since I was 4 years old.”
Dow knows that feeling. His father, Stoughton athletic director Mel Dow, wrestled at UW-La Crosse and coached at Prairie du Chien High School.“Ever since I was born, I was in wrestling,” Tyler Dow said. “I love it.”
Entering this season, Dow had showed his mettle, finishing first at 152 pounds in freestyle at the Pan American Championships in Peru and receiving double All-American honors in freestyle and Greco-Roman at a national event in North Dakota.He has tried to be physical and always on the attack this season.
“Knowing I have been in the state finals, I have a lot of confidence,” he said.
Dow and Model first met at a tournament in Verona when Dow was in fourth grade. Their friendship began the next year when Dow moved to Stoughton.
“We are super close,” Dow said. “Wherever I am, Garrett will be pretty close. We like to hang out. We both wanted to go to Wisconsin. Both of us were born and raised here. We wanted to make that dream a reality.”
The top-ranked Vikings also want to make a Division 1 team state title a reality next week after runner-up finishes to Kaukauna the past two years.“We are very excited,” Jenny said. “The whole team is ready to go. We came up short at team state the last two years. It’s definitely in the back of our minds that we are not taking second again. We want Kaukauna. We want that matchup.”
Dow secured the team state berth for Stoughton by winning the last sectional match against Elkhorn.
“He’s as good an anchorman as you’d want to have,” Spilde said.
“You have to be ready for any situation,” Dow said. “I kept my composure all night. I wanted to get the job done for my team.”
Getting the job done in the next two weeks will be foremost on the minds of the Vikings, many who started in wrestling in fourth or fifth grade.
“It’s pretty cool to be with them from the start to the finish as they, hopefully, grow up to be great athletes and great people,” Empey said. “I hope they go out and compete the Stoughton way every time they step on the mat — relentless and prepared.”