The preparation was complete. The job was finished. The legacy had been honored.
And as the members of the Stoughton wrestling team celebrated their 31-29 victory over Holmen in Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state team championship match, their T-shirts revealed the legacy they had worked so hard to honor — while their smiling faces reflected their bright, shiny present.
It was 50 years ago — hippie-dippy 1968 — when the Stoughton wrestling program won the first of its seven WIAA state team championships under legendary coach LaVerne Pieper.
Pieper died on Oct. 1, 2017, at the age of 81. Wrestling season started a few weeks later — and the current crop of Vikings took it upon themselves to honor Pieper, and the 50th anniversary of that first team championship, with a run of their own.
And after three consecutive years of frustrating runner-up finishes, the Vikings brought another championship trophy home from the University of Wisconsin Field House.
“We felt the presence of (Pieper) all year long, to help this group move forward,” Stoughton co-head coach Bob Empey said. “It was like a guiding spirit.”
Still, there’s a difference between wanting something and actually making it happen. The Stoughton wrestlers bridged that gap by overachieving time and again on Saturday.
“Our senior class has been runner-up for three years in a row, and we’ve let that burn inside us and fuel our team for this year,” said Stoughton senior Tyler Dow, who won individual state runner-up honors at 160 pounds last week — and led off Saturday’s match with a 10-2 major decision over Holmen’s Kalyn Jahn at 170.
“Coming in, we knew there would be a lot of close duals, a lot of close matches. This is where team wrestling comes into play — you’re out there for your team, not just for yourself,” Dow said.
That attitude was reflected in back-to-back early matches. First, Brooks Empey, who placed sixth at 182 last week, moved up to 195 and took an early 8-4 lead before holding on for an 8-7 victory over state qualifier Kyle Burkhardt.
“As soon as I took him down the first time, I knew I could win,” Empey said.
That victory inspired 220-pound senior Gavin Miller, who gave every ounce of himself to pulling out a 5-4 victory over two-time state qualifier Jack Westcott of Holmen. Miller started the third period in down position and scored an escape and a takedown before riding out a victory.
“I knew it was important to keep my head in it, but as the match went on, I had complete confidence,” Miller said. “I knew if I could take him down and ride him out, he wasn’t going to turn me.”
Aodan Marshall followed up at 285 by toughing out a 5-2 victory over Holmen junior Jesse Fiers, who took fifth at individual state last week.
The Vikings added a couple of pins where they had hoped to get them — from state champ Hunter Lewis at 120 and runner-up Braeden Whitehead at 126 — and had victory in their grasp when freshman Luke Mechler beat state qualifier Trevor Plomedahl at 132.
And then 152-pounder Cade Spilde, the son of Stoughton co-coach Dan Spilde, iced the victory in the next-to-last match, scoring a third-period takedown to beat state qualifier Zach Gordon of Holmen, 5-3.
“I knew we probably had it if I could win,” Cade Spilde said. “(Friday) night, I had a close match because I wrestled not to lose. Tonight, I was out there to win.”
“We won this because of a complete team effort,” Bob Empey said. “The guys did it for themselves. It was the power of doing it together.”
Luxemburg-Casco 30, Ellsworth 28
Devan Vandenbush (160) beat Cedric Kosnopfal by major decision 12-4 to lift the Spartans over the two-time defending state champion Panthers in Division 2 to secure the program’s 11th state title. Caleb Linder (285) secured a pin victory for Ellsworth. Austin LeRoy (195) and Nate Lloyd (220) recorded pins for Luxemburg-Casco.
In the semifinals, Luxemburg-Casco beat Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau/Melrose-Mindoro, 44-21; and Ellsworth defeated Chilton/Hilbert, 53-6.
Stratford 45, Fennimore 13
In Division 3, A.J. Schoenfuss (126), Derek Marten (138) and Hector Rojas (220) had pins as the Tigers earned a repeat state championship. Trevor Wanek (132) recorded a pin and Mason Lull (113) won his match by major decision for the Golden Eagles. Manny Drexler (106) and Aiden Hoffman (195) won matches by decision for Stratford.
In semifnials, Fennimore beat Random Lake, 46-15; and Stratford beat St. Croix Falls, 47-12.