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Mar, 2019

Warrior wrestlers reach podium at State Tournament

If you spend enough time around wrestling, you’ll eventually hear some variation of the phrase “crazy things/anything can happen” plenty of times. In the state of Wisconsin, nowhere is this phrase more accurate than at the State Tournament.

The Waunakee wrestling team sent six wrestlers – Kolby Heinz at 106, Sam Lorenz at 120, Berhett Statz at 126, Colton Grindle at 170, Zach Marek at 182, and Reed Ryan at 220 – to compete at the Kohl Center starting on Thursday night. After 22 matches, 10 victories and three days, three Warrior wrestlers ended their season on the podium in the Kohl Center.

“Overall, the last month they’ve put together has been great,” said Waunakee’s Head Coach Mark Natzke on the accomplishments of his wrestlers. “To get here is an accomplishment in itself; only so many people make it to state and get to actually wrestle the state tournament.”


WIAA State Tournament

Day 1

All six wrestlers needed to be on top of their game from the start of the tournament; a loss in the first round could mean the end of the wrestler’s season. Heinz, Lorenz, Marek and Ryan each earned victories in the first round: Lorenz, Marek, and Ryan via pin.

Statz and Grindle had tough draws in round 1; they both faced the top-ranked wrestler in their weight class. While each surrendered victories to their first round opponents, they provided some of the toughest competition; both opponents wound up as the State Champions in their weight class. Statz was the only wrestler not to be pinned by Hortonville’s Eric Barnett, and Grindle’s 15-7 loss to Joshua Otto was the Arrowhead senior’s closest contest until his championship match.

In the second round of the tournament, Waunakee’s lightest wrestlers were unable to advance to Friday’s semifinal matches. Heinz fell to Kaukauna’s Jaden Verhagen in the second round, and Lorenz lost a tough battle against Pulaski’s Cole Gille. Lorenz took a 5-4 lead in the final period of his match, but wound up on his back after one mishap and gave up the lead late.

“I’ve just got to be smarter wrestling; I don’t really know what I was thinking at the end,” said Lorenz. “I should have done normal defense, but I tried to go for something big… I’ve got to accept the fact that I’m in a big arena and wrestle it like any other match.”

Waunakee’s seniors each earned wins to advance onto the semifinals. Ryan held onto a narrow lead against Slinger’s Bennett Connolly, maintaining control throughout most of the third period to get the win.

Marek’s victory was of the come-from-behind variety. Down a point heading into the third, Marek’s efforts to get a near-fall and take the lead proved to be unfruitful. With a minute left to go, Marek allowed his opponent Jacob Zupke to get up, surrendering a point in the process.

“I had to turn him or cut him,” said Marek. “Since I wasn’t able to turn him within that first minute, it was to cut him and try to get a takedown.”

Marek quickly got the takedown and tied the match up at six. More importantly, he got into prime position for his pin of choice: a headlock. With 36 seconds to go in the match, Marek’s decision to let Zupke up proved to be a smart one when the ref hit his hand to the mat, signaling a win by pin for Marek.

“In the first, I was trying to throw it, but it wasn’t working, so I settled back those last two periods,” Marek added. “When it came to the third, he was tired enough and not aware of what was going on. It was easier to throw it at that point… I’m excited to actually be here and be doing so well. Better than I could have imagined.”

“You never know with Zach; he can pull out that headlock at any time…” Natzke said. “He hides it so well and sets it up... He hangs and hangs and hangs, the guy gets relaxed and boom. All of a sudden: there you go. Some of the good ones set it up and get it out of nowhere; I’ve got to say he’s got one of the better ones.”

The four first-round victories, coupled with Barnett and Otto moving on in the 126 and 170-pound weight classes, meant all six Waunakee wrestlers would continue to wrestle on Friday. Marek and Ryan would compete in the evening for a spot in Saturday’s championship round.

Day 2

Wrestling in the morning on Friday were Heinz, Lorenz, Statz and Grindle in the consolation bracket. To advance onto Saturday, they needed to win two matches Friday morning.

Statz was the only of the four wrestlers to get a win, pulling out a low-scoring 4-2 victory over Collin Widmar of Kenosha Bradford. A third period takedown proved to be the difference for Statz.

At 106, Heinz was never able to stay in control during his match, and fell 7-2 to end the tournament with a 1-2 record: 36-14 on the season. Lorenz endured a hard takedown during the first period of his match and ultimately dropped the contest by getting pinned in the second; he also finished the tournament with a 1-2 record and 32-6 overall.

Grindle was unable to finish his match due to an injury suffered on a takedown in the first minute of his contest. With the injury default, Grindle’s tournament was ended with an 0-2 record: 41-8 on the year.

In Statz’s second match of the day, his opponent’s tardiness was a shock to spectators and coaches alike; one of the opposing wrestler’s coaches was visibly angry and threw a sweatshirt to the ground in frustration while waiting for his wrestler to arrive. After being docked a point for the delay, Joshua Cherba of Waterford finally showed up but didn’t have proper equipment and was disqualified.

“That’s not the way I wanted to win, but I’ll take it,” said Statz of his unorthodox win. “I come in at 10:00 tomorrow.”

“Crazy things happen; you can never be alarmed when you get down here at what you see,” added Natzke. “Every year, there’s something new that you haven’t seen ever before.”

After watching their teammates wrestle from the morning into the afternoon, Marek and Ryan finally got their chance in Friday night’s semifinal round. Marek fell behind early against Sam Skillings of Menomonie, and wasn’t able to recover the points. His efforts to score a late pin never came to fruition, and Marek ultimately fell 9-4.

Ryan fared better in his semifinal match, quickly turning Brett Wittmann of Kimberly to his back to get a pin after just 87 seconds. With the win, Ryan earned a spot in the championship match against the top-ranked wrestler in the state at 200: Brookfield Central’s Jacob Somlai.

“He’s been very dominant,” Natzke said of Somlai, “but Reed has too. I think probably the two best kids in Division 1 are going to meet in the finals. We’ll see who comes out on top… If Reed wrestles like he’s capable of and he wrestles smart and stays in position, he can come out on top.”

Day 3

On Saturday, Statz and Marek were slated to wrestle two matches. The results of their first match determined whether they’d wrestle for third or fifth place in their second.

The first match of Saturday was to be Statz against Portage’s Jessie Tijerina. After a disqualification gave Statz the win in his previous match, Statz’s path to the third-place match became even stranger when Tijerina forfeited his match prior to arriving.

“You’ve got to come ready to wrestle,” said Natzke. “[Statz] did, and the other kids weren’t.”

Statz finished his tournament in the third-place match against Mukwonago’s Luke Eliszewski. A back-and-forth match came to a premature end when Eliszewski made a strong move to put Statz on his back and get a pin, giving Statz a fourth-place finish in the tournament.

“We had a scramble and it just didn’t work out for me in the end…” Statz said. “I still need to get better. I want to be at the top of the podium next year, not just fourth. I need to work harder.”

Statz ended the tournament with a 3-2 record, and finished 43-10 on the season.

In Marek’s first match of the day, he again fell behind early against Bentley Schwanebeck-Ostermann of Marshfield. Never able to seize control, Marek had to settle to compete for fifth place later in the day.

Awaiting him in the fifth-place match was a rematch with Zupke. Zupke was wary of Marek’s headlock and was careful not to allow Marek the chance to throw it. After getting up by a big margin, Zupke’s only strategy late was to deny Marek the headlock until time ran out. He was successful in doing so, and Marek finished his tournament in sixth place.

“It means a lot, showing where I came from,” said Marek. “From freshman year: not making it. Sophomore year: not making it. And then again junior year… Senior year it means a lot. To not only get here, but to be on the podium, it means a lot.”

Marek’s tournament record was 2-3; he finished his senior season with a 43-9 mark.

In Waunakee’s finale, Ryan was up in the title match. After the March of Champions kicked off the final matches of the tournament, the raucous crowd that nearly filled the Kohl Center to capacity was anxious for the champions to be crowned.

Though Somlai got the first takedown in the first period, Ryan was able to gain control and score a slight advantage on the scoreboard heading into the second period. Midway through the period, however, Somlai again took Ryan down near the edge of the mat and was able to score a near-fall to take a 7-4 lead.

Despite Ryan’s repeated attempts to escape, Somlai kept on top throughout the majority of the second period. With just seconds remaining, the two went into a roll, and Ryan ended up on his back. Somlai took advantage of the positioning and won the championship with a pin at the 3:56 mark.

“At the end, when that clock hits zero or when the ref hits the mat, there’s a lot of stuff that went into that single moment…” Ryan said. “I’m not ashamed of it; I mean, it would have been nice to win the gold, but anything happens. It was an awesome experience, and I’ll never forget wrestling down here senior year.”

Ryan’s runner-up finish in the tournament came with a 3-1 record; his senior season ended with a 45-3 record overall.

At the end of a decorated high school wrestling career, the awards and accolades aren’t what Ryan said he’ll remember most.

“I’ll remember most being up in the wrestling room every day after school with the buddies,” said Ryan, “wrestling around and messing with each other and just enjoying our time up there. Spending two or three hours a day five or six times a week together, you really develop a lot of bonds. It’s a lot of fun; it’s a lot of bonds you won’t forget… It’s been a really great experience.”

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