Ninety-one athletes from Tomah High School have competed at the WIAA state wrestling tournament, and more than half of them were in the bleachers Thursday night.
Tomah coach Jeff Von Haden believes their presence made a difference.
Energized by a night set aside to honor Tomah's wrestling past, the Timberwolves put on a show for the alumni in a 57-21 victory over La Crosse Logan/La Crosse Central in a Mississippi Valley Conference match.
Prior to the varsity match, the school unveiled its honor board with the names of every Tomah wrestler who reached the state tournament. The ones who returned, including current Tomah wrestler Dawson Lambert and Logan/Central assistant coach Tyler Von Haden, were introduced individually as part of the ceremony.
Jeff Von Haden said the emotion of the ceremony carried over to the wrestling mat.
"Tonight they really wanted it," he said. "They knew something special was going on. They felt the emotion and the excitement in the gymnasium, and they didn't want to let anybody down."
The Timberwolves won eight of the 11 contested matches with seven of the victories ending with a pin.
The only two that went the distance were the first and last matches of the night, and they both involved members of La Crosse's Kapanke family.
The opener was at 152, where Tomah's Travis Von Haden drew Christian Kapanke and won a 5-4 decision. Von Haden was behind for most of match but got a takedown with five seconds left in the second period to cut Kapanke's lead to 3-2.
Kapanke started the third period on top, but Von Haden got an escape with 1:30 left to tie the match at 3-3. He then took his first lead of the match by taking down Kapanke with 38 seconds left and stayed on top until Kapanke got an escape with three seconds left.
"That was kind of the premier match of the night − we knew it could go either way," Jeff Von Haden said. "He got that late takedown in the second period, which was huge − it got him back in the match. He didn't lose his composure when he got behind."
The final match was at 145, where Dallas Kapanke, Christian Kapanke's cousin, evened the family record at 1-1 with a 3-0 victory over Tomah's Owen Walters. Neither wrestler scored in the first period, and Kapanke took a 1-0 lead in the second period with an escape. He rode Walters the entire third period and got two points with a flash near-fall.
Another notable matchup came at 120, where Tomah senior Cody Zimmerman wrestled just his second match of the season. He took a 15-3 lead against Dakota Gruen before getting a pin midway through the second period.
Zimmerman's goal had been to wrestle 113, but it doesn't appear he'll be able to shed the weight. However, Von Haden said Lambert will likely get down to 113, which opens 120 for Zimmerman. Von Haden looks forward to having experienced wrestlers filling both weight classes.
"It's going to give us our best lineup," Von Haden said. "Now we can get both Dawson and Cody in the lineup. It's a big deal."
Tomah's other six victories, all pins, were scored by Marques Fritsche (160), Seth Carlson (170), Connor Von Haden (182), Kaden Hericks (195), Angel Burkhalter (220) and Nate Boulton (138).
"We're still green in some weights," Von Haden said. "It's just a matter of finding that right mix and staying healthy."
Von Haden is the 10th head coach in the history of the program, which dates back to 1956-57. In addition to state qualifiers, three former coaches − Harold "Don" Smith, Al Rosenthal and Bill Tourdot − returned for the ceremony.
"It was awesome − unbelievable," Von Haden said. "I'm so happy that they come back and show their appreciation for the state honor board."
The Timberwolves get a two-week break before competing in the Bi-State Classic Dec. 29-30 at the La Crosse Center. The next home match is Tuesday, Jan. 9 vs. Holmen.
MVC BOYS WRESTLING
Results of Dec. 14
Tomah 57 Logan/Central 21
Holmen 82 Onalaska/Luther 0
Sparta 56 Aquinas 15