KAUKAUNA — Stoughton senior Brooks Empey savored the view from the top spot of the awards stand a year ago and was determined to defend his WIAA Division 1 wrestling title at 220 pounds this season.
Baraboo senior John Gunderson also was determined, but for a different reason. He spent a sleepless night following his runner-up finish at 182 pounds at last year’s state meet in Madison.
During an impressive showing by area competitors at the WIAA Division 1 individual state wrestling tournament throughout the day Saturday at Kaukauna High School, Empey and Gunderson left as state champions after the night’s finals.
Empey (13-0) won three matches and claimed a repeat title at 220 pounds, earning a 2-1 decision over Ashwaubenon senior Nathan Moynihan (17-1).
“I did what I had to today,” Empey said. “Not a lot happened in that match. He didn’t really want to create action, and I like to create action. … I had to be patient. I couldn’t force things. I had to take it one step at a time, one period at a time.”
With the victory came a successful title defense — no easy feat.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s hard work. It’s one thing to win. It’s another thing to go out there and defend. It’s a whole different mindset. It comes down to how you prepare. You know people are chasing you. So, you have to be running like you are being chased by the bear. Everyone wants that No. 1 spot, so you have to work hard every day.”
Gunderson (15-0) won his first state title and Baraboo’s first since Traenor Spencer at 130 pounds in 2002, pinning Ashwaubenon senior Connor Ramage (17-1) in 2 minutes, 47 seconds in the 182-pound final.
“Last year was tough, getting second, so it was nice to win, especially by pin,” Gunderson said. “I loved (this tournament). The Kohl Center, obviously, is an amazing atmosphere, but this was just like any other tournament. Last year, it’s weird having one match in a day and sleeping at a hotel. … I was used to it (this year). I was prepared.”
Gunderson said he’ll sleep well Saturday night.
“I love wrestling,” Gunderson said. “I’m glad they had a state tournament. I’m thankful for all the people who made this happen.”
Stoughton qualified six wrestlers and advanced five to the finals — Brooks Empey, junior Nicolar Rivera (132), senior Luke Mechler (160), senior Rudy Detweiler (195) and sophomore Griffin Empey (285).
Including Gunderson, Waunakee senior Sam Lorenz (138) and DeForest junior Brody Hemauer (170), the area advanced eight wrestlers to the finals of the tournament, which included all rounds in one day in response to the COVID-19 pandemic instead of the usual three days of competition at the Kohl Center.
Stoughton wound up with one title and four runner-up finishes — placings Brooks Empey described as “just heartbreaking.”
That included Brooks Empey’s younger brother Griffin Empey (12-1), who lost 3-0 to Oak Creek senior Ben Kawczynski (15-0) in the 285-pound final.
In a featured bout between champions at 132, Kaukauna senior Jager Eisch rallied to defeat Stoughton two-time champion Rivera 5-3 in sudden victory overtime. It was Rivera’s first loss of his prep career after winning his first 120 matches, including his first 11 matches this season.
Eisch won the 126-pound championship last season and Rivera moved up two weights this season after winning titles at 106 as a freshman and 120 as a sophomore.
Rivera (11-1) took a 3-0 lead in the second period with an escape and takedown, but Eisch (17-0) came back after Rivera needed an injury timeout at the end of the second period. Eisch scored an escape, then a takedown with 26 seconds left in the third period — prior to winning the match with 40 seconds left in the extra period.
“Eisch had his choice in the third and we knew it would be tough to ride him,” Stoughton co-coach Dan Spilde said. “We knew he’d apply a lot of pressure in the third.”
Mukwonago senior Tyler Goebel (17-1) recorded three third-period points to break a 2-2 deadlock and topped Lorenz (12-1) by a 5-2 margin in the 138 final.
Hartland Arrowhead senior Jack Ganos (18-1) scored a takedown in the final seconds for a 3-1 decision over Mechler (12-1) in the 160 title match. Mechler finished third at 152 last year.
West Bend West freshman Connor Mirasola (20-0) defeated DeForest’s Hemauer (13-2) in the 170-pound final with a 5-3 sudden victory overtime triumph.
Bay Port senior Drake Anderson (20-0) pinned Detweiler (12-1) at 1:57 for the 195-pound championship.
“We came in here trying to make some noise and putting five in the finals is just a very difficult thing to do,” Spilde said. “Very few teams have ever done it. Stoughton has only done it one time to my knowledge. It’s awful tough to put them there and it’s even tougher to win it.”
Third-place finishers included Watertown sophomore Oscar Wilkowski (120), Milton freshman Aeoden Sinclair (152) and Waunakee senior Daniel Ford (195).