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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Casper/Whiting Win State Championships

Issue Date: March 3, 2022

Area Wrestling

Some wins mean more than others.

Coleman coach Kevin Casper, who has announced he's retiring at the end of the wrestling season after 33 years leading the Cougars, put the gold medal around his son Karson's neck on Saturday after he won his second state title in three years, avenging a loss from last season's state championship match.

Karson Casper advanced to the Division 3, 145-pound state final with decision wins over Crandon's Cole Shepherd, 11-4, and Aquinas' Robert Flege, 4-1. That earned him a rematch with Cedar Grove-Belgium's Cael Erickson, who defeated Casper 5-0 in the 2021 state first-place match and came into the match with a 50-0 record on the season.

Casper came out on the attack, and by the time 59 seconds had passed, he had Erickson pinned, with a half nelson spiral putting him into position. Erickson tried to roll out of it, which only strengthened Casper's grip.

"I just came out hot, ready to attack, attack, attack, and score points," Casper said. "If I do that for six minutes, I know I'm going to beat anybody."

Casper said his loss to Erickson last year gave him "a lot of fuel to the fire," adding, "to get back on top, you've got to come prepared, and I was."

Coach Casper said the match was "nothing short of amazing."

"I don't think anybody in the Kohl Center was expecting that to happen," he said. "I believe all eyes are on that match with two former state champions and two kids that met in the state finals last year."

Casper, a senior, also won state as a sophomore. In his dad's final season, receiving his gold medal from his dad meant a bit more than any other match.

"Coming from my dad in his last year, to get gold is a blessing. It's awesome," he said.

"I am extremely proud of Karson as a coach and more so as his dad," coach Casper said. "What a way to end his career as a two-time state champion and at the same time knowing it was his dad"s last time coaching at the individual state tournament. It doesn't get any better than that."

Coleman ended up with four wrestlers on the podium. Brody Zahn was third at 285, and both Will Bieber (152) and Cole Klimek (170) took fourth.

Zahn started with a 7-1 win over Reedsville's Darren Wagner, but was pinned in the semifinal by Unity's Mike Nelson despite leading at the time.

He battled back through the consolation bracket to take third, with pins over Ithaca/Weston's Caleb Marchwick in 1:52 and Cedar Grove-Belgium's Diego Morales in 2:41.

Zahn narrowly missed state as a junior after just two wrestlers from each sectional made it. This year as a senior, a state title was definitely his goal, but he can be proud of what he accomplished in his senior season.

"I would've liked to be in the finals tonight, but stuff happens and I was able to come out on top and got third place. I couldn't have asked for a better senior year," Zahn said, also giving credit to his coaches in Casper's final individual state meet. "I couldn't have asked for a better season. Coleman's got the best wrestling coaches. They definitely got me here."

Bieber, a junior, pinned Spring Valley/Elmwood's Max Schmitt in the first round and beat Cadott's Tristan Drier in the quarterfinal. In the semifinal, he wasn't able to beat Aiden Brosinski, a 50-1 wrestler from De Soto, losing by a 4-1 decision.

Bieber led with less than 30 seconds to go, but Brosinski got a reversal to end up winning the match.

He beat Random Lake's Toren Vandenbush in the tightest of decisions, 1-0, but lost in the third-place match to Stratford's Elijah Lucio, 5-2.

"Will Bieber had an excellent tournament as well," coach Casper said. "The great thing is Will is only a junior and will have a great chance to be at the top of the podium next year."

Klimek started off with an 8-1 win over Logan Steinhorst of Kewaunee. He lost in the quarterfinal to Boyceville's Tyler Dormanen, then fought his way back to the third-place match with a pin of Cochrane-Fountain City's Sam Schutz and a tiebreaker win over Bo Hanson in the consolation semifinal.

Coach Casper said he thought it was the best match Klimek had wrestled in his career.

He came ever-so-close to beating Aquinas' David Malin in the third-place match, but lost 6-4 in sudden victory to finish fourth.

"It was a fun experience. It's been awesome, coming here and kind of being an underdog, losing in the second round, but wrestling all the way back to take fourth, it feels good," Klimek said. "I don't know what feels better than this, because this is one of my first individual accomplishments that I can say I did by myself. It feels pretty good."

Four more Coleman wrestlers competed but didn't place. Ray LeMieux lost his opener against Jesse Burg of Cedar Grove-Belgium by pin at 113, Brady Gross was pinned by Royall's Colin McKittrick at 126 in the first round, and Peter Kuchta was pinned by Markesan's Jaden Walker in the first round 26 seconds before the end of six minutes.

Micah Kuchta (138) won his first match, beating Westby's Dominick Hansen by 17-1 tech fall. He was pinned by Mineral Point's Tarrin Riley in the quarterfinal and lost by 11-6 decision to Random Lake's Stone Pomeroy in the first consolation round.

Coleman will now turn its attention to team state, held Saturday at the UW Fieldhouse in Madison. It will be Casper's last time on the side of the mat as Coleman head coach.

"We are excited for the opportunity and it is something our kids have strived for all year long," he said. "It is our goal to bring back another state championship to our school and to our community and fans."

Elsewhere in Division 3, Lena's Dylan Comins took sixth at 106. He started off by beating Cadott's Kaleb Lodahl by 18-1 tech fall before a 13-7 decision loss to Glenwood City's Wyatt Unser in the quarterfinal.

He locked in a place on the podium with a pin of Auburndale's Derek Godard in a match he trailed 5-0.

"I was down 5-0. I knew I could beat him on my feet," Comins said after that match. "My goal here was to come in and place and I just did that."

He would lose in his final two matches by tech fall and a 9-3 decision to Unser once again, but the win over Godard is a memory that will live with Comins for a long time.

"We were all very pleased with Dylan's performance at state this year," Lena coach Chad Misco said. "One of his goals was to get on the podium and he did that."

Florence/Niagara's Breyson Kelley lost his opener by pin to Laconia's Colton Lovejoy in 4:26.



Whiting Wins Fourth D2 State Title,

First Timers Thomas & Bozile Medal


In any debate about the greatest Wisconsin high school wrestler of all time, it might be hard to keep Clayton Whiting out of the conversation.

Coming into this weekend's state tournament, just 19 wrestlers had ever won four consecutive state titles. Whiting became the 20th on Saturday, and he did it in weight classes that no other four-time winner has ever done it.

Of those 19 winners, none had ever won multiple titles at a weight class above 152. No four-time winner has ever won a single title above 160 pounds.

Whiting won all four of his titles at 152 or above. He started at 152 as a freshman in 2019. In 2020, he moved up to 170 and was again unbeatable, and his last two titles have come in the 182-pound weight class.

He was hardly challenged in last weekend's state tournament, winning the Division 2 182-pound title with wins by tech fall, pin, and major decision.

He beat Amery's Grant Cook in a 19-4 tech fall, Turner's Cal Ries in a 3:44 pin, and defeated Northwestern's Ian Smith, who came into the match with a 51-2 record, by a 17-5 score.

"Clayton Whiting doing Clayton Whiting things," Oconto Falls coach Cody Nielsen said, summing him up in one word: "amazing."

Whiting is the first four-time winner from any Marinette or Oconto county school. He's become something of a mentor to other wrestlers from around the area as well, and he'll undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best the area has seen, if not the best.

"It means a lot, especially in our local area that other wrestlers look up to me, and knowing that they want to become great too one day. It definitely feels good," Whiting said.

Whiting's next stop in his wrestling career is at the University of Missouri.

Whiting's freshman teammate Cole Bozile found his way onto the podium, taking sixth place at 126. He won his first two matches, beating Adams-Friendship's Jordan Dolata by 6-2 decision and Niellsville/Greenwood/Loyal's Derek Zschernitz in the quarterfinal.

He would lose his next three matches, though he was competitive in all three. He lost by major decision to Portage's Chase Beckett, was beaten by Campbellsport's Ostin Blanchard in a 7-0 decision, and Ashland's Austin Defoe topped him in a 4-3 decision in the fifth-place match.

"It feels good. I worked so hard for this, and my teammates have helped me work hard. It feels great as a freshman, and I'm just excited to wrestle for the next few years and see what I can do," he said.

"Cole Bozile joins a short, short list of freshmen state placewinners from Oconto Falls, many of which went on to have really successful careers and state championships," Nielsen said.

Graeson Pankratz, a senior and former state placewinner for the Panthers, wasn't able to find his way back onto the podium at 120. He started with a 7-0 decision win over Winneconne's Mason Sternard, but he was pinned by Niellsville/Greenwood/Loyal's Luke Dux in the quarterfinal and East Troy's Jonah Edwards in the first consolation round.

"He had a great career for us and he's going to do great things at the next level, so I'm really proud of him and really excited to see his future," Nielsen said.

Peshtigo broke an 11-year drought on the state podium when Connor Thomas took sixth in Madison. It was the first time Peshtigo had sent a wrestler to state in five years.

Thomas won his first two matches, beating Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau/Melrose-Mindoro's Braydon Lockington in a 3-2 decision and pinning Campbellsport's Joseph Volz in the quarterfinal.

He lost a narrow 3-1 decision to Lodi's Wyatt Ripp, who finished the season 50-7, in the semifinal. Then a scary injury in the consolation semifinal brought his tournament to an unfortunate ending.

With 4:55 minutes gone in a match against Isaac Pearce, Thomas was leg riding when Pearce did a somersault. Thomas had his neck and head caught, and he ended up sustaining a neck injury and being stretchered off the mat.

Thomas said after the injury he didn't expect to need surgery, despite having torn multiple ligaments and damaged nerves in his back. He's expected to make a full recovery, and expects to be back wrestling next year. The injury won't deter him from pursuing another spot on the podium next year.

"No, never. It makes me want to work harder," he said.

He's not far off. Just three points separated him and the state championship match.

"It would have really been something to be able to make top two in his first state appearance. Connor had been working hard leading up to this weekend and was deserving of making it into that finals match," Peshtigo coach Kory Weed said. "Despite the loss, he battled back and wrestled with purpose in his next match Saturday morning."

Marinette's Isaiah and Josh Walker did not place after losing their first matches of the tournament.

Isaiah, wrestling through pain after a dislocated knee suffered at sectionals, battled through but was beaten narrowly by Omro's Bryce Crowley, 3-2, in the first championship round. Josh was pinned by Baldwin-Woodville's Austin Schmidt in 2:59 in his opener.

"Just qualifying for state wrestling is an honor. The Walker boys were overwhelmed when they walked into the Kohl Center for weigh-ins," Marinette coach Matthew Marotz said.

Despite the early losses, both wrestlers competed well. Isaiah was beaten by just a point, and Josh was wrestling well before getting caught and pinned, Marotz said.

"I'm pretty sure that their nerves got the best of them during their matches. Wrestling is as much a mental sport as it is physical," coach Marotz said. "They were definitely disappointed with not being able to continue on wrestling Friday or Saturday."

One added bonus on making it to state: the Walkers made a deal last year with Marotz, who has had a beard for 14 years, that they could shave it if they made state.

For the first time in nearly a decade and a half, Marotz is clean shaven.

"Pretty sure that made their day."


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