The Kaukauna Ghosts aren’t buying into the theory that seniors win championships.
The Ghosts have just four seniors on their roster, but on the mat, they have the look of another juggernaut.
Kaukauna is the state’s No. 1-ranked Division 1 wrestling team and lived up to that billing Thursday night with a 66-3 Fox Valley Association crushing of Kimberly.
The Ghosts moved into the top spot of the Wisconsin Wrestling Online rankings after an impressive 32-30 win Saturday over highly regarded Wausau West at the Wisconsin Dells Duals Classic..
“Since about 1999 we’ve been ranked in the top five at some point just about every year, but it doesn’t happen very often that we’re ranked No. 1,” said Kaukauna coach Jeff Matczak. “But right now, none of our goals have been accomplished. All we want to do is be in the mix every year. We’re relatively healthy right now and have got the kids believing we can accomplish anything this year. That’s the most important thing.”
The Ghosts may be young, but they’re highly skilled. Sophomore Robert Lee is the defending Division 1 state champion at 113 and improved to 12-0 by pinning Kimberly’s Trevor Santkuyl in 1:15. Lee competed most of last season at 120 and is wrestling this year at 132.
“I kind of surprised even myself last year,” said Lee. “Oh my God, winning state was the greatest feeling in the world. I don’t know if it puts any more pressure on me this year. I think there was more pressure on me last year because I was trying to win it as a freshman and that hadn’t been done a lot.”
Juniors Ian Gioacchini, Kolten Jansen and Evan Hietpas, sophomore Bailey VanHandel and freshman Ty Lee, Robert’s brother, are all rated among the top 15 in the Wisconsin Wrestling Online individual rankings. The five had victories Thursday, with Hietpas supplying a pin at 138 and Gioacchini winning by technical fall at 113.
Another talented young wrestler, sophomore Tres Leon, is sidelined with a broken leg and the Ghosts aren’t certain when, or if, he will return this year. Leon went 45-10 as a freshman and was a state qualifier.
“We’re young, but we always seem to have a small senior class,” said Matczak. “I think the most seniors we’ve ever had in recent years is five. But our young kids are talented and they’re hungry.”
The older ones aren’t so bad, either. Although Kaukauna has just three seniors in its starting lineup, two of them, Nick Dercks (195) and T.J. Nelson (220), are returning state qualifiers.
Dercks, who won by major decision (19-6) over Drew Tomasovic, is ranked No. 1 at 195 in the Wisconsin Online rankings.
“You appreciate it, and I didn’t expect it, but it doesn’t mean much right now,” said Dercks. “You have to wait until the end of the year and see how everything works out. It’s the same with our team being ranked No. 1. It feels really good to be recognized for all the hard work you put into it, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot right now.”
The Ghost have won the last seven FVA titles and look like a lock for an eighth consecutive conference championship.
“We have a great youth program here and the coaches are incredible,” said Dercks. “They put a ridiculous amount of hours into this.”
Kimberly’s only win Thursday came at 160, where Drew Mulholland won an 8-2 decision over Zach Shukoski.
The best match of the night came at 145, where Kaukauna freshman Justin Kloehn pinned Kevin Coenen in 5:32. Coenen was leading 6-5 late in the third period before Kloehn caught him in a half-nelson and was able to turn the match around and deliver the pin with 28 seconds remaining.
“Justin had the body, the long arms to pull that off and he showed an awful lot of mat savvy for a freshman,” said Matczak.
285: Will Russum KA won by forfeit; 106: Ty Lee KA dec. Jordan Weinzetl 2-1; 113: Ian Gioacchini KA won by technical fall over Shane Christman 17-2; 120: Bailey VanHandel KA won by forfeit; 126: Kolton Jansen KA won by forfeit; 132: Robert Lee KA pinned Trevor Santkuyl 1:15; 138: Evan Hietpas KA pinned Jacob Olson 1:59; 145: Justin Kloehn KA pinned Kevin Coenen 5:32; 152: Tanner VandenHeuvel KA dec. Kordell Schmoll 5-1; 160: Blair Mulholland KI dec. Zach Shukoski 8-2; 170: Nick Agen KA dec. Corey Klapps 8-4; 182: Vincent Zornow KA won by forfeit; 195: Nick Dercks KA won by major decisoon over Drew Tomasovic 19-6; 220: T.J. Nelson KA won by forfeit.