The population of Freedom hovers around the 5,910 mark, plus the few thousand who are temporary visitors if you include the traffic that passes through this small town on either County E or Hwy. 55.
Later tonight, the community that bleeds Irish green and boasts an Olympic wrestler of its own in Garrett Lowney, may have reason once more to flood the streets of both those highways around the high school if three of their own are able to secure championship gold at the Kohl Center.
“It really puts Freedom back on the map for wrestling,” Freedom 220-pound senior wrestler Reed Ambrosius said. “I’m so proud of Freedom wrestling right now.”
Ambrosius, Cody Walrath (120) and Andrew Philibeck (145) advanced to the WIAA Division 2 title matches of their respective weight classes on Friday, setting up their shot at the history books.
Just a sophomore, Walrath (31-10) recorded a major decision over Neillsville’s Jared Boon in a quarterfinal before outlasting Trevor McManus of Adams-Friendship 3-2 in the semifinal.
Walrath will take on Ellsworth’s Jens Lantz (41-5) today in the title match.
“It’s everything I’ve ever wanted,” Walrath said of his championship opportunity. “I’ve worked so hard for it. My family, my friends, they put everything in it for me.”
The senior Philibeck (18-7) was supposed to be done for the season after dislocating his elbow in December. He showed no lingering effects from his injury as he pinned River Valley’s Joe Crook in 3:58 in the quarterfinal before dispatching Elliot Sparby of Mosinee 8-6 in the semifinal.
Philibeck will tangle with Southern Door’s Colin Schubert (46-5) for the title today.
“Just an amazing feeling, especially after all the adversity,” Philibeck said. “It finally paid off.
“I went through that dislocated elbow and I wasn’t supposed to come back, but I did and finally my goal is almost complete. Now it’s time to fight for the title.”
Then there was Ambrosius, the rugged football offensive lineman who helped pave the way for the state’s leading rusher last fall in Nathan Peters. Ambrosius pinned Grafton’s Alex Marshall in 2:58 before beating Monroe’s Trevor Gorr 7-3 to complete the Irish trifecta.
Ambrosius battles Luxemburg-Casco’s Luke Destiche (43-7) today in the 220 final.
“We just wrestled tough,” Ambrosius said. “It was just the perfect game plan. The game plan is what’s going to win it for us.”
Part of that game plan is the mental game, according to Irish coach Justin Lancaster.
“Everybody always says that athletics is 90 percent mental,” Lancaster said. “So all this past week, we worked on the mental aspect. So we switched our line of thinking from technique to mental training.”
Three wrestlers with three shots at championship medals. It’s something the Freedom community has been waiting for.
“We talked about it in the hotel room before (Friday’s matches) and the entire time all year,” Walrath said. “All of us were like, ‘Guys, we’re in the finals this year. We’re going to do it.’ And it just happened.”
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or email@example.com; On Twitter @PCRicardo