With the WIAA Division 1 state championship in the balance, facing a two-time state finalist and down to his last stalling call before disqualification, Hunter Kuehl didn’t break.
The Wausau West junior battled through the third period of a 5-1 loss to Kaukauna’s Robert Lee at 120 pounds. But because he surrendered three points with a decision instead of being the victim of a pin, technical fall or disqualification, the Warriors were able to hang on for a 28-27 win Saturday at the University of Wisconsin Field House and earn the program’s second state championship. West’s other title came in 2008 when the Galloping Ghosts were the opponent as well.
A pin by Tres Leon and a technical fall by Bailey VanHandel at 106 and 113, respectively, helped Kaukauna close what was a 15-point deficit to four heading into the final weight of the dual. Kuehl was called for his third stalling penalty before the end of the second period, meaning the next would result in a disqualification and hand the dual and title to the Ghosts.
Adding to the pressure of the moment was the fact that since the Division 2 and 3 title matches had already concluded, all eyes in the packed Field House were focused on the Lee and Kuehl matchup.
“When I got the second and (then) third stalling call, I looked over at Coach (Troy) Fabry and he was like, ‘No more, you have to go.’ I went out there and put it all on the mat. That’s what I went for,” Kuehl said. “It was hard (to go against Lee) but when your practice partner (Colin Baine) is a two-time state champion, that helps you a little bit.”
Kuehl, who came into the weekend with a 15-8 record on the season, held off Lee over the final two minutes, and after time ran out in the match he was greeted like a hero by his teammates as the celebration broke out on the West bench.
The title has been a goal for the Warriors since Day 1 of the season, with the team putting up a sign that said ‘State Champions’ in the practice room that each wrestler would touch every day they walked past it during the season.
“They had that vision and they talked about it. Every day at practice they would hit that sign,” Fabry said. “They even brought it along on the bus (down to Madison). It’s hanging on the bus. That vision quest, they got it.”
West, which led Kaukauna 25-4 after seven weights and 28-13 after 11, hung on after escaping with a 32-30 win over Bay Port in the semifinal round earlier in the day .
Bee Lor earned a technical fall at 106 pounds in the second to last match of the semifinal, after Bay Port’s Garrett Hedler, a state runner-up at 285, tied the dual at 27-27 with a pin of Ryan Fay.
Fabry joked that the day had aged him.
“I think in the last 24 hours I’ve had a lot of gray hairs pop up, that’s why it’s shaved down,” said Fabry, who allowed his team to shave his head after they won the Wisconsin Valley Conference title earlier this season. “That was unreal having Bay Port give a heckuva battle then going against Kaukauna and it coming right down to the end. We talked about it being 14 guys, but there’s always that one. Hunter Kuehl, not even a state qualifier going against a state runner-up and holds him off. Unbelievable.”
West senior Joe Umlauf came up short on his goal of winning his first individual state championship last weekend in the final attempt of his prep career, but that mattered little to the Warriors’ 132-pounder.
“It is almost better than winning an individual title because you win that state title, but you also get to see everybody else (celebrate it),” said Umlauf, whose brother Sam, was part of the 2008 state title team . “You see your (teammates) all happy too, it’s great. It’s the best feeling.”
Wausau West 28, Kaukauna 27
126-Colin Baine (W) tech fall Kolton Jansen, 18-1. 132-Joe Umlauf (W) maj. dec. Evan Hietpas, 13-3. 138-Justin Kloehn (K) maj. dec. Tanner Baine, 10-0. 145-Ben Kostroski (W) def. Zach Frassetto, 5-1. 152-Travis Hettinga (W) p. Tanner VandenHeuvel, 3:57. 160-Jared Mataczynski (W) def. Zach Shukoski, 7-2. 170-Cody Grunenwald (W) maj. dec. Nick Agen, 12-3. 182-Vince Zornow (K) def. Kyle Zimick, 11-4. 195-Nick Dercks (K) def.f Jake Whalen, 1-0. 220-Tyler Nelson (K) def. River Judd, 2-0. 285-Ryan Fay (W) def. Will Russum, 5-1. 106-Tres Leon (K) p. Bee Lor, 1:06. 113-Bailey VanHandel (K) tech fall Alex Burk, 16-0. 120-Robert Lee (K) def. Hunter Kuehl, 5-1.
Wausau West 32, Bay Port 30
120-Chase Farr (B) def. Hunter Kuehl, 71. 126-Colin Baine (W) p. Sam Rathburn, 3:50. 132-Joe Umlauf (W) def. Chad Osmanski, 8-1. 138-Alex Blaney (B) tech fall Josh Noll, 18-3. 145-Ben Kostroski (W) p. Ryan Moylan, 1:43. 152-Travis Hettinga (W) p. Jacob Jossart, 4:55. 160-Alexander Walla (B) maj. dec. Jared Mataczynski, 12-3. 170-Cody Grunenwald (W) p. Christian Andres, 2:44. 182-Andrew Wojkiewicz (B) def. Kyle Zimick, 8-5. 195-Alec Ingolf (B) def. Jake Whalen, 10-5. 220-Joe Kitslaar (B) def. River Judd, 4-0. 285-Garrett Heder (B) p. Ryan Fay, 3:37. 106-Bee Lor (\\W) tech fall Jordan Delfosse, 23-8. 113-Henry Prange (B) def. Alex Burk, 4-2.