Leading up to the WIAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament, Two Rivers wrestling coach Paul Gehrke said that he felt his five state qualifiers were each capable of placing in the top-three.
He was right.
The Raiders returned to Two Rivers with a pair of state champions, two runners-up, and a third-place finisher.
Four of Gehrke’s five wrestlers competed in the state finals Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
Ty Pelot (120) claimed third-place earlier in the day.
“I’m just so very proud of these kids,” Gehrke said. “They bust their butts through all the hard work…just to be on top and put on a show for our fans. I’m just jacked. It’s a real good feeling.”
Sophomore Paul Bianchi (106) was the first man up for the Raiders. He defeated Michael Bannach (44-9) of Wrightstown 2-1 to claim the Division 2 state championship at 106 pounds.
It was the second time in a week that the TR sophomore got the better of his counterpart from Wrightstown. Bianchi defeated Bannach at sectionals a week prior.
Bianchi (52-2) scored a take down early in the first period. A short time later, Bannach earned an escape, but Bianchi held him scoreless the rest of the way.
The two-time state qualifier liked his chances if he was able to get on the board early.
“I was thinking ‘just score points.’ That’s all I was looking for,” Bianchi said. “As long as I score points, I’ll win.”
The sophomore may have been on the board first, but the close margin had his coach on the edge of his mat-side seat throughout the remainder of the match.
“I was a little nervous. It was 2-1. He had to ride him out the whole third period otherwise it would have been tied or he would have been losing,” Gehrke said. “But he’s so tough on top. The kid would have had to do a lot of work to just to get away.”
Bianchi now has two State medals to his credit after placing fifth last year. Bianchi also eclipsed to 100-win plateau this weekend, just two years into his wrestling career.
“I knew I could win it this year and I wanted to do that,” Bianchi said. “It feels like it was all worth it,” Bianchi said. “All the training, the sweat and the tears.”
Chris Yauch kept things rolling for the Raiders in the 138-pound final. The junior topped Brock Polhamus (42-8) of Sparta 9-4 to claim his first state championship.
The school’s single-season record holder in take downs proved why he holds that honor, consistently scoring from the neutral position. It was all part of his game plan.
“I went to the same moves I’ve been going to all year: my double legs, single legs…just trying to take (him down),” Yauch said. “Just keep doing the same moves over and over and perfect them and just work on it from there. If you don’t get it the first time, try again the second time.”
In his coach’s eyes, Yauch’s script had a familiar plot.
“It’s pretty simple. He’s going to do what he’s always done,” Gehrke said. “I just told him finish, finish your shots, get in deep and finish them and he did.
Yauch celebrated his victory with a back flip at the center of the mat. There’s no denying the junior was happy, but it didn’t take long for his newest goal to come up in conversation: a second state title.
“I just have to keep perfecting the moves I’ve been doing,” Yauch said. “I get tired during my matches, I need to keep working on getting my adrenaline pumping.”
In the 182-pound final, the Raiders’ Bobby Geiger fell to 6-2 at the hands of Ellsworth’s Dennis Schutz (26-3).
Though finishing second is never easy, Geiger (46-8) offered up few complaints after bringing home the silver in his first ever State appearance.
“I never thought I’d get this far, but it’s pretty cool that I did though,” Geiger said. “It’s an experience you probably won’t get twice in a lifetime. It’s pretty sweet. I’m glad I did it.”
Geiger was especially pleased that he got the chance to reap the fruits of his labor,
“It’s pretty much a year-round sport. You can’t just dedicate one part of the year to wrestling. You have to be 100 percent in it if you want to get this far. I have a great practice partner,” Geiger said while gesturing toward teammate and fellow state finalist Scott Skornicka.
Skornicka (195) suffered a similar result in his championship bout. The senior found himself on the short end of a 12-4 major decision against Joe Rademacher (43-1) of St. Croix Falls.
But, just like his practice partner, Skornicka (48-6) kept the night’s events in perspective.
“It’s been a goal of mine to come down to the state tournament and make it to the finals. It’s a crazy scene to be around,” Skornicka said. “It sucks that I couldn’t come home with a win but, in the end, I’m just happy to be here and experience it all.”
The result may not have been what he wanted, but Skornicka thinks his six minutes on the mat in the state finals lived up to the hype.
“Everything goes by so so quick. Everything gets so loud,” Skornicka said. “You just get caught up in the moment.”
Gehrke appreciated the chance to see each member of the pair enjoy a fair amount of success in Madison.
“It’s a commitment thing. They’ve been working for this for a long time,” Gehrke said. “They’ve been there for each other. They’ve pushed each other. To see them both in the state finals, that’s very neat.”
Two Rivers’ program is in the midst of an impressive run. The Raiders have won four straight Eastern Wisconsin Conference dual titles, three consecutive EWC tournament championships, and claimed their first regional crown in over three decades this season.
What’s more, TR has a pair of returning state champions back in the fold next season. That gives Gehrke plenty of reasons to smile.
“To lose the seniors hurts,” Gehrke said. “But to know you have two state champs in the room…you’re going to see some tough practices next year.”