MADISON – The placement matches at the WIAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament are all about mental toughness.
At one point or another, every wrestler in the consolation bracket suffered a loss during their championship run. Though everyone who participated in Saturday’s early session at the Kohl Center was assured a spot on the podium, how high they would stand on it was determined by their ability to respond to adversity.
Kiel’s Tanner Woepse (126), Valders’ Trevor Wittmus (160), Mishicot’s Weston Cracraft (138) along with Reedsville’s Elliott Ebert (170) and Jordan Brandt (285) were all able to bounce back in their own ways.
While there’s inherent disappointment in wrestling for third place, there’s also the chance for some opportunistic athletes to right some wrongs. And that’s exactly what the five Manitowoc area wrestlers did.
Take Cracraft for example. On Friday, the senior was a win away from the Division 3, 138-pound state title match. Though his loss in the semis eliminated his run at a title, Cracraft still had business to tend to.
The four-time state qualifier was assured his first state medal, but what number would be on it, was up to him. That’s a lot to handle mere hours after the largest loss of a career.
“It’s tough. That’s why wrestling is such a mentally tough sport. It’s ridiculous,” Cracraft said. “But you just have to get over it and move on. ‘You can’t change anything’ is pretty much what I was thinking. You have to move on to the next one.”
Mishicot’s all-time wins leader went straight to work in the consolation semifinals Saturday morning, pinning Grant Fischer (36-11) of Gillett/Suring in 1:33.
He then took care of business in the third place match, topping Bradon Roen (36-9) of Riverdale 6-0.
Cracraft finishes his career with 169-28 record, three Olympian Conference titles, four trips to State and bronze medal from this year’s tournament.
“One of the best ones I will probably experience in my life,” Cracraft said of his anticipated feeling. “It’s obviously been a goal since my freshman year, since the first time I came down here.
Ebert makes most of chance
For Ebert, 2015 marked his first and only trip to the Kohl Center.
The senior who has battled through injuries and a disappointing 2014 postseason made the most of his shot, capturing fifth place in D3.
“It’s definitely nice to finally get to Madison,” Ebert said. “And then ending up on the podium makes it even better.”
Ebert (43-3) fell to Bonduel’s Mitch Sokolski 8-5 in the consolation semis and was relegated to fifth place match. Once there, Ebert topped Tevin Anderson (34-10) of Unity 8-4. Ebert also got the better of Anderson when the two met in the championship quarterfinals.
Minutes after his final match, Ebert admitted that life without wrestling will be strange, but he is looking forward to the break, both mentally and physically.
“Wrestling takes so much out of your body,” Ebert said. “Now it’s going to be time to relax and take it all in.”
For Ebert, who cuts a fair amount of weight to be able to wrestle in the 170-pound weight class, “relaxing” involves a little indulgence.
“Pretty much anything that’s in front of me, I’ll eat,” Ebert said with a laugh. “It’ll be nice.”
Second time’s a charm for Brandt
Brandt also took care of business in his own way.
The senior 285-pounder fell to Donny Ralston of Bruce in the third place match a season ago, the same opponent who beat him in Friday’s semifinal.
After pinning Matt Stensrud (45-6) of Markesan in 3:13 in the consolation semis, Brandt made his return to the third place match. This time, he came out on top.
Brandt (44-2) won by decision over Darlington/Black Hawk’s Zach Wolf (44-5) by a score of 3-0 to secure a third place finish.
Woepse finally achieves goal
This time last year, Tanner Woepse was heartbroken, just one victory shy of earning a medal at State.
The Kiel senior found himself in a similar situation this weekend in Madison. This time, he was determined to get over that big hump.
Woepse did just that, taking fifth place and a medal at 132 pounds in the D2 field.
Last year’s near-miss became a big factor in him working extra hard this past offseason, and in his preparation for “next time.”
“It made me work twice as hard. I was making sure I would get on that podium this year,” Woepse said. “I’d like to be a little higher, but at least I ended on a win.”
Woepse received a bye but then lost his opening-round match on Friday. Needing a victory, he edged Nolan Kicmol (32-10) of Evansville/Albany to reach Saturday’s consolation semifinals.
He came up short in an 8-0 decision to Cody Walrath (41-9) 8-0, but earned fifth by edging Stetson Rueth (37-11) of Neillsville by a slim 1-0 margin.
In his final match, there would be no looking back – the ideal way to end a senior year.
“He left it all out there. It’s what he does in everything,” Kiel coach Eric Billmann said. “He’s just truly a great young man, a wonderful human being. He’s been a pleasure to coach the last two years.
“When he gets on top of that podium, everything he’s ever wanted and worked for came true.”
Double jeopardy for Wittmus
The structure of many tournaments, particularly in the postseason, prevents a wrestler from facing an opponent twice in the same event.
Unfortunately for Wittmus, State is not one of those tournaments.
On Friday, Wittmus (32-12), upended the top-ranked wrestler in D2 at 160, Ronny Ponick (40-2) of Stanley-Boyd/Owen-Withee/Thorp 5-4 on late reversal.
“I wrestled well, I thought. I knew I was coming in the underdog,” Wittmus said. “Wrestling yesterday against the No. 1 guy in the state, it was a fun match to wrestle.”
As fate would have it, Ponick and Wittmus would cross paths again. This time, with third place on the line.
Ponick got the better of the matchup this time around, winning by major decision, 12-3.
“Wrestling him the second day is tough,” Witttmus said. “He knows what’s coming. I know what’s coming. It was tough today.”
The junior’s fourth place finish is two steps above last year when he finished sixth at 152. Wittmus added that already having a state medal to his credit takes a lot of the pressure off.
“It makes it fun coming down here. You don’t have to worry about it,” Wittmus said. “You don’t get as nervous. It’s just fun wrestling down here.”
HTR Media’s Adam Thompson contributed to this story.