Keenan Graef did something Saturday a West De Pere wrestler hasn’t done since 2009.
The 120-pound sophomore exited a WIAA regional with a winning bracket in his grasp.
Graef became the first wrestler from the program to win a regional championship in six years by pulling out a 4-1 decision over De Pere freshman Max Bruss at the Division 1 Preble/East regional held at Preble.
“I think it’s huge for the program,” West De Pere coach William Lowney said.
“We have a lot of young talent on the team right now, so hopefully they’re seeing what all his hard work is doing.”
Graef was one of four Phantoms to qualify for next week’s sectionals. It’s the most West De Pere has had since moving up to Division 1 in 2011.
Graef is advancing to sectionals for the second straight year, while sophomore Drew Willems (106), senior Mitchel Kiernan (195) and Nick Metoxen (220) are advancing for the first time.
The foursome’s collective accomplishment is another step in the right direction for the program under Lowney, who has been a part of the coaching staff for six years.
Bay Port wrestler Brady Shulfer, top, controls Green Bay Preble-East’s Shannon Exford to win the 132 pound class of the wrestling regionals at Preble High School February 14, 2015.
“He’s helping us build a more solid team all around,” Graef said. “We still don’t have the numbers. But he’s willing to help the people that are willing to put in the work.”
Graef is hoping his hard work will result in a trip to Madison at the end of the month for his first individual state tournament appearance, which is something a West De Pere wrestler hasn’t experienced since Alex and Mark Puckhaber qualified in 2009.
Graef (39-6) is ranked No. 9 at 120 pounds in Wisconsin Wrestling Online’s Division 1 state rankings.
He recalls watching the Puckhaber brothers as a youth wrestler. He also remembers coming up short at sectionals last year in a second-place wrestleback match.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a kid work that hard inside and outside (the wrestling room) with what he eats and what he puts in his body,” said Lowney, who wrestled for Northern Illinois University. “So, hopefully the other kids are seeing that hard work pay off.”
West De Pere started the season with 19 wrestlers and finished with 18, including five seniors. Lowney said it was the most consistent carryover from the beginning of the season to the end in his time as either an assistant or head coach at West De Pere.
“This was a fun year because we really didn’t have any bad attitudes,” said Lowney, a Freedom native. “We had a nice group of kids that really liked to work, so it made for a fun year.
“West De Pere doesn’t have a tradition for having a lot of numbers. They’ve always had a good kid or two, but they’ve never had a lot of numbers. We do have decent numbers in the middle school right now. When they make the transition (to high school), if they see things like (Graef) succeeding, they’ll stick it out.”
Team scores: Bay Port 256.5, Pulaski 253, G.B. Preble/East 128.5, Ashwaubenon 119, De Pere 104, G.B. West/Southwest 79.5, Shaawno 76.5, West De Pere 74.5.
106: 1, Logan Bellow, PUL; 2, Harrison Prange, BP; 3, Wyatt Welch, SHA; 4, Drew Willems, WDP.
113: 1, Jarod Maes, BP; 2, Waylon Clark, PUL; 3, Danny Darling, SHA; 4, Kaiden Conrad, ASH.
120: 1, Keenan Graef, WDP; 2, Max Bruss, DP; 3, Joey Le Sage, PUL; 4, Travis Jahnke, BP.
126: 1, Bradley Prentice, PUL; 2, Thomas Degeneffe, W/SW; 3, Henry Prange, BP; 4, Austin Oreskovic, SHA.
132: 1, Brady Shulfer, BP; 2, Shannon Exferd, P/E; 3, Zac Broullire, DP; 4, Jack Heinz, PUL.
138: 1, Jake Gille, PUL; 2, Zac Benton, ASH; 3, Marshall Jeppeson, BP; 4, Trevor Turriff, DP.
145: 1, Sam Rathburn, BP; 2, Matt May, PUL; 3, Andres Perez, ASH; 4, Jarrett Laatsch, SHA.
152: 1, Sequoya Rasmussen, PUL; 2, Daniel Balch, P/E; 3, Dylan Sundin, BP; 4, Andy Geniesse, W/SW.
160: 1, Richy Sommers, W/SW; 2, Jack Rathburn, BP; 3, Austin Lasee, P/E; 4, Mason Klapper, ASH.
170: 1, Landis Hanson, BP; 2, Vic Perez, ASH; 3, Caleb Schoenholz, P/E; 4, Andrew Hooyman, DP.
182: 1, Casey Nelson, P/E; 2, Ben Kitslaar, BP; 3, Brandon King, PUL; 4, Tyler McVane, ASH.
195: 1, Levi Van Lanen, PUL; 2, Sean Summers, ASH; 3, Mitchel Kiernan, WDP; 4, Brandon Buysse, DP.
220: 1, Alec Ingold, BP; 2, Taylor Brancefield, PUL; 3, Nick Metoxen, WDP; 4, Coleman Curran, W/SW/
285: 1, Hunter Micolichek, PUL; 2, Ryan Van De Walle, BP; 3, Evan Heim, DP; 4, Damon Braatz, SHA.