MADISON – Hunter Micolichek didn’t go out for the Pulaski wrestling team his freshman year.
After being an accomplished youth wrestler that won a state title, Micolichek had lost his passion for the sport.
“Mentally, I wasn’t there anymore,” Micolichek said. “I had a lot of growing up to do.”
Micolichek has certainly done that.
The 285-pound senior advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals for a second straight year by winning a pair of close decisions Thursday at the Kohl Center.
Following a fourth-place finish last year, Micolichek (39-2) is hoping for a different result in Friday’s semifinal when he faces Badger junior Cole Mikrut.
Micolichek, ranked No. 2 by Wisconsin Wrestling Online, feels he is a much stronger wrestler after getting the opportunity to weight lift in the offseason. He didn’t have that chance entering his junior year because he was recovering from a torn labrum.
The Pulaski heavyweight also didn’t have the tattoo on his left bicep at state last year.
At left, Bay Port’s Alec Ingold battles Verona Area’s Trayvonn Johnson during their 220-pound Division 1 preliminary match during Thursday’s WIAA individual wrestling state tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison. Ingold won the match.
Micolichek already had a tattoo on his back in remembrance of his father, Dan, who died of a brain aneurysm when Hunter was in second grade.
The new one he got on his left bicep in November also has a special meaning to him.
It features a cross with three ribbons on it. The center ribbon is blue and white, which are the colors used for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis awareness.
Micolichek got the tattoo in part to show support for a friend, Ryan Paape, whose father, Jim, had been battling ALS for five years.
Micolichek grew close to Jim over the years through their shared loved of hunting.
“The day before he passed away I got this tattoo for him and I got to show it to him,” Micolichek said. “That day he wasn’t looking so good, so I knew something was wrong.”
Ryan Paape, who is also a senior at Pulaski, and Micolichek were long-time friends who played baseball together. But the disease and loss of Paape’s father brought them even closer together.
Paape was in the stands at the Kohl Center Thursday to watch Micolichek’s victories over Cedarburg’s Kyle Polum (3-2 decision) and Milwaukee Pulaski’s Romel Turner (7-4).
“(Ryan’s) dad and my dad used to work together,” Micolichek said. “They never really liked each other, so it’s funny that (Ryan) and I are really close now. Being with Jim that last day, I gave him a hug and he said he loves my father. I told him my dad was going to take care of him. Now, they’re up there together.”
The bottom ribbon on Micolichek’s tattoo is gray and represents lung cancer awareness, which his maternal grandfather passed away from in 2006.
The top ribbon is pink, representing breast cancer awareness. Micolichek’s mom, Mae, is a breast cancer survivor. Her best friend, Sandy Vanderloop, lost her battle with breast cancer about three years ago.
Micolichek was a pallbearer at Vanderloop and Paape’s funerals.
“He’s a pretty special wrestler in our program,” Pulaski wrestling coach Terry Manning said.
“I feel like Hunter wrestled real well today. He’s just doing the right kind of things, holding good position and moving his feet well. He’s staying the course and being patient.”
Micolichek, who has a career record of 116-20, was the only one out of four Pulaski wrestlers to advance to the semifinals.
Senior Bradley Prentice fell in the quarterfinals in his fourth state appearance and will be attempting to reach the podium for the first time from the 126-pound wrestleback bracket.
Micolichek credits Prentice and senior Levi Van Lanen for getting him to come out for wrestling again.
“Bradley Prentice made a big push for me to come back and so did Levi Van Lanen,” Micolichek said. “I’m sad Levi couldn’t be down here with us, too. I’m doing as much as I can for him and trying to make them proud. That’s motivating me to do everything I can for them.”