KAUKAUNA – The reality that his high school wrestling career is near an end is definitely on Trent Leon’s radar.
The Kaukauna senior has been preparing this week for his team’s Division 1 quarterfinal against Hudson at the WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament on Friday at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse in Madison.
Leon, who has a 42-8 record at 132 pounds, said the idea that his season is near an end showed itself after his fourth-place finish at 132 at the individual state tournament last Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Helping the Ghosts (19-0) capture a fourth consecutive state title would do plenty to ease that disappointment of the individual tournament. Standing in Kaukauna’s way is the quarterfinal matchup with Hudson (14-4) at 5:30 p.m. A win there would put Kaukauna against the winner of Holmen (16-0) and Slinger (20-3) at 7:30 p.m.
The championship match is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.
“That’s when it really hit me,” Leon said of his finish at the individual state tournament. “That was a huge point where it felt like my high school career was coming to an end. I took some time off mentally and physically and now I’ve thought about the last couple of days and I’ve been thinking about how I should be approaching (the state team tournament). We’ve put in the work all season long and all offseason. In a way, there’s nothing really to think about now. It is what it is.”
Kaukauna enters the tournament No. 2 in the latest wiwrestling.com rankings. Stoughton (23-0) is the top-ranked team in the state and on the other side of the state tournament bracket. It’s also a program that Kaukauna has defeated the last two seasons, including last year’s 29-27 victory that wasn’t decided until the last match.
Ghosts coach Jeff Matczak said his wrestlers are aware of the recent history and the success that his program has had.
“It stares them in the face every day,” Matczak said. “Every day they walk in the gym. Every day they walk in the (wrestling) room. We got a lot of signage that recognizes those past teams. But that’s also part of why we’re here, is that you can’t disclaim that. And so you use it and you use it for what it is. It’s that expectation and there’s a lot of pride and there’s a sense of ownership from each of the kids to do their part and knowing what’s at stake. They’re not strangers to it.
“Rather than saying that the past doesn’t matter and you have to forget about it and all that garbage, I think that’s lying to them. They know. They want to do it for the program and they want to do it and set their own legacy. It is what it is and we use it as much as we can, but we also know that the match is going to be won on Friday at 5:30. And if we’re fortunate enough to move on, you move on and you have to take them one at a time. That’s what they’ve done all year to this point. I think they’re in the right spot.”
Leon is one of 11 Ghosts wrestlers who have 28 or more wins this season: Mason Campshure (106, 28-11), John Diener (113, 29-12), Brandon Micksh (120, 39-9), Mikael Kolosso (126, 28-14), Jake Schramm (132, 28-17), Zach Lee (152, 43-8), Bryson Alsteen (170, 44-9), Jon Heilman (195, 28-15), Mason VanAsten (220, 39-12) and Keaton Kluever (285, 47-3).
Diener, Micksh, Leon, Lee, Alsteen, VanAsten and Kluever all made the individual state tournament, with Kluever winning the state title at 285.
While the aforementioned wrestlers may be the headliners, the Ghosts’ roster has depth and talent. It is those two ingredients, along with astute coaching, that has helped Kaukauna raise the gold trophy the past three seasons.
“You don’t win a state title with 14 kids or 12 kids,” Matczak said. “You have to have depth and you have to have ability to move things to get matchups. The magic number, minimum, you have to win seven matches. You’d like to win eight to give yourself some breathing room with the bonus points. But you’re wrestling another team that has firepower and depth like the other teams down there or they wouldn’t be there. You have to look at matchups.”
Matczak described Leon as the “guts and heart and soul” of the team last Saturday at the individual state tournament. It’s a role that Leon hopes to fulfill this weekend.
“I think it’s important for me to have a good attitude,” he said. “The guys that are going to be looking towards me are going to see how I’m doing it. I feel like I’m the guy that everybody is looking up to. That I’m going to be the person that they look to for another title.”
To win a fourth consecutive state championship would put a nice finishing touch on the careers of the Ghosts’ seniors, including Leon.
“Whatever the outcome is going to be, it’s just we have to go out there and trust in the coaches,” Leon said. “And if we trust in ourselves and them, we’re going to be fine and we’re going to come out on top.”
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCRicardo
IF YOU GO
What: 26th annual WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament.
When: Friday-Saturday. D1 quarterfinals 5:30 p.m. Friday, with semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Finals on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Where: UW Fieldhouse, Madison.
Quarterfinals: Division 1 – Menomonee Falls (22-3) vs. Oak Creek (13-0); Stoughton (23-0) vs. Waterford (16-2); Hudson (14-4) vs. Kaukauna (19-0); Holmen (16-0) vs. Slinger (20-3).
Tickets: Prices are $13 for Friday sessions and $8 for Saturday sessions.