MADISON – Phil Rasmussen stuck out like a sore thumb in the Luxemburg-Casco wrestling room as a freshman three years ago.
It wasn’t because he was the biggest person on the team.
Rasmussen was entering only his second season of wrestling and was being asked to replace a three-time state finalist.
“I’ve always had catching up to do,” Rasmussen said. “The only time I’m not there in the room after practice doing extra drilling is when they send me home and force me to go get some sleep for a tournament.”
Rasmussen better rest up because he’ll have the biggest match of his life on Saturday night when he faces Ripon senior Cody Jacobson in the 285-pound WIAA Division 2 state championship match at the Kohl Center.
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The L-C senior heavyweight punched his ticket to the state finals with a 3-2 decision victory over Lomira senior Adam Kinyon.
Much like how Rasmussen (41-8) has routinely been one of the last individuals to leave the L-C wrestling room after practice, he was the last one doing work at the Kohl Center Friday night, competing in the final semifinal match of the tournament.
“He just keeps putting in more and more time,” L-C coach Chas Treml said. “All his hard work is paying off. He did a ton of offseason stuff the last two years.
“He’s a lot more confident in himself than he was last year. He has the tools, just not the repetitions. That’s what all the summer stuff is taking the place of.”
Rasmussen will be joined by L-C sophomore Bryce Bosman (113 pounds) and senior Dalton Smerchek (170) in the state finals. It’s the 22nd straight year the Spartans have had at least one wrestler in a state championship match.
Bosman and Smerchek have been wrestling since they were little kids. Rasmussen picked up the sport late when he was encouraged by a middle school science teacher, D.J. Delebreau, to join the sport because the grade school team needed a heavyweight.
“Phil has progressed a lot,” said Smerchek, who advanced to the state finals with a pin.
“It’s awesome to see how somebody can progress and get that much better over the course of a couple years.”
Rasmussen moved to the Luxemburg-Casco School District in fourth grade. His focus as a kid was football, which he earned first-team all-North Eastern Conference honors as an offensive lineman last fall.
His progression on the mat, however, is taking him to the college level. Rasmussen will wrestle for Morningside College, which is a NAIA program in Sioux City, Iowa.
It’s something that wouldn’t have been possible without the early encouragement and guidance from the wrestler he replaced in L-C’s lineup, Newton Smerchek.
Newton Smerchek, who is Dalton’s brother, advanced to three straight state championship matches, winning back-to-back state titles in 2012 and 2013. He currently wrestles for Central Michigan University.
“Newton was always that guy and a role model for me,” said Rasmussen, who was making his first state appearance. “I’ve had countless practices where him and I would stay and work. The program gave him tools to make him be successful, so he was going to give back by working with this new eighth-grader that just happened to be me.”
L-C assistant coach George Jimenez has also played a crucial part in helping to develop Rasmussen on the mat, putting him through those extra drills after practice.
Rasmussen’s conditioning allowed him to pull out an ultimate tiebreaker victory over Neillsville/Greenwood/Loyal senior Nick Rueth in the quarterfinals.
Seven of the nine state qualifiers the Spartans had this year earned state medals. Freshman Lucas Joniaux (106), junior Devan Vandenbush (152) and junior Nate Lloyd (220) lost in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, sophomore Nathan Ronsman (126) earned a spot on the state podium through the consolation bracket.
It’s the most state medalists L-C has had since 2005.
“We work together as a whole team a lot to make sure everyone does their part,” Rasmussen said. “Everyone is a stud out there.”
– firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @andrewpekarek.