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Silver Linings: Knops and Moe finish as state runners-up

MADISON – Lancaster’s arrows pierced Glenwood City’s hearts.

The march to three consecutive state wrestling championships for Glenwood City seniors Riley Knops and Austin Moe were halted by a pair of Flying Arrows.

Cole Martin and Trenton Cornell, both from Lancaster, avenged the championship losses they suffered against the Hilltoppers’ two-time state titlists in last year’s tournament.

Martin unseated Riley Knops with a 4-1 victory in the 120-pound Division 3 championship. Then a half hour later, Austin Moe suffered the same fate when he lost the championship match at 145 pounds, 3-0, during the state finals Saturday, Feb. 23 at the 70th annual WIAA State Wrestling Championship.

Knops and Moe both claimed their second straight state championships at the 2012 tournament with wins over Martin and Cornell, respectively. Knops rallied for an 8-6 win against Martin in the 106-pound title match while followed Moe and earned a hard fought 5-4 victory over Cornell at 138 pounds. Knops and Moe won the championships at 103 and 130 pounds in 2011.

The conclusion of this year’s state tournament, however, brought heartache for the Hilltoppers’ two-time titlist tandem.

“A year ago we were celebrating and the two Lancaster kids were feeling what we are feeling right now.”

“It is tough. The expectations were high,” said Shane Strong, Glenwood City’s fourth-year head coach. “I know they wanted state championships but we can’t look at it as a negative. Two state runners-up and a third place is pretty awesome.”

Three of Glenwood City’s state tournament quartet made the awards podium at the conclusion of the 2013 state championships, which ran Thursday, Feb. 21 through Saturday, Feb. 23 in UW-Madison’s Kohl Center.

Along with the second place finishes of Knops and Moe, fellow senior and third member of the “Hammers”, Adam Holmquist claimed his second consecutive bronze medal with a third place finish at 132 pounds.

“I don’t think we could have said that five or six years ago that we were consistently sending this many kids to state,” Strong added. “We have had 14 state qualifiers in the last four years.”

Knops and Moe have enriched the storied history of Glenwood City wrestling. Just three short years ago the Hilltoppers had just three individual state championships, now, thanks to Moe and Knops and their teammates, they have seven. The duo has also two of the top three wins total in school history. Moe’s tally reads 159 wins in 176 matches and Knops won 155 times in 170 attempts. Both finished their senior season at 41-2.

But the only history that may have been on the pair’s minds Saturday night was becoming three-time state champions in a championship rematch that featured the top two wrestlers at 120 pounds. A task both knew would be difficult.

Knops’ task, however, was made a bit more difficult.

Knops was warned for stalling by the referee – a call that made little sense to most including Knops and his coach.

“I felt he called it a little early in the first period,” stated Strong. “Neither guy had taken a shot and both were active and trying create angles.”

“You have two state-champion calibre kids battling,” continued Strong. “You are not going to see a lot of shots either way.”

“I felt that changed the complexion of the match,” added Strong. “There is no question about it.”

It was a call that would later alter the match and Knops’ approach to it.

Neither Knops or Martin found a break in the other’s defense as the first period the 120-pound championship finished in a scoreless deadlock.

That would change in the second period. Knops would take the down position after Martin deferred his choice to the final two-minute period. Knops needed just 12 seconds to escape from Martin’s hold and take a 1-0 lead. He would carry that advantage into the third.

Cole Martin assumed the down position to begin the third. On the whistle, Martin scrambled toward the outer mat boundary to free himself, Knops countered and lifted his opponent up and out of bounds. That drew another mystifying stall call from the official. This one cost Knops a point and knotted the match at one each.

That call changed everything for Knops.

“Riley is a good mat wrestler, and when you give him that stalling when he was trying to lift the kid off the edge of the mat, it changed the match,” said Strong. “Now it’s one to one and to win we have to go to our feet and give an opportunity for a takedown.”

“Going into the third period, up one to nothing, as good of a mat wrestler as Riley is, we are in a good position to win that match,” said Strong.

Knops had few options of which to avail himself following the call and had to let Martin have the escape and a 2-1 lead.

“You get called for stalling, what are you going to do?” Strong continued. “It changed everything. Now you get to where Martin is the strongest, that is where he is strongest, on his feet.”

Once upright, the Lancaster sophomore played to his strength and went on the attack. That strategy yielded  dividends when Martin scored the takedown with 1:12 remaining in the match.

This year, there would be no Knops comeback. Martin maintained control and ran the clock down for the 4-1 victory. The win capped a 49-4 season for Martin and gave him his first state championship.

“To Martin’s credit, that takedown was huge, it is the strength of his wrestling and he finished it and won the match,” Strong said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin wins three state titles.”

“I went out there and gave it my all,” Knops said following the title loss.

He also acknowledge the impact that the stall calls had.

“It definitely changed the game plan,” stated Knops. “Changed everything from the start to the end. That one point can make a difference but you still have to go out there and wrestle.”

Knops’ road to the finals was not a foregone conclusion either. He had to defeat a pair of top-ten ranked wrestlers to secure a berth in the D3, 120-pound title.

Knops opened this year’s tournament against Ryan Mindham. The Boscobel senior gave Knops a battle in Friday’s quarterfinal’s round. An early first-period takedown was the difference for Knops in his 3-1 win. The wrestlers exchanged escapes; Mindham score his in the second with Knops getting his in the third period.

The win advance Knops to that night’s semifinals where he was paired against Random Lake junior Brandon Depies. Knops wasted no time in establishing control of Depies and the match. He scored a takedown in the first ten ticks and then work his way into position for a three-point near fall a 5-0 lead by the end of the first period.

An escape and another takedown in the middle frame grew the Knops lead to 8-0. A final takedown in the closing seconds of the final period gave Knops a 10-0 shutout and a berth in his third straight championship and rematch against Cole Martin.

If Austin Moe was to garner his third straight title, the top seeded wrestler at 145 pounds would have to defeat the next three highest rated wrestlers in his bracket.

A pair of one-point victories would get Moe back into the championship match.

He would first battle New Lisbon junior Cullen Pedersen in Friday’s quarterfinals. Points would not be easy to secure against the fourth seed. It took Moe two and a half minutes to break the scoreless tie, which he did on a second-period escape. Pedersen would get that back in the third period as he tied the score at one each with an escape of his own. But with 49 seconds left in regulation time, Moe scored the match winner – a takedown. Pedersen would make it a one point differential with less than half a minute remaining but Knops held strong to take the 3-2 win.

Nothing was easy for Austin Moe in the 2013 WIAA State Championships. He would find himself in another tight match in semifinals later Friday night.

Standing between Moe and a clandestine championship showdown was second-ranked Hayden Krueger. The Crandon senior (45-3) was a formidable semifinal’s foe.

As it would turn out a single takedown would win the match and the title berth. That lone takedown went to Moe early in the first period. Krueger would score a second-period escape and trailed Moe 2-1 as the match headed into the third and final frame.

Moe took the down position in the third and while he could not free himself, Krueger could not expose Moe’s back for any points as the match ended 2-1 in Moe’s favor.

Offense and points were at a premium the following evening when Moe had his championship rematch against Lancaster junior Trenton Cornell.

If last year’s 5-4 victory by Moe was an indicator of anything, it was just how evenly match these two wrestlers are. A single move just might determine the winner.

And that was the case.

Cornell got inside Moe’s defenses, locked him up and took the Glenwood City senior to the mat with 19 seconds left in the first period. As it would turn out, those were the only two points Cornell would need.

“It just didn’t go our way,” stated Strong. “We needed a takedown in the first period, I think that was important, and we didn’t get it and Cornell finished really well on that single leg.”

The Lancaster wrestler would add a second-period escape and then rode out Moe in the final period to score a 3-0 championship win. Cornell capped a 37-6 season with the D3, 145-pound state championship.

“To be able to ride out Austin Moe the way he did in that third period, I don’t think anybody has held Austin down all season long,” added Strong. “That is a credit to the Cornell kid.”

“Austin wrestled the top three kids in the state that were under him,” Strong noted. “It was a grinder.”

“As much as we wanted those state titles,” Strong continued, “I am proud of them for their efforts and the amount of time they have put in to get this far.”

“It hurts but at the same time we need to be proud of what they have accomplished,” concluded Strong. “Because they have accomplished a great deal not only for themselves but our town.”