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Micah Johnson dominates on way to state championship

MADISON – There have been only a fortunate 13 wrestlers in the 71-year history of the WIAA’s  State Wrestling Championships that have been four-time state champions.

Ellsworth’s Jens Lantz became the newest member of that exclusive club Saturday evening, March 1, when he teched Sage Soppa of Abbotsford/Colby 25-7 to win the Division 2, 126-pound individual state title in the Kohl Center. He has also won championships at 103 (2011), 113 (2012), and 120 pounds (2013).

A few minutes after Lantz completed his journey to that remarkable feat, Boyceville’s Micah Johnson put himself on that same path of achievement when he became the Bulldogs’ first freshman to claim an individual state wrestling title. Johnson was simply, without argument, the best wrestler in the 2014 Division 3, 138-pound state field. He registered his third major decision in two days Saturday night inside the Kohl Center with a dominating 11-2 victory over senior Jackson Margis of Coleman to take the title.

“The kid is amazing isn’t he,” said a nearly speechless Jamie Olson, Boyceville’s head coach.

“I don’t even know what to say. The kid just keeps amazing us. All through this tournament – dominate,” added Olson. “He goes into the finals against a Coleman kid who is seasoned, tough, well-coached, big and strong, a senior and Johnson dominated him.”

Johnson did the same to his two prior state opponents in this year’s WIAA State Individual Wrestling Championships in Madison.

He schooled Ross Withington of Westby, a 39-5 junior and second rated wrestler in the Division 3, 138 pound field, in the semifinal’s by a 12-3 major decision. Mishicot’s Weston Cracraft, sixth in the state polls, was the first state competitor to fall to Johnson’s wrestling repertoire losing 9-1 in the quarterfinals.

In all, the Boyceville freshman allowed just six points, against the best competition his weight class had to offer and finished the year an incredible 44-1. The only loss came in his second match   and was to Sparta’s Brock Polhamus on a 3-2 decision at the Ellsworth Tournament in early December. Polhamus finished as this year’s D2 state runner-up in the same weight class.

“He came off the mat and said ‘I don’t want to lose anymore’,” Olson said.

And he didn’t.

“To win state was my number one goal,” said Johnson following his championship win.

And what does he attribute for a dominate performance at his age?

“Hard work. That is all it is, hard work,” answered Johnson. “I have worked so hard to get to where I am at today.”

“I started in the third grade and this is my sixth year.”

“My dad takes me everywhere so a shout out to my dad, I love him very much,” said Johnson, sending props to his father Bill Johnson.

“He loves to wrestle,” admitted Olson. “He is a passionate wrestler. He wants to train all the time. He loves putting the shoes on, putting the head gear on and training. He doesn’t like to run or lift really, he likes to wrestle. He likes to be on the mat wrestling.”

That passion and dedication was rewarded with a gold medal.

“Some kids spend their four or five months wrestling, Micah does it year round and that’s why he is who he is.”

“When he came into our program I knew that he was a special kid just by the way he carried himself and how he got after it on the mat. He was a physical kid in the fifth grade. He was a kid that was going to beat you up in the fifth grade, he was just one of those physical hard-nosed kids.”

“Off the mat he is pretty quiet and humble,” stated Olson.

Micah was definitely all business when it came time to wrestle this past weekend. A veteran of national and state youth tournaments, Johnson seemed at times oblivious to the bright lights and big crowds of the state tournament. His singular focus was his next match, his next opponent.

Margis was an impressive wrestler in his own right. He entered the championship match at 138 pounds as the top-ranked wrestler with a 42-2 record. And as any coach will tell you, Coleman wrestlers are difficult to beat let alone dominate, especially with a state gold medal on the line.

But that is exactly what Boyceville’s fantastic freshman did.

Johnson took the fight to Margis from the opening whistle and never relented. Although he was not able to break through for a score in the first period, Johnson served notice that he was in the match to win.

Johnson took the down position to start the second period of a scoreless match. It took him all of five seconds to take a 1-0 edge on an escape. He then took Margis to the mat and turned him for a three-point near fall and a 6-0 lead. Johnson was close to a pin twice during the exchange and added another near fall for two more back points.

“I felt confident,” Johnson related after the title match. “I did what I needed to do and used my technique on my feet, because coach told me he was an upper body type of guy to throw, so if I did low level singles and stuff I would be able to finish on him and win the match.”

Margis was finally able to extricated himself from his back and worked a reversal with 27 seconds left in the middle period. But Johnson countered with a reversal of his own at the horn for a 10-2 lead.

“He was strong but I caught him in a couple of positions that I could put him to his back,” said Johnson. “He was a good wrestler but I was able to come out on top.”

“We had blood time,” related Olson. “And Micah came and said ‘Oh God this kid is strong’. Well he is not as strong as you obviously because you’re dominating him so I told him to keep dominating him.”

Margis chose to go in the down position for the final period as he looked to change his fortunes. Johnson made certain that the status quo was maintained as he stayed atop the Cougars’ senior, picking up a penalty point when Margis was called for grabbing his head gear, for the final two minutes to garner gold.

The exuberance and thrill of winning his first state individual wrestling may have been bubbling just below the surface but Johnson gave little hint of either as he coolly, calmly had his hand raised as the champion and acknowledged his accomplishment. It was as if he had been there before and expects to be back.

And so do many others that witnessed his coronation Saturday.

This was the eighth and lightest state individual wrestling championship for a Boyceville wrestler and sixth under the tutelage of head coach Jamie Olson. Five of the championships have come at heavyweight.

Chris Wisemiller was the first, winning back-to-back state heavyweight (unlimited) titles in 1982 and 1983. Adam Kittilson took the 152-pound crown in 1995. Andy Schoonover won the 275-pound heavyweight title in 2005. The Bulldogs then had three champs in as many years starting with Jack Duerst’s 182-pound win in 2009, Matt Wyss was the 285-pound winner in 2010 followed by Cody Hegeman’s 285-pound championship run the next year.

Johnson quickly caught the attention of wrestlers and coaches in Division 3 with his 9-1 major decision over Cracraft in the quarterfinals. Johnson scored a takedown and a three-point near fall against the Mishicot wrestler in the first period. Cracraft was able to escape late in the second for his only point in the match. Johnson added a reversal and a two-point near fall to complete the eight-point win.

Johnson would again parlay a five-point move into a sizable first-period lead in his semifinals’ match Friday night. It took the Bulldogs’ freshman a mere 40 seconds to get a takedown and three-point near fall on Westby’s Ross Withington. Withington would get a reversal but Johnson answered with one of his own to lead 7-2 after the first period.

In a scoreless second, Johnson stayed in the top, controlling position. He would add an escape and a pair of takedowns in the third period to complete the 12-3 win and earn a spot in the 138-pound championship match the next evening.

“You knew that he was going to be special but he has worked himself to this point now of being really special,” Olson said.

As in four-times special?

“That is something that is a goal of his,” added Olson. “So we go one match at a time and one year at a time.”

“I want to be a four-timer,” admitted Johnson minutes after his first title. “But just thank God for the opportunity to be here and to wrestle.”