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Three Topper seniors finish with state wrestling medals

MADISON — Success based on potential is the measuring stick that Glenwood City wrestling coach Shane Strong prefers to use when he rates his wrestlers performances.

By that standard, the performances that the Hilltoppers’ four senior representatives at the 2014 WIAA State Individual Wrestling Championships this past weekend at the Kohl Center in Madison were off the charts.

Glenwood City grapplers garnered three medals at this year’s tournament to equal its haul at last year’s tournament when the Hilltoppers had a pair of silver medalists and a third-place finisher.

At the 71st annual Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association State Individual Wrestling tournament held Thursday, February 27 through Saturday March 1, two-time state qualifier Isaac Tuttle earned his first medal, a fourth-place finish in the Division 3, 170-pound class while Brennan Kessler was a pleasant fifth-place finisher at 285 pounds and Donovan Fornal secured sixth at 220 pounds in their first and only state appearances.

Fellow senior Blayze Wood also wrapped up his career on the Kohl Center floor as a competitor in the D3, 182-pound weight class.

“Some people, on paper, might think that last year was more successful because we had two state finalists and a third-place finisher,” said Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong.

“But we try to frame success based on our kids meeting their full potential and without a doubt this was as successful as we were last year having three kids place in the state tournament and medal. Two of them being outweighed by 20 to 50 pounds a time.”

“They showed a lot of heart and resilience so I am really pleased,” added the coach.

All four of Glenwood City’s state wrestlers had appointments in Thursday evening’s Division 3 preliminary round. Coming in as sectional runners-up, Tuttle, Fornal, and Kessler each faced off against third-place sectional finishers in that round and scored victories to move on to quarterfinal matches in their respective weights the following day. Wood lost his first and only state match in the prelims and was eliminated from further competition.

Tuttle was the first Hilltopper to take the mat Thursday night as he faced Ozaukee senior Taz Gottsacker in one of the 170-pound preliminary matches.

Tuttle dominated the match as he scored seven takedowns on his way to a 14 to 5 win over Gottsacker.

The win sent Tuttle into Friday’s quarterfinals in Kohl Center where he drew the Reedsville’s Grant Wedepohl. The second-ranked junior, who had knocked off a defending state champ a year ago and then lost a close match to Boyceville graduate Josh Cormican, proved to be a formidable opponent.

Tuttle took an early 2-0 lead against Reedsville’s Grant Wedepohl with a takedown just 28 seconds into their 170-pound quarterfinal’s match. But Tuttle would not score again. Wedepohl escaped a few seconds after Tuttle’s takedown and then rode Tuttle out in the second period. Trailing 2-1, Wedepohl knotted the match when Tuttle gave him the escape to start the final period. The match remained deadlocked until Wedephol scored the winning takedown with just 17 seconds left in the match to take a 4-2 victory.

Wedepohl went on to knock off yet another defending state champion in this year’s tournament as he scored a 3-0 shut out over Lancaster’s Ethan Soderstrom in the semifinals. He then parlayed the opportunity into a state title with a 5-0 win against Bonduel’s Jacob Wudtke.

“In the quarterfinals he wrestled Wedepohl, who I thought would be the top guy in the state at that weight class after what he did last year, pinning a defending state champ and wrestling a great match against (Josh) Cormican last year in the semifinals,” said Coach Strong.

“Isaac lost 4-2 but he was in the match at 2-2 and if he gets to another scoring opportunity it might have been Isaac moving on.”

Instead of moving on to the semifinals, Tuttle’s path took him into the consolations rounds. He would have to win to keep his hopes for a medal alive.

And that is just what he did.

An hour after suffering his first loss, Tuttle was back on the Kohl Center mats looking to extend his tournament and prep career against a familiar foe in Kevin Fesenmaier. Tuttle had faced him twice the previous two weeks – regionals and sectionals – picking up victories in both instances.

The third match-up would have the same result with Tuttle advancing to the consolation semifinal’s on a 7-3 triumph.

He scored first taking Fesenmaier to the mat just 22 seconds into the first period (which is only a minute long in consolation matches). Tuttle would take a 3-0 lead with an escape just two seconds into period number two and added another takedown less than a minute later for a big 5-0 advantage.

Fesenmaier would gain an escape before the end of the middle period. He would get another escape early in the third but Tuttle secured his third takedown of the match to lead 7-2. Tuttle would be assessed two stall warnings that awarded Fesenmaier a penalty point but Tuttle held on for the 7-3 win.

Tuttle would get a much need respite as he prepared for Saturday’s matches.

He opened the final day of the three-day tournament against  Iowa-Grant/Highland’s Brian Halverson.

Tuttle took control of the match from the start and held sway throughout the 170-pound tilt. Tuttle scored the first takedown in just 30 seconds of the first period. The Glenwood City senior gave Halverson the escape to start the second but did eventually add a second takedown for a 4-1 lead. Tuttle extended that advantage to 8-1 with a reversal and a two-point near fall in the third frame. Halverson worked free for an escape with 23 second left to account for the 8-2 final score.

The win put Tuttle in the 170-pound, third-place match.

Awaiting him there was two-time state champion Ethan Soderstrom of Lancaster. Tuttle went on the offensive in the first period as he shot in and caught a double leg on Soderstrom and lifted him into the air. But as Tuttle tried to take Soderstrom to the mat the wily Lancaster wrestler was able to hook and turn Tuttle, who fell on his back. Soderstrom then clamped on tight for the pin at 56 seconds and the quick win.

“That last match, he had a nice shot but he kept his elbow out and I think Soderstrom was prepared for that,” Strong said. “They knew it was coming and Soderstrom is a two-time state champion, he got upset in the semifinals, so he did not lose to a bad wrestler.”

“Isaac bounced back after that tough 4-2 loss in the semifinals and took fourth,” added Strong.

Tuttle finished with a 35-10 record and over 100 career wins.

If there was one Glenwood City wrestler that epitomized heart and determination over the course of the season and in particular the state tournament, it would have to be senior heavyweight Brennan Kessler, if you can call him a heavyweight.

Weighing in at around 200 pounds much of the year, Kessler has battled wrestlers much heavier and larger than himself. Kessler has still managed to find ways to score wins and last week’s state tournament was no different.

In Thursday night’s Division 3 prelim, Kessler battled Brillion’s Rydick Braden to a scoreless tie into the third period before he scored an escaped and then  took down Braden to post a 3-0 win in the 285-pound bout.

The “Giant Slayer”, as his coach and teammates refer to Kessler, stepped into Friday’s quarterfinals match against Boscobel’s T.J. Fischer looking for the upset. But two, first-period takedowns by Fischer were too much for Kessler to overcome and he lost 7-3. But he would not forget the match as a rematch was on the horizon.

The loss sent Kessler to the consolation quarterfinals later Friday afternoon.

Kessler had to work hard to get his second win of the tournament but a 5-1 over Grant Murray of Crandon kept him in medal contention.

Kessler opened with a takedown in the first 17 seconds and then extended his advantage to 3-0 with an escape midway through period two. Murray would get a point in the third on an escape but Kessler locked down his opponent and the win with a takedown with only six seconds left in the match for the 5-1 victory.

Saturday’s wrestling brought Kessler face-to-face with Donny Ralston of Bruce for the second time in two weeks in his 285-pound state consolation semifinal. Kessler was shut out 7-0 by Ralston in the sectional final last week and showed marked improvement but was still unable to score against Ralston and fell 3-0.

The loss sent the Toppers’ heavyweight to the fifth-palce match against T.J. Fischer.

In their second meeting in two days, Brennan Kessler continued to show a tremendous amount of heart.

What the Glenwood City heavyweight lacked in body mass he more than made up for in determination like he demonstrated in his fifth-place match against Fischer.

Kessler found himself trailing 3-0 with less than 15 seconds left in Saturday’s fifth-place match. Suddenly, Kessler got out from under Fischer for the reversal and was able to turn him long enough for a two-point near fall and a 4-3 advantage. The Glenwood City senior then held on for the final few remaining seconds to take the victory.

“Oh man, I was thinking just hold tight,” said Kessler after he scored the reversal and back points. “He started to sit so I just held him there and I knew I was not going to get scored on in that position.”

Kessler was euphoric as he celebrated his surprising win.

“I knew I had go keep moving or anything could happen,” said Kessler. “He made a mistake and I capitalized on it and ended up winning the match.”

“It was great,” said Kessler. “I wrestled my heart out. Even though I didn’t get the gold I am taking home fifth. I have no complaints, I am very happy that I was able to go out with a bang my senior year.”

“Brennan Kessler has the heart of a lion. He is not going to go out there and muscle people around,” said Coach Strong. “He wrestles smart and stays in good position.”

“It goes back to fundamentals,” added Strong. “You watch the kids that are winning medals down here or kids in the state finals like Boyceville’s Hellmann and Johnson, they are fundamentally sound and they do not give up bad positions and Kessler does the same thing.”

“We call him the “Giant Slayer”. He is just a great kid. This is why you coach for moments like this when you see kids accomplish something they never thought possible. This is what makes it all worth it.”

Kessler wrapped up a 36-11 senior campaign.

Another Topper senior that made the most of his only state tournament visit was Donovan Fornal, another undersized wrestler competing at 220 pounds.

All he wanted was one state-tournament victory, and Fornal secured that in his first match.

It took Fornal all of 46 seconds to pin Brandon Peters of Westfield Area in the Thursday’s Division 3 preliminary round.

But in Friday’s quarterfinal match, Fornal was himself victimized by a pin. Casey Johnson of Manawa took a spot in the semifinals with a pin at 4:56.

Fornal scored his second pin of the tournament as he defeated Eli Moses of Laconia at 3:22 of the pair’s 220-pound tilt later that day in the consolation quarterfinals. After a scoreless first, Eli Moses escaped Donovan Fornal’s grasp for a 1-0 lead that held firm until the final period. Fornal started on top and caught Moses in a cradle and pinned him just 21 seconds into the third frame for the victory. The win assured Fornal of a medal.

Fornal faced a familiar foe in his consolation semifinal’s bout Saturday when he was paired against Cumberland’s Ben Stone. The Beaver wrestler had pinned Fornal in the sectional finals, but early on it appeared as though Fornal would get some revenge as he took a 6-0 lead on a pair of second-period near falls for three points each.

Stone, however, recovered and scored 11 unanswered points to win the match. Stone earned an escape, a takedown and was awarded a point for a second stall call on Fornal to narrow his deficit to just two points, 6-4, by the end of the middle period. Stone continued his advance in the final period as he scored a takedown and proceeded to add three- and two-point near falls by match end for the win.

A quarterfinal’s rematch was also awaiting Donovan Fornal in his fifth-place match at 220 pounds. Manawa’s Casey Johnson had pinned Fornal in the quarters so when the pair met again Saturday afternoon Fornal was looking to turn the tables. Unfortunately, Johnson held the upper hand once again as he claimed fifth with an 11-0 whitewashing.

“Donovan’s cradle got him here,” Strong said. “He is never out of a match because of it and I think that is why he medaled.”

Both of his pins came via the cradle.

“Donovan came out halfway through ninth grade and has just stuck with it and worked hard and he is leaving high school with a state wrestling medal,” added Strong.

Fornal finished the season 35-12.

The fourth member of Glenwood City’s state contingent was 182-pound senior Blayze Wood.

Wood fell short in his first and only state match with a 7-0 loss to Kamren Bornbach of Stratford in Thursday’s preliminary round. Wood finished the year with a 28-15 record.

“We feel bad Blayze was not able to advance to the second day but he’s got a great deal to be proud of as well,” said Strong.

“But overall what a great performance by our kids,” concluded Strong. “They showed a lot of heart. Three of them ended up with over 35 wins on the seasons which is great and Isaac getting over 100 wins in a career is nice.”

“All four of them are going off to college which is even more important,” concluded Strong. “Just all around good kids.”