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WAUSAU — To come up short when you are standing at the threshold of a dream hurts, a lot!
It stings to the core.
Unfortunately, Ian Radintz felt that sharp agony as he was about to ascend to his long-held goal, his dream of becoming a state high school wrestling champion.
In just his first state tournament, the Glenwood City sophomore and top ranked wrestler at 106 pounds easily cleared out his competitors en route to securing a spot in the championship match here at Wausau East High School last Saturday, February 13 in the 2021 WIAA Division 3 Individual State Wrestling Champions – the 78th edition of the annual pinnacle of Wisconsin high school wrestling, reduced to a one-day tournament (with each division’s championships held at three different sites) by the COIVID-19 pandemic.
In that final match for gold, in this surreal season of 2020-21, Radintz found himself pitted against his strongest competitor, Cumberland freshman Dawson Johnson, for the second week in a row and third time this year.
The Saturday prior, Radintz had kept his perfect season intact while spoiling that of Johnson’s, the previous holder of the number one ranking, with a hard fought 1-0 in a semifinal win that vaulted him to his first sectional championship and state berth.
But fate proved to be a cruel master as Johnson took the rubber match and with it the 106-pound state crown with a 5-1 victory in front of the few hundred spectators, mainly parents, coaches and athletes that were in attendance in the East High gymnasium.
“He’s hurting,” said Glenwood City head coach Shane Strong following Radintz’s heartbreaking defeat. “But I told him he has the right to feel that pain because he is invested.”
“Sometimes you have kids that will show that pain but are they really invested like he is,” added Strong. “Ian has put a ton of time in. He is a state runner-up, it’s not what he wanted, but he has two more years that should fuel the fire for him and get back to training and get back in this situation (state title match), hopefully in the Kohl Center. But I am super proud of Ian.”
“We knew Dawson is really good on his feet,” continued Strong. “We had a game plan going into the sectional to try and counter that.”
While that plan worked well in St. Croix Falls, where Radintz neutralized Dawson’s strength and used a late escape to win, Saturday in the state finals in Wausau, Johnson scored a takedown just 13 seconds into the bout.
“Johnson got that first takedown, but Ian got out and made it 2-1 (with a late, first-period escape) and is right in that match,” Strong emphasized.
In an attempt to knot the score, Radintz chose to start the second frame on the mat after Johnson had initially deferred his choice to the final two-minute stanza. But unlike their showdown the previous week, Radintz was unable to free himself of Johnson’s grasp as the Beaver wrestler rode out the middle period on top.
Leading 2-1, Johnson took the down position entering the final two-minutes of regulation.
Radintz worked for an opportunity to apply the guillotine, a move that had yielded a pinfall in his semifinal’s match a few hours earlier, but when that chance arose he was unable to complete it.
“That is one of those moves that is real marginal sometimes and can be potential dangerous and if you push it and rush that pressure toward the joint, the refs will act on the side of caution, which I get it, and he kind of rushed it a little bit that one time and they stopped it which was the right call,” noted Strong. “But he was trying to get it.”
“You have to give credit to Dawson, he’s strong as a bull and Ian couldn’t get him over,” added Strong.
In the first period, Johnson had been warned for stalling, but it was not called again in the match which factored into the decision to finally have Radintz give Johnson the escape and a 3-1 advantage and work for a match-tying takedown as time grew short in that third and final period.
“Dawson got warned for stalling early on but really didn’t do anything to improve on the top position and I thought we should have gotten another (stall) call,” stated Strong. “And then, when we were on top (in the third) it forced us to go neutral because there was no movement on the bottom, and we were not going to get that turn so we had to try and get a takedown.”
Instead, it was Johnson who scored the final takedown with just three seconds remaining for a 5-1 victory.
“It’s unfortunate, Ian just came up short and I think he got out of position trying to rush something and trying to get a takedown at the end and gave up that last little takedown because he was out of position.”
In order to get that that final and a chance to wrestle for gold, Radintz had to defeat a pair of state-ranked opponents.
In one of the first matches of this year’s state meet, Radintz took control earlier in his quarterfinal match against Kenosha Christian Life freshman Drew Dolphin (13-5). The Hilltopper wrestler scored a takedown 35 seconds into match for a 2-0 lead against the sixth-ranked Dolphin.
That margin drew substantially in the middle frame as Radintz tacked on an escape a mere three seconds into the period which was followed by his second takedown and finally a three-point near fall in the waning seconds to carry an 8-0 lead into the third.
Starting the final period in the neutral position, Radintz took Dolphin to the mat for a third and final time as he rode out the rest of the match on top to claim a 10-0 major decision.
In the semifinals, another freshman, Jake Fitzpatrick (16-4) of La Crosse Aquinas, awaited Radintz.
Tied at three apiece as the match went into the second, Radintz made his move, using the guillotine, he scored a two-point near fall and then pinned Fitzpatrick at the 3:15 mark to earn a shot at state gold.
“I thought he stayed very composed especially in the semifinal match,” said Strong about Radintz’ first two state matches.
“That kid (Jake Fitzpatrick) was a scrambler and we knew going in that he was a really good leg rider too, so we didn’t want him to get that boot in. That kid got into a couple of scrambles with us, but Ian kept his composure and stayed focused. Three to three going into the second period and you know anything can happen.”
And it did!
“Ian got the leg in and got his guillotine, he didn’t rush it, a couple of times this year he has rushed it and it gets called for potentially dangerous, but he stayed under control and was able to get it over which was big.”
Despite the setback and heartbreak that followed, Strong knows his wrestler will do everything it takes to make it back to state and take the final step on the awards podium.
“We found some things that we have to get to work on and I know Ian will do it,” concluded Strong.
Radintz finished a memorable sophomore season with a 17-1 record and a state silver medal.