Like the saying goes, “Like father, like son.”
Mason McMillen stayed true to that Saturday when the Beavers senior pinned Stoughton sophomore Braeden Whitehead in the Division 1 126-pound state championship match on day three of the WIAA individual state tournament at the Kohl Center.
McMillen, who is the first state champion for the Beavers since Ryan Peterson won the 275-pound title in 1995, followed in his father Tim McMillen’s footsteps after he won gold at 126 pounds as a senior for Reedsburg in 1985.
“There’s nothing to describe it,” Mason McMillen said. “He’s been there all 14 years of my wrestling career and been by my side working on things with me. It’s a great feeling.”
“He’s one of the best we’ve ever had,” Reedsburg coach Rob Bautch added. “He’s one of our top notch kids and he deserves it with all the time and effort he’s put in.”
McMillen (48-3) used an 8-1 decision win over Stevens Point senior Chance Bailey to punch his ticket to the final against Whitehead. While he was victorious over Whitehead in the Badger Conference tournament behind a 5-1 decision win, McMillen was in dire straits in the finals.
After the pair wrestled to a 3-3 tie after the first period, Whitehead chose to start down in the second period. The choice worked as Whitehead scored a reversal with 1 minutes, 8 seconds left in the period to take a 5-3 lead.
Whitehead nearly finished things off as he tied up McMillen, but settled for three back points with 18 seconds left to build a commanding 8-3 lead. With new life, McMillen chose to start the final period neutral and the two quickly got into a scramble.
As Whitehead got too high, McMillen was able to get the throw and work to the match-winning pin in 4:14.
“He got in deep, I was able to hip in, step over and it felt great,” Mason McMillen said. “I knew never to give up especially on this stage where anything can happen.”
“I saw him out of the corner of my eye and he kind of delayed it for dramatic effect, but I just said ‘Is this happening? Is this real?’ All of the years of hard work finally paid off and it’s just an amazing feeling; there’s nothing like it.”
Even though he had his back against the wall earlier in the match, McMillen knew to stay calm because of his experience in teetering matches before. Bautch echoed that fact, noting how much he and his fellow coaches stressed to keep fighting in practice.
“He just keeps battling; it’s a full match and we preach that in practice,” he said. “Every match is different, it’s not just six minutes; it’s moments, it’s sections and he wanted it.”
As special as McMillen capturing a state title at the same weight class as his father with him in the corner, winning the gold is a fitting end. McMillen had reached the state tournament each year of his career but never reached championship Saturday.
As a sophomore at 120 pounds, McMillen dropped a heartbreaking 5-4 decision to Menomnee Falls’ Eric Wunsch and settled for fifth place. At 120 again last year, McMillen lost his opening match to Stevens Point’s Dylan Koontz and went 1-1 in the wrestlebacks, missing out on the podium.
“To be down here four times and only place once, it’s tough on a kid,” Bautch said. “To come back, there’s a lot of pressure being your last year.”
McMillen got his tournament off to a strong start, rolling to a 13-3 major decision win over Germantown’s Chase Celichowski in his preliminary match but ran into a tough matchup against Elkhorn’s Grant Truesdale in the quarterfinals.
Against the Elks senior, McMillen scored an early takedown to take a 2-0 lead into the second but gave up a reversal late in the period to knot the score entering the third. With the choice, McMillen decided to start down and recorded an escape with 1:52 left for a 3-2 lead and held on from there before ultimately taking spot atop the podium.
“Reedsburg has a state champion,” Bautch said. “It’s awesome.”
Along with McMillen, fellow senior Brady Fry took on the Kohl Center at 182 pounds. It was a brief stint in his state debut for Fry as he fell in his preliminary match Port Washington’s Tristan Griswold.
Fry (36-16) fell behind 5-1 after the first period and was ultimately pinned by Griswold in 3 minutes, 41 seconds.