NEKOOSA — Two years ago, the Wisconsin Dells wrestling program snapped a 32-year drought by capturing a South Central Conference title. This year, it came down to the very last match at the SCC meet, but the Chiefs emerged with their third straight conference crown.
Wisconsin Dells, who crowned four individual champions and had two other finish in second place, entered Friday’s conference meet in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with the Nekoosa co-op and Adams-Friendship after all three teams finished 4-1 in conference duals. The Chiefs then clinched its third straight conference championship by finishing 3 ½ points (225.5 to 222) ahead of runner-up Adams-Friendship.
For the first two conference championships during this current streak, the Chiefs went 5-0 during their duals against South Central competition and rode second-place finishes at the conference meet to secure their titles. This time around, nothing less than first place would guarantee Wisconsin Dells a conference championship.
In a season where three teams entered the conference meet on equal footing, perhaps it was only appropriate that a conference champion wasn’t officially decided until the final match of the meet.
Heading into the 285-pound championship match between James Schaefbauer of the Nekoosa co-op and Adams-Friendship’s Sebastian Billington, Wisconsin Dells was clinging to a precarious advantage over the Green Devils. A Billington victory would allow Adams-Friendship to leapfrog the Chiefs into first place to seize the SCC title from their grasp. A Schaefbauer win would clinch a three-peat for Wisconsin Dells.
It didn’t take long for a winner to be decided. Just 20 seconds into the match, Schaefbauer scored a pin-fall victory to close out the meet and ensure that the Chiefs would be bringing home another first-place plaque to add to the trophy case.
In fact, when Wisconsin Dells was taking its team picture with the plaque, they invited Schaefbauer to join in as a lighthearted token of appreciation for his role in the final result.
“We needed (Schaefbauer) to win, and he took care of his business to win his conference championship, so congratulations to him,” Wisconsin Dells head coach Jim McFaul said. “Adams and Nekoosa are both nice teams. This was a different way and a special way to win this (conference title).”
With the margin so close in the final standings, it’s hard to pinpoint to any one thing as the determining factor. However, the Chiefs performance in first-place matches was clearly crucial to the outcome of the meet.
Adams-Friendship sent nine wrestlers to the finals compared to six for Wisconsin Dells. However, the Chiefs went 4-2 in those matches — including winning both head-to-head meetings with Adams-Friendship — while the Green Devils posted a 3-6 record in the finals.
As a result, Wisconsin Dells boasted four wrestlers with individual conference titles: junior Will Van Dinter at 106 pounds, senior Gavin Kingsley at 138 pounds, senior Billy Dethloff 145 pounds and senior Marty Koenig at 160 pounds.
In their respective first-place matches, Van Dinter pinned Adams-Friendship’s Cole Docken at the 1:17 mark, Kingsley pinned Wautoma/Wild Rose’s Ethan Kubasta 1:28 into their match, Dethloff edged out a narrow, crucial 14-11 decision over Adams-Friendship’s Kyle Wiseman and Koenig tallied a 10-0 major decision over Wautoma/Wild Rose’s Colton Martin.
In the Chiefs’ other first-place matches, Mauston’s Brandon Dolata scored a pin-fall victory over junior Bear Leonard in 5:36 at 152 pounds and Wautoma/Wild Rose’s Damean Netzler pinned sophomore James Sampson at the 1:16 mark of their 220-pound match.
Wisconsin Dells also got third-place finishes from senior Elizah Leonard at 113 pounds, junior Jade Herzer at 132 pounds, sophomore Matt Getgen at 182 pounds and junior Aaron Huff at heavyweight.
Not only did the Chiefs have to scrape out a win at the conference meet by the skin of their teeth, they had to bounce back from an early-season dual loss to even give themselves a shot at pulling off the three-peat.
Adams-Friendship thumped Wisconsin Dells 57-24 in their opening conference dual of the season on Dec. 12. The Chiefs responded by winning all four of their remaining conference duals, including a pivotal 42-35 win against the Nekoosa co-op on Jan. 16.
“This was the first time we’ve had what we thought was going to be our starting lineup together,” McFaul said. “So it took until the end of the season to get everybody healthy and into the right weight classes that they belong in, but once it happened, we knew we would be a pretty good team. We won a big dual against Nekoosa here about three weeks ago to set the stage for this.”
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McFaul has a long history with Wisconsin Dells as both a wrestler and a coach. Guiding the team to its drought-breaking conference championship two years ago would be awfully hard to top for him. But the nature of this year’s win just may have supplanted it.
“These are things you never forget,” McFaul said. “For these kids and these seniors, it’s their third championship and my third championship. They’re a great group of kids and they really rallied us and pulled it off today.
“We went 32 years without a conference championship. To win the first one I thought was really special. But winning it this way is even better.”
The Chiefs will look to keep the good vibes rolling when they compete at the Division 2 River Valley regional meet Saturday in Spring Green.
Team scores: Wisconsin Dells 225.5, Adams-Friendship 222, Nekoosa co-op 205, Mauston 152, Wautoma/Wild Rose 146, Westfield 80.
106 pounds: Championship match – Van Dinter, WD, pinned Col. Docken, AF, 1:17. Third place – Hininger, M, pinned Hoffman, N, 0:22. Fifth place – Kite, WE, received a bye.
113: Championship match – Gellerup, N, pinned, Con. Docken, AF, 0:43. Third place – E. Leonard, WD, received a bye.
120: Championship match – Thurber, N, pinned Dolata, AF, 2:49. Third place – Dobraff, WWR, def. Maguire, M, 8-2. Fifth place – Huff, WE, def. D. Kosterman, WD, by medical forfeit.
126: Championship match – Hall, N, def. Abraham, WWR, 9-8. Third place – Whitney, M, pinned Mikolaj, WD, 3:05. Fifth place – Kujawa, AF, received a bye.
132: Championship match – Presley, AF, def. Bellock, M, 11-5. Third place – Herzer, WD, pinned Lyon, WE, 2:50. Fifth place – Ebbe, N, reeived a bye.
138: Championship match – Kingsley, WD, pinned Kubasta, WWR, 1:28. Third place – Williams, AF, pinned Knitt, M, 0:49. Fifth place – Torres, N, pinned Servi, WE, 1:06.
145: Championship match – Dethloff, WD, def. Wiseman, AF, 14-11. Third place – Havlovic, N, pinned Barbarich, WWR, 2:40. Fifth place – Nootbar, M, pinned Martoz, WE, 3:11.
152: Championship match – Dolata, M, pinned B. Leonard, WD, 5:36. Third place – Kniprath, N, pinned Weiss, WWR, 1:28. Fifth place – Wilson, AF, received a bye.
160: Championship match – Koenig, WD, def. Martin, WWR, 10-0. Third place – Leibsle, WE, def. Hoehn, M, 8-4.
170: Championship match – Martinez, M, def. Wallner, AF, 6-3. Third place – Netzler, WWR, def. Kontaxis, WD, 14-6. Fifth place – Wilson, N, pinned Knoch, WE, 1:47.
182: Championship match – Kujawa, AF, pinned Elsen, N, 4:39. Third place – Getgen, WD, pinned Robinson, M, 4:22. Fifth place – Graessley, WWR, received a bye.
195: Championship match – Kniprath, AF, pinned Peters, WE, 4:20. Third place – Boudreau, N, pinned Stroede, WD, 2:55. Fifth place – Yates, M, received a bye.
220: Championship match – Netzler, WWR, pinned Sampson, WD, 1:16. Third place – Rudolph, WE, pinned Goodwin, N, 0:44.
285: Championship match – Schaefbauer, N, pinned Billington, AF, 0:20. Third place – Huff, WD, received a bye.
Follow Zach Rastall on Twitter @zrastall17 or contact him at 608-697-7943.