Rhinelander’s Trevor Knapp raises the Handrick Hammer following a Great Northern Conference wrestling dual at Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua Thursday, Jan. 16. The Hodags rallied from down 24-0 to win the match, 40-33. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Hugh Wiese puts Lakeland’s Brady Abb into a headlock during a 120-pound match in a Great Northern Conference wrestling dual in Minocqua Thursday, Jan. 16. Wiese’s headlock led to a pin, which gave Rhinelander a 40-33 victory in the dual.
1/18/2020 7:30:00 AM Opportunity strikes Hodags make most of chances, edge Lakeland 40-33 for Handrick Hammer
MINOCQUA - With the Handrick Hammer in the balance, Rhinelander's Hugh Wiese had to think twice about the opportunity that had presented itself before him. Lakeland's Brady Abb appeared to be in a vulnerable spot and Wiese had a decision to make.
"His head was sitting there and I was like, 'I don't know (if I should take a shot), but what the heck,'" Wiese said.
The result for the Hodags was the headlock from heaven, part two.
It may not have come quite out of the blue, like the original headlock from heaven hit three years ago by Rhinelander's Isabella Anderson in a win over Tomahawk's Morgan Waye, but the result was nothing short of divine.
Wiese nailed the headlock and pinned Abb 36 seconds into the first period to give Rhinelander a 40-33 over Lakeland in the second annual Handrick Hammer match, in honor of former Rhinelander and Lakeland assistant wrestling coach Tom Handrick.
Rhinelander wrestling coach Paul Ellenbecker, who watched last year's Hammer match from the sidelines during a one-year sabbatical from coaching, said winning a match held in memory of his late friend and colleague was a career highlight.
"This is by far the sweetest win I've had as a Rhinelander head coach," Ellenbecker said. "I feel pretty wonderful right now. The Hammer means a lot to me personally. I know it's not about me, but I'm happy to have that thing in Rhinelander for selfish reasons. He was my friend and it meant an absolute ton to get that thing back to Rhinelander and keep it there.
"To see Tom's wife, Kelly, and his mom and dad, getting a picture with them, it made great memories for me, personally. I'm very, very excited about tonight. It's a great win for the program and we're super excited about winning," Ellenbecker added.
The win wasn't easy. The match started at 126 pounds, staring right into the heart of the Lakeland lineup. The Hodags fell behind 24-0 in an instant and had to play catch-up most of the night.
Rhinelander trailed 33-30 after Lakeland's Sawyer Duir pinned Tanner Schmidt at 106. But Tim Fox earned a major decision over Lakeland's Ben Nemeck at 113 to put Rhinelander ahead 34-33. That set the stage for Wiese vs. Abb at 120 for the Hammer.
Wiese got the opening takedown 10 seconds into the match and then stuck the headlock roughly 20 seconds later. Just like that, the Hodags successfully retained the Hammer after winning last year's inaugural match, which also came down to the final bout.
"I was thinking this was for the team, this was for everybody," Wiese said. "This was for the Handricks and the man that we're supporting. It was not for me. It was for the team, for everybody. I knew I could do it. I beat him once before. I had confidence and that's what paid off in the end."
"Hugh going out there that last match, there's a lot of emotions in that," Ellenbecker said. "This is a pretty tough kid (he was wrestling against). That kid's no slouch. To Hugh, I said, 'Hey, 0-0. Just go wrestle, do what you do. No pressure.' A headlock presented itself and he just nailed it and wrapped it up."
Just as Wiese capitalized on his moment of opportunity, Rhinelander exploited the one hole in Lakeland's lineup to rally back from an early deficit. Trailing 27-3 after six matches, and with the T-Birds set to forfeit at 170 pounds, Ellenbecker made a lineup change. Rhinelander had second choice in the match, so after Lakeland declared it would not send out a wrestler, the Hodags trotted out Dominic Ratliff to collect the forfeit. That allowed Rhinelander to bump Walker Hartman, Connor Lund, Trevor Knapp and Ben Sinclair up by one weight class each.
The move worked perfectly for Rhinelander. Hartman, honorable mention in Division 1 at 170 pounds in the latest Wisconsin Wrestling Online rankings, needed only 40 seconds to stop Joe Martell in the 182-pound bout. Connor Lund controlled Henry Evenhouse at 195, earning an 11-5 decision. First period pins by Knapp and Sinclair gave Rhinelander its first lead of the night, 30-27.
"Once they had the forfeit, we took advantage of the forfeit that they had," Ellenbecker said. "Luckily we had some depth there and Dominic Ratliff got a forfeit for us and that enabled us to go out and get a big win and move all them guys up. Once we got through 160, it was going to swing our way a little bit more. Our upperclassmen, our experienced kids, did what they needed to do. They got it done."
Cayden Neri was the first winner on the night for Rhinelander, as he fended off Jerry Goselin 5-1 in the 152-pound bout. The Hodags won seven of the 12 contested matched on the evening.
"I was stressed out all day about this one because it could of gone either way," Ellenbecker said. "Lakeland's got some good, young kids and it's going to be a battle the next couple of years. Wrestling them here is always tougher, too. I'm glad next year will be back in Rhinelander."
Zane Grams (132), Jose Retana (138), Jason Hilgart (145) and Duir (106) earned pins for Lakeland, while Nick Rybicki scored a 8-4 decision for the T-Birds over Joe Fugle at 160.
The win moved Rhinelander to 1-2 in the Great Northern Conference and dropped Lakeland to 0-3.
After the match, the Hodags gathered for a photo with the Hammer, the Handrick family and a life-sized photo of Tom Handrick holding a sign reading "You know me ... I can't miss this." Ellenbecker said he's certain his friend would have needled him about the outcome, but was smiling from on high.
"Tommy, he'd say smart like, 'Ah, you guys should have won by this. You did this wrong. You did that wrong,' but, deep down he's pretty proud of us. I can tell," Ellenbecker said. "I'm happy it worked out like it did."
Rhinelander is back in action today at the SPASH Invite in Stevens Point.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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