The Rhinelander High School wrestling team’s sectional qualifiers pose for a photograph prior to practice Tuesday, Feb. 18. Pictured, from left to right, are Tim Fox, Ben Sinclair, Trevor Knapp and Walker Hartman. The WIAA Division 1 sectional round takes place today in Wisconsin Rapids. Each wrestler will have to finish either first or second in his weight class to advance to next week’s state meet in Madison. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
2/22/2020 7:34:00 AM Four Hodag wrestlers look to punch state tickets today
After getting shut out from the WIAA individual state tournament last year, the Rhinelander High School wrestling team has four chances to get to the Kohl Center next week as it travels to Wisconsin Rapids today for a WIAA Division 1 sectional meet.
Tim Fox (113 pounds), Walker Hartman (170), Trevor Knapp (195) and Ben Sinclair (220) all advanced with runner-up finishes at last week's regional at D.C. Everest. Each now finds themselves potentially three to four wins away from the state meet.
The sectional tournament format is similar to regionals, only more difficult in terms of moving on to the state tournament. Only two wrestlers in each weight class advance from sectionals, opposed to four in regionals. That means the first round is even more critical today than it was last week. Losing in the sectional quarterfinals spells the end of the season as there is no wrestle back for those who lose their first-round matches.
The semifinals more closely resemble last week's first round whereas winning the match doesn't guarantee advancement, but gives a wrestler a potential advantage later in the day. A win moves a wrestler to the finals, where a victory would clinch a state berth. A loss in the finals would put a wrestler in a potential wrestle back for the runner-up spot.
Conversely, a semifinal loss means a wrestle would have to win a consolation match against the other semifinal loser to have a chance to wrestle for second. The catch - just like last week's second- and fourth-place matches - if the second place match turns out to be a rematch of the semifinals, the wrestler who won the semifinal advances to state by default.
Today's sectional round gets underway at 10:30 a.m. at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids. Here's a closer look at the potential path to state for each of Rhinelander's sectional qualifiers.
Fox (30-7), who lost a wrestle back to go to state last year, has a favorable draw as the regional runner-up. He opens sectionals against River Falls sophomore Aidan Peterson (19-18), who placed third in the Hudson regional last week. A win would mean a matchup against either Superior's Wyatt Johnson (28-10) or Wisconsin Rapids' Josh Black (29-16) in the semifinals.
Fox is one of three ranked wrestlers in the bracket, according to Wisconsin Wrestling Online, and the other two are on the other half of the draw. The favorite is Stevens Point's Justin Groshek (39-0) who comes in ranked third in the state. He's already defeated Fox twice this season, including a victory in last Saturday's regional championship. Marshfield's Shane Westerhausen, like Fox, comes in honorable mention in D1 at 113. Fox beat Westerhausen 3-0 in the regional semifinals last week.
"I think he's in a good place right now, wrestling," coach Paul Ellenbecker said, sizing up Fox's chances. "I just think, overall, he has a really good shot at it if he wrestles well."
Hartman (33-7) draws the lone wrestler with a sub-.500 record in the 170-pound bracket in the first round - New Richmond junior Sam LaPean (13-14), but the road gets more difficult from there.
A potential semifinal matchup against sixth-ranked Jacob Hansen (31-9) awaits. The favorite in the bracket is fifth-ranked Gabe Carter of D.C. Everest (36-1), who earned a 5-1 decision over Hartman in the regional finals. Garrett Borth (28-8) of River Falls comes in as honorable mention at 170. Hartman, who had been in the rankings at 170 most of the season, fell out of Wisconsin Wrestling Online's list this week.
Ellenbecker has said over the past few weeks that Hartman needs to find more offense to help him pull through in the tough matches that go hand-in-hand with the tournament series. Hartman is looking for his first state tournament appearance after finishing third at sectionals last year.
"We knew going in there were probably going to be four guys in his bracket that are capable of going to the state tournament next week," Ellenbecker said. "It's a matter of who wrestles better on Saturday. Walker's been there all year, he's battle-tested, it's just getting it done (Saturday). He's got some things to work on. I'm sure we'll be watching film and talking to people around. We'll go over there and see what happens."
One wrestler's misfortune may be a bit of a break for Knapp (30-9), who was originally slated to face ninth-ranked Jaylen Wright (27-5) of Menomonie in the first round. But Wright, who was unable to wrestle the second-place match at last week's regional in Hudson, is also a scratch from Saturday's sectional bracket.
That means Knapp will face the fourth-place finisher from the Hudson regional, Henk Boese of Eau Claire Memorial (18-13), in the first round. It also thins out the top of the 195-pound bracket, which had four ranked wrestlers prior to Wright's scratch.
Hank Gierke of Hudson (33-9) comes in No. 8 in the state, and would be Knapp's likely semifinal opponent, should he take care of Boese. Ninth-ranked Andrew Schutz of Wisconsin Rapids, who beat Knapp 3-0 in last week's regional championship match, sits on the other half of the bracket. Afterward last weekend's regional round, Ellenbecker said he expects Knapp to have a stronger showing against Schutz, should there be a sectional rematch.
"I do think if Trevor wrestles the kid from Rapids, I like his odds," he said. "He's a better wrestler than what he showed (last Saturday), but the great thing is he put himself in position to get another chance at him, and to get to the state tournament."
Sinclair (28-14) may have one of the most wide-open brackets in the sectional. There is only one ranked wrestler in the bracket - third-ranked Orion Boe of D.C. Everest (40-1) who pinned Sinclair in the regional finals last week.
Two wrestlers with sub-.500 records advanced in the weight class out of the Hudson regional, and Sinclair will face one of them - Eau Claire Memorial's Sam Pickett (16-20) - in the first round. With a win, he could face either Hudson freshman Ryan Rambo (27-11) or Wisconsin Rapids sophomore Josh Hansen (23-15) in the semifinals.
"A couple of weeks ago, everyone was kind of counting Ben out like, 'Yeah, whatever happens, happens,' But he's got a legit chance," Ellenbecker said. "He's just got to go out and wrestle, get some big moves on guys and get some pins. That's his style. He's got to wrestle how he's been all year and get after people."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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