Rhinelander’s Ben Sinclair puts Hudson’s Ryan Rambo in a headlock during a WIAA Division 1 sectional wrestling tournament in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 22. Sinclair finished second in the 220-pound weight class to qualify for the WIAA state wrestling tournament. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander’s Tim Fox pumps his fist after learning he qualified for the WIAA state wrestling tournament during a WIAA Division 1 sectional wrestling tournament in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb. 22.
2/25/2020 7:30:00 AM Hodags Fox, Sinclair punch tickets to state wrestling tourney
WISCONSIN RAPIDS - The Rhinelander High School wrestling team ran the gamut of emotion Saturday in a WIAA Division 1 sectional.
When the dust settled, two of Rhinelander's four sectional qualifiers moved on to the WIAA state meet as 113-pounder Tim Fox and 220-pounder Ben Sinclair advanced with runner-up finishes in their weight classes. Walker Hartman (170) and Trevor Knapp (195) narrowly missed qualifying with third-place finishes in their brackets.
There was the thrill of victory as Sinclair won a wrestle back for second place to make his way to Madison. There was the agony of defeat as Knapp, in his final high school match, fell two points shy of the state tournament.
There was also the thrill of defeat as Fox learned moments after losing the championship match his runner-up spot and state ticket were secured. Then there was the agony of victory as Hartman won his third-place match only to find out he would not have a chance to have the opportunity to wrestle back for second.
"You see the things people went through today," Rhinelander coach Paul Ellenbecker said. "It sucks when at the low point but, when you're at the high point, you're up here. That's what makes the sport great."
Fox pinned his way to the finals at 113, dispatching Aidan Peterson of River Falls in the quarterfinals and Josh Black of Wisconsin Rapids in the semis. That set up Fox's third match of the season against third-ranked and undefeated Justin Groshek of Stevens Point. As was the case in the first two matches, Groshek controlled Fox from the start and cruised to a 14-3 major decision.
But, simultaneously on an adjacent mat, Black was controlling Marshfield's Shane Westerhausen in the third-place match. Black picked up an 8-1 decision in the third-place match and, because Fox beat Black earlier in the day, Fox was automatically awarded second place and a state berth.
"That was probably one of the best beating I've ever took, to be honest," Fox said afterward. "I looked over at the coaches, they gave me a thumbs up and that was the happiest I felt. I look up in the stands, saw my parents raise their hand and I was thinking this is best loss I'm ever going to have."
Fox (32-8) lost a wrestleback to go to state by one point last year, which made the accomplishment of making it this year even sweeter.
"Timmy wrestled well toward the end of the year and his focus was laser-sharp," Ellenbecker said. "He wrestled to compete and win. Even going into the Groshek match, we didn't know, it wasn't exactly his greatest effort because we were planning on a wrestleback and he didn't get a wrestle back. It was a true second. I'm just so proud of what he's accomplished. Now the thing for him is get on the podium. Don't be happy just making it."
Sinclair (31-15) came in with the fewest accolades of any of Rhinelander's sectional qualifiers. He was the only one of the four not ranked at any point of the season by Wisconsin Wrestling Online, but he took advantage of a bracket that had only one ranked wrestler. That was third-ranked Orion Boe of D.C. Everest, who pinned Sinclair in the championship match just as he did a week earlier at regionals.
Just like the week before at regionals, Sinclair crossed paths with Stevens Point's Ben Raczek for second - and the end result was virtually the same. Sinclair pinned Raczek in 1:16 last week at regionals, but needed only 43 seconds to stop him this time around - and that was after conceding the first takedown of the match.
"I wrestled the kid at regionals and caught him early in the first period, so he was expecting me to come out with the head throw," Sinclair said. "He was well-prepared for it, but just brute strength in the end is what gave it to me. All the offseason work in the weight room is what brought me through on that one."
Sinclair dominated his first two matches on Saturday, pinning Eau Claire Memorial's Sam Pickett in 3:47 to start the day. He knocked off the champion of the Hudson regional, Hudson freshman Ryan Rambo, 10-2 in the semifinals to set up the path to state.
"It's different than anything else I've felt before," he said. "It's amazing. The work that we've put in all season, all offseason to get this moment if so thrilling."
"Ben's a state qualifier as a junior," Ellenbecker said. "That's a pretty big deal moving forward. It's an awesome experience for him. He and Timmy, both as juniors, get to go down to the state tournament and see what it's all about."
On the other end of the spectrum, Hartman and Knapp missed the state meet by the narrowest of margins.
Knapp lost in the semifinals at 195 14-5 to eventual sectional champion Hank Gierke of Hudson. He controlled New Richmond's Ryan Muller 10-1 to earn a wrestle back against Wisconsin Rapids' Andrew Schutz and lost by a 6-4 decision. The pivotal point came in the opening minute of the first period when Knapp looked to be in position to put Schutz to his back, but Schutz snuck out of it and took got Knapp to the mat instead, a potential six-point swing in favor of the Rapids senior.
"(Trevor) did a good wrench. He and Figs (assistant coach Tyler Figueroa) have been working on it this week," Ellenbecker said. "He actually dropped him right to the mat and instead of covering him, he kind of slipped off him and gave up two when it looked like it could be a potential nearfall situation for us."
Knapp (32-11) got a reversal with 30 seconds remaining in the third period to cut the lead to 5-4, but opted to let Schutz go in hopes of hitting a match-tying takedown. Schutz blocked Knapp's leg attack in the final seconds and held on for the win, ending Knapp's career.
"I feel horrible for him," Ellenbecker said. "As much as I'm excited for them other guys, it just sucks to see everything he put into it, how he competed and what he did over the last six years in the program. He had opportunities and they just kind of slipped away."
Hartman was fractions of a second away from pulling off a miraculous victory in the semifinals at 170 against Hudson's Jacob Hansen. Trailing 3-0 with less than five seconds remaining, Hartman hit a takedown and put Hansen to his back, but time expired before Hansen was on his back for at least two seconds, which would have given Hartman an additional two points for a nearfall and the victory.
That close call loomed large later in the day. Hartman pinned River Falls' Garrett Borth in the third-place match, but Hansen gave up a late takedown to fall to D.C. Everest's Gabe Carter 6-4 in the championship match, denying Hartman the opportunity to wrestle back for second.
"I talked to the refs afterward and they were like he was a second away. You can't throw it with three seconds left and expect to get two nearfall," Ellenbecker said. "It's one of them deals where he didn't get the call. It was close, borderline, but they probably made the right call. He's just got to get the offense going a little better earlier."
Hartman (35-8) finished third at sectionals for the second year in a row.
"He was right there, too. Walker's such a good kid in such a good bracket. It's unfortunate. The good thing is he's got another year left," Ellenbecker said.
For Fox and Sinclair, the WIAA state tournament begins Thursday evening at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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