By David Paulsen
With eight grapplers headed to the WIAA Division 1 Individual State Wrestling Championships, the Burlington High School wrestling squad is sending the most wrestlers the school has ever sent to state.
The previous record was set last year with seven.
“The kids just put it all together,” head coach Jade Gribble said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
What makes the feat even more impressive is that when the season began, Gribble thought this might be a rebuilding year for his squad.
The Demons had four sectional champions, and four more wrestlers that placed second at the Racine Case sectional Saturday. The top two finishers in each weight class advanced to state, which will be held Thursday, Feb. 21, through Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Taking top honors at sectional were Ben Hornickle, at 113 pounds; Josh Bird, at 120; Brody Fitzpatrick, at 138; and Koty Agnes, at 220.
Hornickle, 33-3 overall and ranked No. 6 in the state in his weight class, had a pin in one minute flat in his opening match. He followed that up with a 16-0 technical fall in the semifinal, and then a pin in 2:46 in the first-place match over Noah Larson of Franklin.
Bird, ranked No. 5 in the state at 120 and 40-3 overall, opened with a 15-0 technical fall victory. He pinned his semifinal opponent in 4:30, and his finals opponent – Harley Klemick of Racine Horlick – in 3:15.
Fitzpatrick, 34-4 on the season and ranked No. 5 in his weight class, had a pin in 3:16 in his opening match and then won a close 2-0 decision in the semifinal.
In the first-place match, Fitzpatrick defeated Roman Stiff of Franklin 6-1.
The biggest surprise for the Demons came from Agnes, 31-14 overall. Agnes, who had placed second at regional, pinned his quarterfinal opponent in 1:44, and then edged La’Ryan Johnson of Kenosha Bradford 9-8 in the semifinal.
That pitted him against Franklin’s Gavin Devine in the first-place match, and Agnes dominated Devine in a 15-7 major decision. Agnes had lost 5-4 to Devine one week earlier at regional.
“He just had a great day,” Gribble said. “He kind of put it all together.”
Earning a trip to state as second-place finishers were Cody Elsbury (152 pounds), Max Shenkenberg (160), Greg Miller (195) and Tyler Kirkeeng (285). All four lost in the first-place match.
Elsbury lost a 5-4 decision in the finals, and ended up with a match for second-place, and a trip to state. He pinned Ben Hakes of Oak Creek in 3:21.
To get to the finals match, Elsbury defeated Stuart Swanson of South Milwaukee 11-4, a wrestler he had lost to earlier this season.
Shenkenberg, 28-15 overall, after losing an 18-8 major decision for first place, also faced a match for second, where he defeated Daniel Peyer of Franklin by an 8-5 decision.
Shenkenberg also avenged an earlier season loss by winning 4-2 over Ben Zbikowski of South Milwaukee in the semifinal.
Miller, who was pinned in the finals match, squeaked out a 1-0 decision over Kenosha Bradford’s Matt Hernandez in a second-place match. The sole point in that match came from an escape.
“He’s kind of flown under the radar most of the year,” Gribble said of Miller.
Kirkeeng was the only Demon second-place finisher that did not have to wrestle a second-place match. After losing in the first-place match, Kirkeeng was done since he had defeated the third-place winner earlier in the day.
Kirkeeng lost a very close 10-9 decision to Cavontae Klyce of Racine Park/St. Catherine’s for first place.
Burlington had advanced all 14 wrestlers to sectional. Six of those did not advance, with Kyle Crayton, the Demon 170-pounder, unable to compete. Gribble noted that Crayton had injured his knee at regional, and was able to tough it out at the team sectional, but could not do so at individual sectional.
Gribble is hopeful that with some time off prior to the state team championships that Crayton will be available when the team competes at the team state Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2.
Lucas Shenkenberg (at 126 pounds) finished third and Robert Elsbury (106) fourth.
Wes Gavin (132), Logan Schmalfeldt (145) and Hegeman Tiedt (182) all lost their opening matches.