Lease caps remarkable day for Raccoons
Virtually everything went right for the Oconomowoc wrestling team.
Competing in their home gym at the WIAA Division 1 sectional Saturday, the Raccoons qualified a stunning seven grapplers for the state meet in Madison, with five sectional champions, the most since advancing seven in 1998.
Cooney hasn't qualified more than three wrestlers in any one season since 2000 and had sent seven entries combined over the past five years. But this time around was a massive breakthrough for the Wisconsin Little Ten dual-meet champion.
Logan Ballering (152 pounds), Joe Nettesheim (170), Brett Samson (195), Nick Gomez (220) and Michael Mohr (285) all won sectional titles, with Eric Lease (138) and Richard Kuehl (182) taking second places. Top-two finishers in each flight advanced to the showcase beginning Thursday at the Kohl Center.
The most uplifting performance came from the senior Lease (36-6), who needed back-to-back wins to advance after falling to Cedarburg's Jason Ipsarides (43-2) in the semifinal. Lease pinned a wrestler who had defeated him at the regional one week earlier, Austin Yde of Arrowhead, then won an 11-4 decision over Max Nelson of Wauwatosa. Nelson came into the meet with an undefeated record, but the win meant Lease would get to attend his first state meet.
"Eric had to wait until everything was done," Oconomowoc coach Steve Olson said. "He watched Logan punch his ticket, he watched Nettesheim punch his ticket, Kuehl, Samson, Mohr, and then it was his turn. With those guys doing that, I think it ramped him up a little bit, gave him a little more fuel for his fire. Everyone in that gym was pushing for him. Everyone on the team was screaming. It was electric. Lease winning made a great day perfect."
Lease's postseason run last year was short-circuited by a finger injury, and he was working with a shoulder injury sustained at the Mid-States Tournament shortly after Christmas this year. The win made Olson and his staff look smart for nursing Lease along slowly.
"We pulled him at conference (from the finals), and I know there are people wonder ing why we did that, because we lost conference by 5 points," Olson said. "Putting Eric in there might have changed things, but this is what we were saving him for. His run was going to be his run, and we weren't going to take that away from him. I was so impressed with his attitude; he did an awesome job."
Wins keep coming
Ballering (36-5), competing at 152, will be the lone return qualifier in the lot. The junior advanced to state as a freshman before missing his sophomore year with injury, and he was especially impressive Saturday in beating Hamilton's Nick Knoebel in the first-place match, 16-11. Knoebel boasted a 35-3 record heading into the match and had defeated Ballering in the regional in overtime.
"Logan's on the rise," Olson said. "He's very fluid and moving very well."
The sophomore Nettesheim (26-12) won two nail-biters at 170, a 6-5 outcome over Jordan Fisher of Nicoelt in the semifinal and a 4-3 win over Justin Seeke of Cedarburg in the final. Battling an illness, Nettesheim recorded a reversal with five seconds left after incurring a takedown with 20 seconds on the clock to go down 1 point. Seeke defeated Nettesheim at the regional, 8-1.
"He's been battle tested," Olson said. "He gets in these tight matches, he's a good from a lot of positions; all-around, he's just solid."
Fellow sophomore Kuehl (30-7) took second at his flight, with a pin over Devine Burt of Wauwatosa in the semis paying dividends when Burt won his third-place match and Kuehl fell to Ayoola Olapo of Menomonee Falls (45-2) in the final. Kuehl was awarded second place without the need for a wrestleback.
The top three flights all belonged to the Raccoons. The freshman Samson (33-8) needed three pins to win a sectional title.
"He's a freshman at 195, and I was not worried exactly, but you're on a big stage now," Olson said. "How was he going to handle it, the nerves? He kept his composure and did a great job just wrestling. The kid scored a point, it didn't bother him, he just continued to wrestle and got pins."
Gomez (16-1) continued his rapid ascent coming off injury and won a 7-2 decision over Hunter Higginbotham of Germantown (7-2) in the final. Mohr (39-4) just missed qualifying last year, but he was dominant with two pins at the sectional en route to a title. At No. 6 in the state, Mohr has the top ranking of any Oconomowoc wrestler, according to the Feb. 11 standards released by Wisconsin Wrestling Online.
Nick Brenning (126) and Brandon Laughlin (132) both dropped opening matches. State matches begin at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Kohl Center.
Oconomowoc matchups Thursday at the state meet:
138 - Eric Lease, Sr. (36-6) vs. Alex Blaney, Sr., Bay Port (44-1)
152 - Logan Ballering, Jr. (36-5) vs. Tyler Dorfner, Jr., Greenfield (29-15)
170 - Joe Nettesheim, So. (26-12) vs. Duncan McKinney, Jr., Holmen (36-12)
182 - Richard Kuehl, So. (30-7) vs. Quinn Faust, Sr., Mount Horeb (35-7)
195 - Brett Samson, Fr. (33-8) vs. Connor Johnson, Jr., Rhinelander (40-3)
220 - Nick Gomez, Jr. (16-1) vs. Isaiah Hayes, Sr., De Pere (24-5)
285 - Michael Mohr, Sr. (39-4) vs. Quincy Stokes, Sr., Oshkosh West (27-12)
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