Demons open state tournament 5:30 tonight

The Demons pose with their regional championship in February at Kenosha Bradford High School. (Submitted/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

BURLINGTON – One of the best compliments is glowing praise from an opponent.

Enter Union Grove head wrestling coach Andy Weis.

“Burlington has enough talent to win it all,” he said earlier this season. “They are loaded top to bottom. It’s one of the best squads they’ve had in a long time.”

With great hype comes great responsibility.

And that responsibility of dominating, beating and at times embarrassing opponents through sheer superiority has been a thing of routine for the Demons during the 2017-18 season.

Whether you like it or not, the Demon wrestling squad has been the story, bar none, of local wrestling this season.

This weekend, Burlington will attempt to become the talk of the state.

Burlington went undefeated in the Southern Lakes dual season, won every tournament it entered, including a stacked Freedom Invite, and capped it with a conference title and regional and sectional championships.

The Demons are so well-balanced, that only three of the 11 state qualifiers won conference, partly due to the stacked SLC.

What’s interesting is that these guys aren’t slowing down now that the allure of the bright lights at the Kohl Center is through. While the team state tournament certainly isn’t as noteworthy, the Demons are treating it like their Super Bowl.

A month ago, SLC champs Max Ehlen, Jake Skrundz and Qwade Gehring said in unison their desire to win team state.

State champion Hayden Halter, a 106-pound freshman phenom, reiterated the sentiment.

“We are all focused on winning a team state championship right now,” he said. “We need to get as many bonus points as we can.”

Burlington, seeded fourth in the eight-team team state tournament, opens with Slinger, a team it beat early in the season, at 5:30 p.m.

If the Demons win, they battle at 7:30. The state championship match would be Saturday afternoon.

Can Burlington cap a historic season, one in which it’s been ranked No. 4 in the state according to Wisconsin Wrestling Online from Day One?

“We match up pretty well against Slinger and need to wrestle well,” Gribble said. “This is a year where there are several closely-matched teams, and several can win the state championship.”

“We’ve talked about this all season. If we wrestle well, we can deal with whatever happens. To beat the best teams, we will have to win the toss-up matches and score bonus points while not giving them up, which is easier said than done.”

If the Demons beat Slinger, it could lead to a match with No. 1 Holmen, another undefeated team, at 7:30 tonight.

Kaukauna (21-1) is the four-time defending state champion.

With only two seniors and a junior in the starting lineup, the young, energetic Demons, led mostly by freshmen and sophomores could have an advantage in terms of endurance physically and the mental key of simply being too inexperienced to worry about all the hype.

They’re going to go out and do what they do best, wrestle, and let the chips fall where they may. There really isn’t time to think when it comes to a potential two-day tournament, and Gribble wouldn’t have it any other way.

This team, from the equipment managers to assistant coaches to the bench, is about high-impact action on the mat.

“I can tell you this, our kids are looking forward to and excited about the opportunity to represent Burlington at the state meet,” he said.

With tempered expectations due to a lower seed, the dangerous Demons could surprise some top squads.

 

Crayton, Halter, Skrundz medal at Kohl Center

Nate Crayton points to the stands in victory during last weekend’s state tournament at the Kohl Center. (Tim Burd/SLN)

The Burlington wrestling team owned the weekend at the WIAA Individual State Wrestling meet.

With a state-high and school record 11 wrestlers competing, the Demons made their presence felt on the medal stand.

Not only did Hayden Halter bring home state gold at 106 pounds, senior Nate Crayton captured fourth place at 182, and sophomore Jake Skrundz advanced all the way to the semifinals before finishing in sixth place at 145.

It was yet another memorable weekend for the Demons, who are undefeated and ranked fourth in the state entering Friday’s team state tournament.

Along with the three podium performers, Burlington head coach Jade Gribble said another five wrestlers finished in the top eight but fell in the final round to place.

“Overall I was happy,” Gribble said. “Although I believe we could have had a couple more medalists, but putting eight kids in the top eight was good. This is a fun group of kids to work with. They enjoy the sport and want to be successful, and we love how the kids go out to compete every match.”

Crayton (46-7), competing in his third state tournament, was pinned by his competitive nemesis and friend, Waterford eventual state champion Jared Krattiger in the first round Thursday.

But Crayton, ranked seventh, won his next three matches, 3-2, 9-3 and 4-3 before facing third-ranked Bryson Alsteen of Kaukauna for third place.

Alsteen (47-4) edged Crayton, 11-9.

“I was glad to see Nate finish the year on the podium,” Gribble said. “Nate overcame a tough sectional tournament where he battled sickness to come back strong for state. I’m proud he was able to reach his goal.”

Skrundz (37-7), ranked fifth, won his first two matches, 12-4 and 5-1, to advance to the semifinals Friday night and face De Pere’s Max Bruss, ranked third in the state.

Skrundz had a lead on Bruss before being pinned in 2:39.

Skrundz also had lead in his next two matches getting caught with pins.

Gribble was impressed with his young wrestler.

“He was winning in all three of his last matches but put himself in a bad position where he ended up getting pinned,” Gribble said. “Jake is a very dangerous wrestler that is always looking to score. I was happy Jake got a state medal, but he knows he has the ability to improve on his sixth-place finish.”

At heavyweight, Wyatt Hayes just missed out on placing. He was injured all season before returning for the postseason, and he finished the season strong at 16-9.

After earning a pin in his second match, Hayes was narrowly defeated, 3-2, by Slinger’s Charlie Covert.

“He came back from injury and wasn’t even supposed to make it to state, but had a great sectional tournament and then carried that into state.”

Cody Welker (120) and Zach Weiler (132) each earned two victories at state, while Ben Stevenson (126) and Ben Kumprey (152) each had one win.

Coach Gribble is excited about the emergence of 220-pounder Wyatt Hayes (right), who missed most of the season with an injury. He made a splash last weekend, and will help an already-deep squad in tonight’s team state meet. (Tim Burd/SLN)

 

If you go

What: Team Wrestling State Tournament

When: Friday-Saturday, March 2-3

Where: UW-Field House, Madison

Cost: $13 Friday, $8 Saturday

 

Schedule

DIVISION 1

Quarterfinals

Friday, March 2, 5:30 p.m.

#1 Holmen vs. Arrowhead

#4 Burlington vs. Slinger

– winners of above will be paired in semifinals

 

#3 Stoughton vs. Marshfield

#2 Kaukauna vs. Mukwonago

– winners of above will be paired in semifinals

 

Semifinals

Friday, March 2, 7:30 p.m.

 

Final

Saturday, March 3, 3 p.m. (gates open 2 p.m.

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