Demons step up to higher weight classes, finish strong

Wyatt Hayes is all fired up after his pin at heavyweight Thursday night at Burlington High School. (Rick Benavides/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

BURLINGTON – Normally, fans at a wrestling match hold their loudest applause for a pin fall or when their team wins.

On Thursday night at Burlington High School, the crowd was losing it every few minutes, teetering on the edge of pandemonium with each hold.

It was what a high school wrestling dual meet should be, and in the end Burlington broke a 22-22 tie with two crucial victories and pulled away for a 38-22 victory over visiting rival Waterford.

The story lines were as loud as the capacity crowd – two rivals battling for first place in the conference, Waterford coach Tom Fitzpatrick returning to the place he won two state titles as a Demon wrestler, and 2018 state champion Hayden Halter competing at BHS for the first time since transferring to Waterford this fall.

While the Wolverines enjoyed a mostly healthy lineup and were able to keep guys at their usual weight classes, Burlington had to improvise.

The Demons were without three injured starters – Max Ehlen, Jake Skrundz and Nate Bousman – and freshman Zeke Tiedt was asked to compete in his first varsity match. In general, several Demons were asked to move up a weight class to help the team, and it took that total team effort to knock off the talented Wolverines.

“To be honest, it was just a great high school dual meet,” said Burlington coach Jade Gribble. “You don’t have to know that much about the sport to have fun. There was a great energy, people were yelling and screaming.”

“Big rival, kids know each other really well. I was a little worried, we’re banged up right now. We’re missing a couple of our studs. We had to move everybody up. These guys will do whatever I ask them to do, and it makes them a special group. When I ask, they say ‘Coach, I’m willing to do whatever you want me to do.'”


Wolverines start strong

Waterford jumped out to a 12-5 lead and tied things up at 22-22 when Josh Cherba overcame a 6-4 and beat Ben Stevenson, 9-7, with a takedown in the final seconds at 132. The match had the gym in a frenzy, and Waterford was able to match Burlington blow for blow most of the match.

“These are fun dual meets,” Fitzpatrick said. “Obviously, we would’ve like to come out on top. Whenever you can a gym full and have good wrestling competition, that’s all we can ask for. I felt our guys wrestled real well, something we can build on for sure.”

“It’s one of the better dual meets I’ve been involved with in a long time.”

The Wolverines built an early lead thanks to Tony Mastrocola at 195, who held off a game effort from Tiedt for a 7-5 decision.

But the Demons stormed back, as varsity newcomer Brian Konz, a senior wrestling on varsity for the first time, ignited the crowd with a pin at 220 to cut the Waterford advantage t0 12-11. Konz, who weighs roughly 215 pounds, has had a strong season at heavyweight but competed at 220 for the first time.

It wasn’t easy to convince the football star to joint the wrestling squad this season, but Gribble is happy he did.

Always undersized, Konz uses momentum to his advantage.

“He maybe wrestled one year in middle school, and things didn’t work out junior year,” Gribble said. “He was not coming out this year, and I had talked to him over and over again about coming out. He didn’t really believe in himself that he could help us. I approached him a lot, you probably can’t count it on two hands.”

“Brian works hard, and he’s a good person. He will wrestle whoever we tell him to wrestle. He’s learning the sport quickly, and there are some advantages to being a bigger guy and wrestling. He’s been doing a really great job, and it’s nice to see him having success.”

In the next match, heavyweight Wyatt Hayes broke a 5-5 tie with a takedown inside the final five seconds and won 9-5 to give the Demons their first lead at 14-12.


Back and forth battle

Lucas Johnson’s major decision put Waterford back in the lead at 16-14, then Jaden Bird answered for Burlington with a major decision.

Down 18-16, Halter, last year’s WIAA Division 1 state champion at 106 pounds, wrestled at 120 and dominated Grant Koenen, 11-1, to give the Wolverines a 19-18 lead.

Halter, who was hearing it from the Burlington student section during the match, gave a playful gesture to his former school mates after his win. Koenen battled and was able to avoid a pin to save points.

Fitzpatrick said Halter, who hasn’t lost this season, has been a nice addition to Waterford, a place where his father was a star wrestler.

“Hayden’s a great kid, he’s a hard worker, he loves wrestling,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a Waterford boy, so he came back home. His parents grew up there. It’s tough. Any time you leave a program and you have to come back, there’s a lot of added pressure on you. I thought he did well.”

For Gribble, who caught up with his former wrestler after the dual, it was different to see him in different color.

“It was a little different, but I respect the young man and I want him to do well,” Gribble said. “Hayden’s a very, very good wrestler.”

The back-and-forth continued at 126, where Jacob Cortez earned a major decision to give Burlington a 22-19 advantage.

The 132-pound tilt was one of the more riveting matches of the night. Ben Stevenson, who moved up a weight class, took a 6-4 lead after two periods eighth-ranked Josh Cherba.

But Cherba finished with a fury, including a takedown in the final seconds to win, 9-7, and tie the match.


Demons close it out

After that, it was all Burlington.

Gribble’s strategic lineup shift played into the Demons’ hands, as Zach Weiler and Cody Welker, both up one weight class, came through with a clutch decision and pin fall, respectively, to put the match out of reach at 32-22.

The night ended with a Burlington victory by forfeit at 152.

“We knew once we hit our stride in the middle, we would be OK,” Gribble said. “These guys will do whatever I ask them to do (moving up weight classes).”

“Our kids are wrestling well, we just have to get healthy. But we have high goals, and we have to stay focused and keep pushing.”

Fitzpatrick said Zach Kaminski, who wrestled at 182, is in concussion protocol after his match. Otherwise, he credited Burlington.

“Hats off to Burlington, they wrestled real well,” Fitzpatrick said. “Most of the matches we felt we could win, we won, beside the heavier matches. They had the upper hand 38, 45, 52.”

Burlington, who is a perfect 3-0 in the Southern Lakes, will battle in the prestigious Marty Loy Classic in Fond du Lac Saturday.

Waterford (2-1 SLC) turns around and immediately competes in a two-day invite at West Allis Central Friday and Saturday.