Demons clinch 6th team state berth in 8 years

The Burlington Demons pose with their sectional championship plaque Wednesday night at Racine St. Cat’s High School after defeating Oak Creek, 52-27. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

Sports Editor

RACINE – It was business as usual Wednesday night for the Burlington High School varsity wrestling squad.

Competing with a fully healthy roster for only the second time in more than three months, the Demons qualified for the WIAA Division 1 team state tournament with a comfortable 52-27 drubbing of the Oak Creek Knights at Racine St. Catherine’s High School.

Undefeated in dual meet competition this season, minus tournaments, Burlington is primed and ready to take another step after last year’s advancement to the state semifinals, where it lost by a point, 27-26, to state runner-up Holmen.

It’s the second consecutive team state berth for the Demons, who have gone to the annual

Sophomore Zach Wallace dominates his opponent at 182 pounds. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

competition at the UW-Madison Field House, next door to Camp Randall Stadium, six times this decade.

“It’s crazy to think about,” head coach Jade Gribble said Wednesday on the St. Cat’s gym floor. “It’s something you work for every year. Each year, you get more hungry.”

“Some years, qualifying was the best we could do. Other years, you get up there and win some duals. That’s what we’re going for.”

In 2018, Burlington crushed Slinger before falling to a more experienced Holmen team, which lost to Stoughton in the state championship.

However, the sophomore-led Demons held their own, and if not for a 1-point penalty against Hayden Halfter, would’ve at least tied 27-27 and had the winner determined by tiebreaker, which Gribble confirmed would have been Holmen.

But 2019 is a new year, and with four seniors providing leadership and roughly half of the starting lineup ranked high in the state, Burlington has a chance to dance with the Vikings, who beat Holmen, 31-29, to win it all.

“With expectations come some pressure, but to be honest, our kids have the expectations for themselves,” Gribble said. “They’re accountable to one another, not just the coach. They want a state title for themselves and each other.”

“These guys love competing. I’ll be happy win or loss, if you just compete. We have the gym rats, they buy in, and others buy into that. It’s fun to be part of.”

“I think we have the talent here to win the state title,” said senior Zach Weiler, who pinned his opponent Wednesday in 46 seconds.

“We’ve been talking about the team state title in the practice room all year.”


Senior Zach Weiler leads a post-match team huddle. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

Taking care of business

Much like regionals, when Burlington saw Ben Stevenson and Ty Kiesler return to give it a full lineup for the first time this season, the Demons battled with little resistance against Oak Creek.

Burlington won five of the first seven matches, all via pin fall, to take a commanding 30-12 lead.

After the Knights cut the lead to 30-18, the Demons finished strong with victories from Weiler, Cody Welker (145), Jake Skrundz (160) and Zach Wallace (182).

“This is just one more step toward the state title,” Weiler said. “I’m happy how we wrestled, but we can always get better, and I can’t wait to see what happens in two weeks.”

Burlington will participate in a Division 1 state quarterfinal March 1 in Madison.

Brian Konz, a first-year wrestler, loves the culture of chemistry and camaraderie.

“That helps a lot in these tough tournaments,” Konz said. “It really makes you feel part of a family. I feel like that transfers to the mat and helps us win.”

Another newcomer is heavyweight Taylan Hensley, who registered a pin Wednesday.

Hensley, who joined the team last year and participated at team state, is ready to return.

A tough, intimidating presence on the mat, Qwade Gehring (left) has an excellent chance to make noise at the state tournament. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

“These last two years have been awesome,” he said. “Being able to go to state the last two years is great, and I can’t wait to win a Wisconsin state title.”

Wyatt Hayes, who needed only 1:26 to pin his opponent at 220 pounds Wednesday, is primed for this Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 individual sectional tournament at Racine Park High School.

“I lost in the blood round, so I was one win away from the podium last year,” Hayes said. “The goal is to stand on top of that podium. We’ve got a little bit more time to get better as a team.”

For Weiler, there is plenty of work to be done. The diminutive, soft-spoken team leader is ready to take his game to the next level.

“My goal is to win the sectional tournament Saturday,” Weiler said. “As a team, we can go as far as we want. And I think all (14) of us can advance to individual state.”