Heading into Saturday's WIAA Division 3 wrestling sectional tournament in Osseo-Fairchild, St. Croix Central's Zach Gillis was considered one of three standout wrestlers in the 135-pound weight class.
Gillis didn't disappoint. He finished in third place in the 135-pound sectional class, earning his first trip to the WIAA State Individual Wrestling Championships in Madison this week. Gillis' first round match at state is scheduled for Thursday evening.
St. Croix Central also had senior Casey Perry wrestling at the sectional meet. Perry had an extremely tough bracket and was defeated in his first match at the sectional meet.
Gillis, Roy Munroe of Cadott and undefeated Casey Williams of Phillips were considered the cream of the crop in the 135-pound bracket. Gillis opened the tournament against Blair-Taylor freshman Travis Guenther, who he put away with a first period pin.
As expected, Gillis had to face Munroe in the semifinals. Gillis had beaten Munroe once before. This time Munroe got ahead, locking Gillis in a cradle hold in the second period to build a three-point lead. Gillis couldn't come back, losing 9-4.
"They had a good game plan against us," said Central coach Brad Holzer.
That put Gillis into the wrestlebacks. He pinned Nate Scharenbrock of Flambeau in the first period to get into the third place match. There he faced Shell Lake sophomore Tyler Anderson, a 30-match winner. This was no contest. Holzer said Gillis felt he wrestled a little sloppy in this match, but it didn't show on the scoreboard as Gillis locked up his berth at state with a 14-1 win.
Holzer said Gillis wasn't satisfied with how he wrestled at the sectional meet, "which is a mark of somebody driven and focused. He had a couple specific chains where he didn't put things together the way he usually does."
Gillis will face Oshkosh Lourdes junior Nate Duwe in the first round at state. Gillis is ranked fifth in Division 3 at 135 pounds, while Duwe has an honorable mention ranking at 140 pounds in the latest Crossface poll. If Gillis can win his first match at state, he's guaranteed at least two more matches. The winner between Gillis and Duwe will face Jason Raasch of Westby, a sectional champion with a 39-1 record.
Gillis is the first Panther to qualify for state since Curtis Hinkel and Luke Van Beek reached state in 2007. Gillis takes a 33-8 record into the state meet.
Perry knew he had a tough draw at 140 pounds, facing Mark Marquardt of Stratford, who was ranked fifth in the state at 145 pounds. Perry got behind early and tried coming back, but Marquardt wouldn't allow it. The match ended at 11-4.
The strength of the 140-pound sectional bracket showed when Marquardt couldn't get to state, taking fourth place.
"There were probably five kids in that weight class deserving to be competing in Madison," Holzer said.
Perry, who missed most of his junior season with an injury, finishes his senior season at 31-13.