Somerset wrestlers win first regional title in 25 years
For the first time in 25 years, the Somerset wrestling team won a WIAA regional championship. And the Spartans needed every possible point to clinch the Division 2 regional title at St. Croix Central on Saturday.
The Spartans won the championship with 206 points, finishing one point ahead of Osceola. The title wasn't assured until junior Nick Bushinger earned a win in the 160-pound second place match, Somerset's final match of the tournament.
By winning the championship, Somerset advanced to the WIAA team sectional tournament on Tuesday at Hayward. Unfortunately, Somerset's opening draw at the tournament was Middle Border Conference champion Ellsworth. This is Somerset's first regional championship since 1993.
Somerset had 11 wrestlers competing at the regional meet and seven of them finished in either first or second place, which advances them to this Saturday's WIAA Division 2 sectional tournament at Amery. Somerset had five wrestlers win regional championships: Tyler Hantsbarger, Nick Kearns, Jared Grahovac, Preston Anez and Garret Hecht. Advancing as second place finishers are Bushinger and Zach Maitrejean.
Saturday's team title came down to Somerset's two second place matches. When Maitrejean, a first-year wrestler, was able to pin St. Croix Central's Braeden Bloom, it kept Somerset's hopes alive. Bushinger then had to face Amery's Mason Goulet, who had beaten him each of the past two weeks. This was a back and forth match with Bushinger trailing 5-4 with 12 seconds left. That's when Bushinger threw Goulet to his back, with the five-point move earning Bushinger the 9-5 victory.
Bushinger had difficult seasons as a freshman and sophomore. Somerset coach Ali Peterson said Bushinger remained steadfast in his work ethic.
"I told him someday it would pay off. It came true. Those guys will remember that for 20 years," Peterson said.
Anez and Hecht lead the Spartan sectional qualifiers as seniors. Anez missed the tournament run last season due to an injury. He was clearly the best wrestler at 152 pounds in the regional, beating Chetek's Will Peters in the finals, 5-0. Anez (33-5) draws Spooner's Caden Schillinger (26-15) in the opening round at sectionals.
Hecht had a wild day at the regional meet. In the semifinals he and Osceola's Jack Feldt put on a gut-wrenching battle, with Hecht winning 3-2. Hecht had another heart-pounder in the finals, beating Chetek's Sam Peters 11-9. Hecht trailed Peters 6-1 early in the match, but kept his composure in completing the comeback. Hecht (32-7) will face Rice Lake's Callub Paulson (27-9) in the opening round of the 170-pound sectional bracket.
The lower weights have been a strong point for the Spartans all season and that continued on Saturday. Hantsbarger (31-9) pinned both of his opponents to win the 120-pound regional title. His opening match at the sectional will be a tough one, facing Ellsworth's Charlie Stuhl (28-6).
Nick Kearns is the regional champion at 126 pounds. Kearns (27-12) won by pin in the regional semifinals, then defeated St. Croix Central's Tadan Holzer 15-5 for the title. Kearns will draw Hayward's Hunter Rhea (31-9) in the opening round of sectionals.
Grahovac (31-8) pinned both of his opponents at the regional meet, topping St. Croix Central senior Frank Holter at 3:18 of the title match. Grahovac faces Baldwin-Woodville's Landon Lorentsen (20-18) in the opening round of the 138-pound bracket at sectionals.
Maitrejean has improved rapidly over the past month to improve his record to 13-16, which includes winning two of his three matches at the regional. Maitrejean's opening draw in the 145-pound bracket at sectionals is Barron junior Tristan Massie (30-6).
Bushinger (21-18) gets his first chance to wrestle at sectionals on Saturday. He will open the tournament against Ellsworth's Logan Melstrom (7-4).
Somerset could have another wrestler competing at sectionals. Peter Lepper was the third place finisher at 195 pounds on Saturday. Luck's Dominic Caroon was the second place finisher, but he was injured in the championship match and may not be able to wrestle at the sectional meet.
The Spartans competed without two seniors at the regional meet. Heavyweight wrestler Zeb Rivard was hospitalized with an illness during the week and was unavailable. Steven Moncada decided to leave the team after the Middle Border Conference tournament. Moncada was a state tournament qualifier in 2017.