This article was updated Monday to include reaction from Will StorchST. PAUL — Throughout the state tournament, Will Storch had an air of confidence about him.
The Waterville-Elysian-Morristown/Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton senior wasn’t going to be denied. In fact, he never even trailed in a match.
Storch torched the Class A 220-pound field, racking up four wins Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center to become a state champion.
“It’s astonishing,” Storch said Monday of the thought of being a state champion. “It’s still sinking in.”
The No. 3 seed Storch (42-1) defeated No. 1 Jason Kasella (42-2) of Royalton-Upsala by a 7-2 decision in the finals.
“We were the No. 3 seed, but we did feel like we were probably the best guy in the bracket,” said WEM/JWP coach Adam Roesler. “We had talked a lot about during the week that it really doesn’t matter what anybody else does. It only matters what you do. He just needed to be on the attack for six minutes.”
At state, some wrestlers employ the strategy of keeping the match close and striking when possible. Storch’s plan was to take control and leave no doubt.
“If you allow somebody to stay in the match and turn it into a one-takedown match where a guy only has to wrestle for 30 seconds, then it’s a coin toss,” Roesler said. “We just feel like you’re the man at this weight class and you can dominate this weight class if you attack for six minutes.”
In the finals, Storch built an early lead that he continued to pad throughout three periods. He only got stronger, building his lead to five in the third period and did more than enough to hang on.
“I feel like I’m more on the attack side. I’m always going. I’m never on the defense,” Storch said. “I just keep working them out then I try to get them tired for the third period. That’s when I’m at my best.”
Earning state tournament experience in 2017 was instrumental in handling the moment in 2018.
“Last year, the first match I’d never been so nervous,” Storch said. “Then, coming in this year I didn’t have any nerves at all. Just came in, doing what I’m doing, and I’m going to wrestle.”
When Storch descended from his perch atop the awards podium, he was met by several family members on hand to see big moment.
Plenty more who couldn’t make to the Xcel were sure to extend their congratulations.
“I wasn’t able to go on my phone because it was blowing up so much,” Storch said.
Storch cruised past No. 15 Walker-Hackensack-Akeley’s Kyle Schmidt (38-10) by a 9-2 decision in the semifinals. It was an 8-2 quarterfinals win against No. 6 Luke Tweeton (39-10) that wound up as one of Storch’s toughest tests of the tournament.
“In the third period it was 3-2. (Storch) was on the attack the entire match. (Tweeton) just had big thighs and big hips, he was fending us off really well and preventing us from finishing takedowns. We were in on three or four takedowns and just couldn’t finish.”
Storch found momentum late in the period, and was off from there.
He became the first Grizzly to win a state title since current University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Skyler Petry in 2014. Both represented WEM High School.
Petry was on hand to see the next state champion follow in his footsteps.
“It was fun to see former state champions there from our program. Skyler was the last one,” Roesler said. “We got a picture of Will and Skyler after Will was done wrestling here today. Skyler was just excited for him. It’s fun to have that family connection in the program where everyone cheers for everybody.”
Storch will wrestle collegiately at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
JWP’s Braydon Johnson at 145 pounds and WEM’s Adam Rients at 152 also capped their careers at the state tournament.
The No. 12 seed Johnson (34-7) lost his only match to No. 5 Zack Holtz (40-8) of Kimball by fall at the 1 minute and 57 second mark.
“He took a couple of shots on a kid from Kimball. The kid from Kimball turned his hips at the right time and got underneath his arms and put him to his back. A quick fall was called and I think there was only 3 seconds left in the first period when he got pinned,” Roesler said. “It was kind of unfortunate, it was just a minor slip-up, but that kid from Kimball took advantage. That’s what happens at the state tournament. Kids don’t give second chances.”
It was a bit of tough luck for Johnson as Holtz lost his next match to No. 4 Chandler Mooney (43-3) of Roseau, keeping Johnson out of wrestlebacks. Mooney went on to beat Holtz in the third-place match.
Rients (34-11) won twice on the weekend and needed one more victory to make the medal stand.
The No. 9 seed Rients pinned No. 8 Zane Swanson (34-15) before losing to eventual state champion, No. 1 Adam Jaeger (34-0) by a 9-3 decision.
Returning Saturday, Rients extended his season thanks to another pin, this one coming at 2:50 against No. 16 Austin Donnay (16-29) of Kimball.
No. 13 Cole Vanoverbek (39-11) of Minneota edged Rients 6-4 in the next round.
“(Rients) kind of dominated everything in the match except for he struggled a little bit with getting away,” Roesler said. “The guy ended up slapping on a cradle, put him back, he fought off the cradle and battled back into the match, scored a bunch of points, but it wasn’t quite enough in the end.”
All in all, not bad for a debut effort.
“Adam wrestled a great tournament. You never know how kids are going to perform under the limelight,” Roesler said. “All three of them, I thought, came firing right away. He got on top and he was looking for his (leg) turk. If he could get to those things in the state tournament, he could be pretty lethal.”
Replacing the senior trio is a daunting task for the Grizzlies.
“We take a look at all three of those seniors, those kids did things the right way. They’re so good for our team, they’re so good for the morale in the program,” Roesler said. “Those guys promoted wrestling, they lived a healthy lifestyle. They did the right things academically.
“We’re going to sorely miss them, but they kind of put their stamp on the program,” Roesler said. “They left a bit of a legacy for others to live up to.”