Wrestling: Whiting caps freshman year with state title

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Budz, Lemens drop opening matches
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Oconto Falls’ Clayton Whiting, top, tries to escape the hold of Amery’s Mike Smith during the Division 2 152-pound weight class title match Saturday at the 76th annual WIAA Individual Wrestling Championship Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison. (Times Herald photo by Clayton Whiting)

From Thursday through Saturday, the Kohl Center in Madison served as the host for the 76th annual WIAA Individual Wrestling Championship Tournament, where 560 high school wrestlers competed. Only 42 of those wrestlers walked away with individual titles when all was said and done, with one winner from each of the 14 weight classes for Divisions 1, 2 and 3.

Looking more like a seasoned state wrestler than a freshman, Clayton Whiting of Oconto Falls worked his way through the Division 2 152-pound weight class to capture one of those individual titles.

“It’s kind of crazy; everyone is like, ‘Oh, he’s just a freshman. He shouldn’t be nothing.’ But I’m a whole different other person out on the mat — I can change people’s minds like that,” said Whiting, who became the school’s first-ever freshman title winner and 15th individual champion.

Oconto Falls junior Tyler Budz and Gillett/Suring senior Sam Lemens each dropped their first and only matches of the tournament.

While some of the title matches across the three divisions were nail-biters that came down to the final seconds, Whiting made things look easy in a convincing 9-0 decision win over Amery senior Mike Smith.

Whiting took down Smith in the first period and nearly pinned him in the waning seconds. Instead, Whiting took a 5-0 lead into the second period.

Whiting escaped from the bottom position to take a 6-0 lead into the final period, where he earned an escape before taking down Smith again.

As the final buzzer sounded, signaling Whiting’s title, the freshman jumped up and down before embracing each of his coaches.

Just minutes after standing atop the podium, Whiting already was thinking about what the future might hold.

“Just setting goals every day. Coaches, family motivating me every day to become better than I even am right now,” said Whiting, who went on to say he wants to be a four-time state champ and that he was ready to get back to work.

Prior to the title match, Whiting knocked off two other seniors. In the semifinals Friday night, Whiting battled Barron’s Tristan Massie.

After a scoreless first period, Whiting gave Massie a free point instead of trying to hold him in the bottom position. Whiting soon took down Massie to go up 2-1.

After Massie escaped to tie it, Whiting took down Massie again. Massie escaped again to trim Whiting’s lead to one, 4-3, heading into the final period.

Whiting dominated the final two-minute period, earning a one-point escape and two-point takedown to finish off a 7-3 decision.

After taking first at sectionals, Whiting was awarded a bye, meaning his first-ever state match did not take place until Friday morning.

Taking on Ellsworth’s Sawyer Hamilton, Whiting picked up a win in thrilling fashion.

Whiting led 1-0 after two periods after escaping from the bottom position. Hamilton earned an escape of his own to open the third period, but Whiting took down Hamilton for two points with just under 50 seconds to go.

Whiting held on for a 3-1 decision win.

For Budz, watching his teammate dominate was an inspiration.

“It was amazing watching my teammate winning a state title, knowing I can get there if I set my mind to it,” Budz said. “He will be a great wrestling partner that I can train with, because he sets the tone up at practice. I want to be that leader next year — pushing our team so we can have more guys going with us.”

This was Budz’s second appearance at state, where he also competed during his freshman year.

The junior’s match was against Campbellsport’s Cade Heisdorf on Thursday in the 126-pound weight class.

In one of the better preliminary matches of the night, the two wrestlers battled back-and-forth.

Budz led 2-1 after a period after taking down Heisdorf, but trailed 4-2 after two periods. In the third period, Heisdorf took down Budz to go up 6-2 before Budz pulled a reversal to close the gap.

Heisdorf escaped to go up three before Budz earned another takedown. But time ran out on the junior, who was eliminated in the 7-6 loss.

“It reminds me I have to push harder in the offseason, because that’s where I can improve,” said Budz, on how the loss can motivate him going into his senior season. “Next year is my final year, and I want to show my coaches and my parents I can get on that podium next year in Madison.”

Gillett/Suring’s Lemens was taking part in his first state meet. The senior battled Cumberland’s Reid Olson in the Division 3 138-pound weight class Thursday.

After Olson took down Lemens about 35 seconds into action, the co-op senior eventually lost by pin in 1 minute, 37 seconds.

“Even though I lost my first match, it was a very fun experience,” said Lemens, who accomplished a goal of his by making state. “I got to see a lot of guys wrestle and win state that I had practiced with a lot throughout the season. Also, a very cool part about state was seeing a lot of my friends and family come all the way down to Madison to support me.”