New Richmond senior Nathan Fehlen has earned a return trip to the WIAA State Wrestling Championships.
His reward? Drawing the defending state champion in the opening round of the Division 1 160-pound state bracket. Fehlen will face Stoughton's Tyler Dow in the opening round of the Thursday afternoon session at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Fehlen reached state with his second place finish in the 160-pound bracket at the Division 1 sectional meet held in Wausau on Saturday. Six other Tigers competed at the sectional level, but none were able to take one of the top two spots in their bracket.
Fehlen enters the state meet with a 28-9 record. He draws Dow (49-1) who was the state champion at 160 pounds last year, after finishing in second place at 152 pounds in 2016.
Fehlen's luck in state tournament draws has been nothing short of awful. Last year, he drew Elliott Luker of Hortonville. Luker went on to take second place, losing to Dow in the 160-pound state finals. Fehlen got a wrestleback last year, but lost to Holmen's Kalyn Jahn, who went on to take fifth place.
To say Fehlen was ready for the sectional tournament is an understatement. He only needed 39 seconds to pin Stevens Point freshman Brett Johnston. In the semifinals, Fehlen faced D.C. Everest's Carson Trotzer, who was the champion at the Wisconsin Rapids regional. The Tigers knew Fehlen needed to win this match to get to state, so they scouted Trotzer relentlessly through the week. The work paid off. Fehlen led 2-0 after the first period and started the second period in the down position. Fehlen got a reversal and was able to cradle Trotzer, scoring the pin in 3:13. Trotzer was ranked ninth in the state in Division 1.
In the finals, Fehlen faced Hudson's Jacob Anderson, who is ranked third in the state. Anderson was able to win on a second period pin, but Fehlen's state berth was assured when Trotzer won a wild third place match.
The most frustrating point of Saturday's tournament for the Tigers was the 126-pound semifinals where Brandon Dennis was defeated 4-3.
The third period started 2-2, with Dennis in the bottom position. He immediately stood and got an escape, but was dinged for a stalling call in the first seven seconds of the period. Dennis ended up giving up a stalling call, sending the match into overtime. Dennis ended up losing in an overtime tiebreaker, 4-3. The way the match was handled angered New Richmond coach Jeff Swanson.
"If I said we lost on a controversial call, that would be accurate," Swanson said. "I wanted the kids to decide the match."
The Tigers knew a wrestleback was unlikely, because highly-ranked Chance Bailey was in the opposite of the bracket. Bailey won the title, leaving Dennis without a wrestleback.
Tiger seniors Dylan Wachter and Travis Messer also won their opening matches at the sectional. Wachter won a 9-4 decision in the vastly talented 145-pound bracket. He then lost to Nathan Fuller of River Falls and Sam Skillings of Menomonie, the same wrestlers who finished ahead of him at the regional tournament.
Messer wrestled one of his best matches in a 2-1 win in the opening round of the sectional. He then lost to the eventual sectional champion from River Falls. He put up an excellent battle in the third place match, losing 6-5.
Tyler Harris, Caeden Henning, Tyler Dennis and Ryan Muller were beaten in their opening matches at the sectional. Matt Harle was injured and was unable to compete after finishing second at 106 pounds at the regional level.