Wrestling is a sport that demands patience.
Patience, sweat, hard work and the ability to endure pain and frustration.
From the slow process of making weight, to the proper setting up of a successful offensive move, to the agonizingly difficult process of reaching your goals.
You have to play the long game. Sometimes the goals are achieved and sometimes they are not and it’s difficult to look at the big picture when the latter happens.
It challenges your rationale why you go out for sports in the first place, especially when it comes down to the scalding hot crucible of the state-qualifying WIAA sectional meet such as the one on Feb. 16 at Milwaukee Lutheran.
It is a day when dreams are realized gloriously and it is one when many upperclassmen come to the end of a long, long road, one that maybe started when they were barely in kindergarten only to see as its finish line a cruel reality of a competitor’s hand being raised in victory instead of their own.
You were good, but not quite good enough.
The three Menomonee Falls wrestlers who earned berths out of sectional competition to the WIAA State Tournament in Madison, Feb. 21-23 are all underclassmen, including freshman Ben Kaus at 106 pounds (28-9 record), sophomore Casey Reigstad at 113 (36-9 and making his second trip) and junior Ethan Pogorzelski at 126 (40-5).
Pogorzelski had overcome two years of sectional frustration to earn a class championship with three impressive pins. He was not going to have to look to his senior year to anxiously fulfill this life-long dream of a state tournament berth.
“This is great,” he said. “I’d been coming up short, but this year I got the work done. I’m really very grateful and very excited for what comes ahead (at state).”
The freshman Kaus has started his high school career on a high note, not only advancing to state with the opportunity to gain experience to savor the sweaty sweetness of the Kohl Center mats. He did it in style with a class title that consisted of two pins and and a major decision.
Reigstad earned his second trip to Madison the hard way having to come through the backdraw and win a hard-fought, 4-3 decision in the wrestleback over Nicolet’s Matt Kuesel.
These three will go into next year with maps laid out, dreams either fulfilled or not, with higher mountains likely to climb.
But for senior teammates Ben Heitman at 160, John Jafuta at 170 and Henry Hansen at 182, this was the last year to attempt that particular ascent, to finally reach that coveted goal of Madison and in all their cases, the wrestleback round proved to be their final stop.
Heitman would lose to Arrowhead’s Noah Ross, 13-2, while Jafuta would fall, 4-3, on a third period takedown to border rival Connor Sinks of Hamilton, but for Hansen, the coming up short would be a double dose of cold reality, losing to Arrowhead’s Mason Diel, 6-4.
Doubly cruel because this was the second straight season Hansen had fallen in the wrestleback round for a state berth by a narrow margin.
He got the requisite hugs and hearty slaps on the shoulder as the realization settled in that this particular athletic dream was going to come up undone. There were some tears, but an hour later, as people were collecting their things and getting ready to go home, Hansen was clear-eyed about things.
Like many people in his position, he was coming to terms with this particular frustration and looking to the future, looking to new dreams. This wrestling season had had its compensations for him. He had won tournament titles for the first time in his varsity career and he was the Greater Metro Conference 182-pound champion.
He also had pride in carrying on the standard of excellence the Indian wrestlers had built in the last decade.
“To take 12 kids to sectional was a great feat,” said Indians coach Andy Rutke of the Indians’ unofficial second place finish in the sectional team standings. “We were proud of all of them. Of every kid on the team.”
In short, Hansen was grateful for the lessons sports had given him, those of teamwork and in working towards something greater than yourself. He knows what the pinnacle is like, having seen it when his father Pat Hansen had coached the Indians to WIAA state summer baseball titles in 2015 and 2016.
Those had taken patience and work too as they were the first championships in the powerhouse Falls’ baseball program’s long and storied history after years of frustration.
Henry Hansen was also the starting third baseman for the 2018 Indians baseball team that had made state in the final WIAA summer baseball tournament in history and he will have one more go-around on the diamond when the Indians make their first cold foray into spring baseball in about a month.
He will then cast his eyes to the future. He said he will go to UW-La Crosse like his father and probably major in finance ever proud of the opportunities sports had given him. Getting used to the college experience and earning a degree will take patience and hard work too, just like wrestling, but he feels he is ready.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Henry Hansen said.