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Local wrestlers advance to state

Superior High School’s Ross Kennelly advanced to the WIAA State Wrestling Championships in the 182-pounds weight class. Kennelly’s first match was Thursday afternoon against Nathan Fuller of Wisconsin Rapids. (Jed Carlson / / 2
Northwestern wrestlers Donny Pooler, left, and Calen Kirkpatrick will represent the Tigers at this week’s WIAA State Wrestling Championships at the Kohl Center in Madison. (Jed Carlson / / 2

The WIAA Individual Wrestling Championships got under way Thursday with wrestlers from both Superior High School and Northwestern High School competing.

Senior Ross Kennelly represented the Spartans, while sophomores Calen Kirkpatrick and Donny Pooler represented the Tigers.

Kirkpatrick was making his second trip to the state tournament after becoming the first freshmen in school history to qualify last year.

“I think now that I already went I know what to expect,” said Kirkpatrick, who wrestles at 120 pounds. “Plus I have a buddy going with me, so that will be nice. I’ll get to show him some of the stuff I learned last year about weigh-ins and where to go.”

Pooler, wrestling at 152 pounds, was taking a laidback approach to his first state tournament. He said he didn’t know quite what to expect but was looking forward to competing.

This marks the first time since the 2009-10 season that Northwestern has sent more than one wrestler to the state tournament. Ryan Miesbauer and Nathan Nelson both advanced in 2010.

Kennelly, at 182 pounds, is the first Spartan to advance to state since Niko Bogojevic won the 285-pound title in 2010.

Kennelly was competing in his first state wrestling meet after advancing to the sectionals the past two seasons.

 “I’m really excited,” Kennelly said. “It’s something that I’ve worked for throughout my whole wrestling career.”

Kennelly came up just short of a trip to state last year when he lost by rule at the sectional tournament to finish third.

The wrestler who defeated him is the same one responsible for the senior’s only two losses this year: Dylan Anderson of Hudson.

“We talked after the regional finals, and we mentioned sectional finals next and state finals after that,” Kennelly said.

The two seniors met in the sectional finals at D.C. Everest — where Anderson won a 15-12 decision to win the sectional title — but they’ll face a difficult road to meet again in the state finals.

Anderson (44-0) will likely need to defeat Beau Breske of Hartford Union to earn a place in the finals. Breske will be going for his third title. He won at 152 pounds in 2013 and 170 pounds in 2014 before finishing second at 170 last year. This year he moved up to 182 pounds, where he holds a 47-0 record.

In the opening round Thursday, Breske pinned Andy Salemme of Marquette University High School in 1:08. Anderson also won by pin, taking down Beau Yineman of Neenah in 2:26.

Breske and Anderson both won again in the second round Thursday night, putting them on track to meet in the third round today.

Kennelly opened the tournament with a triple-overtime victory over Nathan Fuller of Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln. Kennelly fell behind 1-0 in the second period but picked up a point with an escape in the third to tie it at 1-1. In the third overtime period, Kennelly earned another point with an escape. He then picked up four quick points, ending with a near takedown for a 6-1 decision.

The Spartan senior (40-2) then wrestled Oscar Ramos (45-2) Thursday evening. Ramos advanced with an 11-0 major decision in the first round. He entered the tournament ranked No. 3 in the state by Kennelly came in at No. 4.

Kennelly earned the first point of the match on an escape in the second period, but Ramos took a 2-1 lead moments later and then ended the match with a pin at 2:56.

The loss drops Kennelly into the consolation bracket. He will face Hermes Duran of Baraboo at 10 a.m. Friday. The winner will advance to face either Austin Kind or Nate Fuiten at 1:45 p.m.

This weekend’s tournament will likely be the last for Kennelly as a competitor. The senior has signed with North Dakota State University to continue his football career, and he said that will be his priority after he graduates from high school.

“It’s pretty bittersweet, but at the same time I’m going to make the most of it,” Kennelly said. “I just want to go out there and say I wrestled good, quality matches to the best of my ability.”

Division 2 wrestling was scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, and both Kirkpatrick and Pooler have undefeated former champions looming in their brackets.

In the 152-pound bracket, Devin Bahr of West Salem/Bangor is perfect at 47-0. He won the 132-pound championship in 2014.

Paul Bianchi of Two Rivers will be seeking his third crown in Division 2. He is wrestling at 120 pounds this year after winning the 113 title last year and the 106 title in 2014. Bianchi is undefeated at 49-0.

“I tend not to look at the bracket, just because I don’t want it to mess with my head,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve been working on mental toughness a lot this year, and I just go into it like (an opponent) has the same record as me. I know at this stage you have to wrestle hard no matter what.”

Pooler, on the other hand, has looked over his bracket and the possible competition. He doesn’t pay attention to records but likes to have a general idea of who he might face.

Those different styles, said Northwestern coach Bob Coleman, play out not only in the sophomores’ preparation for matches but in the way they wrestle.

“Calen is a lot more aggressive as far as speed, and he has more change of pace and technique,” Coleman said. “Donny is just solid, methodical. … He doesn’t have any fancy moves; he just stays in good position, and he’ll beat you by one or two points every time.”

Kirkpatrick said he’d like to get on the podium at state, and Coleman said both wrestlers have the potential for a top six finish.

Regardless of where they place, the two Tigers are happy to be competing in Madison together.

“It helps to have someone to feed off of,” Pooler said.

Pooler and Kirkpatrick have competed side by side for years. They both got their start in wrestling when they were kindergarteners.

“We couldn’t even tie our shoes back then,” Pooler said. “Believe it or not, it was a time when we practiced together because we were the same size.”

“He was always bigger, but we managed,” Kirkpatrick said.

As they grew older, Pooler and Kirkpatrick moved into different weight classes. Kirkpatrick wrestled at 120 pounds this year, while Pooler wrestled at 152.

But the two have remained friends, and Coleman expects both will benefit from competing in Madison together.

“They’ve done so much together,” Coleman said. “They’ve done Greco together, they do freestyle together, they go to summer camps together — I mean, they’re like brothers.”

The WIAA state wrestling tournament continues today and ends Saturday with championship and third-place matches.

NOTES: Only two Spartan wrestlers have ever claimed a state title. Bogojevic was the most recent to accomplish the feat, winning the 285-pound title in 2010 with a perfect 48-0 record. Bob Olson also won the heavyweight title in 1966. He finished the season with a 25-2 record. … Mike Kauther is Northwestern’s lone state wrestling champion. He won the 135-pound title in 1998 with a season record of 27-2. … Zac Martinson holds the Tigers’ record for most trips to the state wrestling tournament. He advanced in 2004, 2005 and 2006, finishing second at 135 pounds in 2006.