Wrestling: Nelson wins SHS's first state title since 2007

By: 
Anthony Iozzo

Senior heavyweight Jessie Nelson screams with coaches and the crowd after his first-place match Saturday in the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling tournament at the Kohl Center. Nelson defeated Bay Port senior Garrett Heder by pin in 2 minutes, 56 seconds to become the 42nd Stoughton state champion and the first since Dallas O’Malley in 2007. [Photo by Anthony Iozzo]

After winning his first-place match in the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling tournament Saturday at the Kohl Center, Jessie Nelson leapt into the arms of assistant coach Eric Dahmen, who easily caught him to the cheers of the crowd.

The senior heavyweight finally achieved his goal of becoming Stoughton High School’s 42nd state champion and the school’s first since Dallas O’Malley in 2007 by pinning Bay Port senior Garrett Heder, who was ranked No. 2 on wiwres tling.com, in 2 minutes, 56 seconds.

Nelson, known as Superman to his classmates and friends, was No. 1 in the state rankings all season, and he was at a loss for words when the time finally did come. But one thing he couldn’t stop doing was smiling.

“It was a goal that was so far away during freshman year, and it feels so good to finally reach it,” Nelson said. “It is the greatest feeling in the world. I can’t believe I did it and made it this far.”

Nelson defeated No. 4 junior Hunter Hauser (Holmen) 3-2 in the semifinals Friday to make the finals match.  On Thursday, he won 2-1 win over Beaver Dam senior Riley Budde, who is ranked No. 3, in the quarterfinals, scoring the final point on a stall penalty.

Nelson started the tournament with a 5-3 win over Waukesha South junior Brock Milkent, ranked No. 8. He finished the season 54-1, going undefeated against Wisconsin wrestlers.

Journey of a champion

When Nelson joined the SHS varsity wrestling team, he didn’t have much experience, co-head coach Dan Spilde said.

In fact, Nelson was thinking of skipping wrestling altogether and joining the basketball team. But co-head coach Bob Empey encouraged Nelson to give wrestling a try.

“Coach Empey told me to come in the room for a week and see what happens. If you like, you stay. If you don’t like it, you can leave,” Nelson said.

Nelson not only stayed, he began to flourish early on in his career, with a third-place finish at the Badger Conference Tournament and a sectional title in his sophomore year. The dream of one day being a champion at state now seemed attainable.

Nelson lost two close matches his first year as a state qualifier in 2011, but he came back his junior year and won a conference title and another sectional title to reach state again.

A close loss in the semifinals in 2011 was the only blemish on his state tournament record, as he finished third and set up this season’s run.

“To be able to do this in basically a four-year stretch … is pretty exciting stuff,” Spilde said. “To be No. 42 is something to be proud of.”

Nelson was 144-25 as a varsity wrestler for the Vikings. He said he plans on continuing to wrestle after he graduates and that the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater is a possibility.

When asked what he will remember when he looks back at this moment in the future, Nelson responded, “I am going to think about all the hard work I put in and the coaches pushing me and pushing me and making sure I made it this far.”

Kraus takes third

Freshman Collin Kraus also had success at the state tournament last weekend. He became the first Stoughton freshman to take third place at state since Bret Stubblefield in 1988.  

Kraus (113 pounds), who came into the tournament ranked No. 7, defeated Burlington sophomore Ben Hornickle 8-2 in the third-place match Saturday at the Kohl Center. Hornickle was ranked No. 6.

“I wish I could have gotten first, but it is still really good and I’m proud of myself,” Kraus said.

Kraus (47-7) also defeated the No. 3 and No. 4 wrestlers this week.

He took down New Richmond junior Shane Blackman 6-3 (No. 4) on Thursday in the quarterfinals, and he defeated Muskego junior Austin Quartullo (No. 3) in the consolation wrestlebacks on Saturday.

Kraus’ only loss of the tournament was Friday night in the semifinals to Waukesha South senior Bill Prochniewski (No. 2) in an 8-6 decision. Prochniewski later won the 113-pound title.

He began the tournament by defeating Sauk Prairie freshman Eddie Smith in the preliminary and New Richmond junior Shane Blackman in the quarters.

Kraus said after the win that after taking third this season, he hopes to become a three-time state champion for the rest of his Stoughton wrestling career.

“There won’t be as much pressure next year, so I will work even harder to reach my goal,” he said.

Other qualifiers

Senior Kyle Moore (132 pounds) and sophomore Zach Hasselberger both had their state wrestling tournaments cut short Friday.

Hasselberger lost in the consolation semifinals in a 10-2 major decision to Bay Port junior Chase Farr, ranked No. 2, while Moore fell in his first consolation match to Holmen junior Ryan Stalsberg, ranked No. 5.

Hasselberger did defeat West Allis Nathan Hale senior Trevor Kruzick, ranked No. 11, in his consolation match in an 8-6 sudden victory in overtime.

On Thursday, Hasselberger lost his quarterfinals match to Kaukauna sophomore Robert Lee, ranked No. 1, by pin in 1:20 but began the day with a 3-2 win over Wausau East senior Nick Diny, who is ranked No. 8.

Hasselberger (40-13) came into the tournament at No. 13. His two losses were to the second- and third-place finishers, Lee and Farr. Burlington freshman Josh Bird won the 120-pound title.

“Obviously he didn’t have the best spot in the bracket, but that happens sometimes,” Spilde said. “He will fight back. He has a couple of years, and that just gives him more motivation to get to the podium next year.”

Moore lost his first match to Bay Port junior Chad Osmanski 6-2, who is ranked No. 9. Moore (34-17) was No. 15 at the start of the tournament.

Hartland Arrowhead senior Andrew Crone won the 132-pound title. Moore finish his high school career at 83-42.

“He has been one of the guys that stabilized the middle of our lineup this year, and to get him here was very important for us,” Spilde said. “He did what it took to get here.

“It would have been great to see him on the medal stand, but he represented us well.”

As the night ended with new history for the Stoughton program, Spilde finished by saying that the team is “very excited about next season.”