Both Manawa wrestlers who qualified for the WIAA State Tournament brought hardware back to Manawa.
During the three-day event the Wolves saw their fair share of excitement and disappointment, but in the end Casey Johnson captured the fifth place medal in the 220 pound weight class and Garret Griffin returned with a 6th place medal in the 160 pound weight class.
Casey Johnson’s adventure for a state dream didn’t start until Friday, Feb. 28 when he faced off with Glenwood City’s 220 pound Donovan Fornal. Johnson took an early lead in the first period and never looked back. He pinned Fornal in the third period to advance to the WIAA State semifinals, a place he failed to reach last year. This win assured Johnson a place on the touted podium for six. It also marked the second time he placed at the state tournament, doing it last year as a junior.
In the semifinals Johnson faced Westby’s Chase Nottestad who held a 44-1 record and the number one ranking in the state. After an unusually high scoring first period Johnson found himself down 4-2. In the second period Nottestad chose down and eventually secured a reversal to take a 6-2 lead. Johnson chose to ride in the third period when he earned a warning and a point via stalling. Johnson locked up a cradle twice but could not turn the eventual champ and fell 6-3. Johnson was sent to the consolation side of the bracket and began his battle for third place since his championship dreams had ended.
In the consolation semi-finals Johnson faced C.J. Pillath from Coleman, whom he beat last week. The first period came and went fast ending in 0-0. The second period was all Pillath as he caught Johnson in a roll and received a reversal and near fall while riding Johnson out for the remainder of the period. Entering the third period Johnson found himself down 4-0. After giving up an escape Johnson hit a double over throw for the first time in his career but received only two near fall after nearly pinning Pillath. Johnson scrambled to find more near fall but was caught out of position in the waning seconds and couldn’t avoid the upset. Johnson was sent to the fifth place match.
In Johnson’s fifth place bout he faced Fornal for the second time in the tournament. In the rematch Johnson ended his career as a Wolf on a high note. After going scoreless in the first frame Johnson recorded eight points in the second period and another three points in the third to cruise to an 11-0 win and a fifth place finish in the tournament.
Johnson finished his career as a Wolf with 120 career wins, a four-time team captain, a conference champion, a three-time regional champion, a sectional champion, a sixth place finish at the 2013 WIAA State Tournament in the 182 pound weight class, and a fifth place finish at this year’s WIAA State Tournament at 220 pounds.
“We are so proud of Casey and his accomplishments in his career and this year. It may not have ended the way he dreamt it but the strides he made and the person he became is definitely something he needs to hang his hat on. Casey had a fairy tale career, he didn’t really have ‘it’ in the beginning but by the end he walks out as one of the best wrestlers in the whole state finding the podium at the ‘Big Dance’ twice. His hard work, determination, and will to just get better every day have made him what he is. We are proud to have been a part of his career and know that some college football program is going to get one heck of an athlete with a whole lot of pride and an unrelenting motor to just win. Congratulations Casey!” said Coach Dan Kundinger.
Garret Griffin’s campaign started the evening of Thursday, Feb. 28 in a do-or-die match verse Westfield Area’s Jay Kaenel. After one period Garret had a one point lead. In the second period the momentum swayed and Kaenel was able to grasp a one point lead going into the third period. After securing an escape to start the third Griffin finished a wild scramble to gain a two point lead and eventually won 9-8.
The next morning, in the second round, Griffin faced the eventual runner-up and gave his opponent from Boyceville all he could handle. Tied 2-2 going into the third period Griffin was caught in an unforgiving hold with just 30 seconds left and was unable to recover. Griffin was sent to the consolation bracket.
In the third round Griffin found himself against a nemesis from the previous week. Neither wrestler scored in the first period. Griffin won the toss and chose down to start the second period. He found a quick escape and went back to physically pounding his opponent. He gave up an escape but quickly responded with a takedown of his own giving him a two point lead. Griffin gave up an escape but avoided any others scores. Griffin won the match 3-2 and secured his own place on the podium.
Griffin’s fourth round match was against Ozaukee’s Kevin Beckman. This match determined who would compete for third place. After a 0-0 first period Griffin won the toss and chose down. After a well-earned reversal via a long scramble Griffin gave up an escape but quickly rebutted with a takedown to hold a 4-1 lead going into the third period. Late in the third period Griffin’s opponent caught him in an unforgiving throw to secure a 7-4 win.
In Garret’s placement match he faced Weston/Ithica’s Mason McCauley. After a hard fought first period Griffin found himself down 3-2. In the second period, he gave up a reversal but quickly responded with an escape to cut the deficit to 5-3 heading into the final frame. In the final frame Griffin was awarded an escape, but could not secure a final takedown, and fell 4-5.
Griffin finished in sixth place at the WIAA State Tournament. Griffin wrapped his career up in the red and black with 104 career wins, a four-time team captain, a conference championship, a regional championship, and a 2014 sixth place finish in the 160 pound weight class at the WIAA State Tournament.
“We couldn’t be prouder of Garret and what he accomplished this year as well as in the past 4 years. His character continued to shine at the state tournament as he placed ahead of the two individuals from his sectional, responded with a win after losing a match he could have won, continued to battle injuries throughout his career and this year, and performed well enough at the ‘Big Dance’ to stand on that storied podium. I know this wasn’t his ultimate goal but his journey with wrestling isn’t over. Some college will be lucky to have someone on their team with this much drive and determination. We are so happy for Garret and his family and all his accomplishments. Congratulations ‘G’!,” said Head Coach Brad Johnson.