Three Polar Bears reach finals
By Erik Buchinger
The Hortonville High School wrestling team sent four wrestlers to the WIAA Division I state tournament, and three of them competed in the finals on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Sophomore Eric Barnett won his title match, while seniors Elliott Luker and Jacob Barnett finished as runners-up. Senior Nathan Lichtfuss left with a fourth-place medal.
Three wrestlers in the finals was a first for Hortonville head coach Chris Gennrich.
“I’ve had two in the finals one other time, so to put three in, it was fun, and it made for a really fun Saturday night,” Gennrich said. “We’re really proud of those guys.”
Gennrich said he could see the progress being made throughout the season with his team.
“What we saw this weekend, I think we saw building over the year,” Gennrich said. “These four kids became very very very tight. They just started to feed off each other. Eric would get it started right away when we’re in a tournament being a 106-pounder with a win and big brother Jacob wanted to follow suit. Then it was like the others didn’t want to be the odd man out, so they just fed off each other’s success and didn’t want to be left behind, so it became a snowball that got bigger and bigger. I think it really showed here with the tournament that we had.”
Eric Barnett earned his WIAA Division I championship early Saturday night, with the 106-pound match taking place at the start of the finals. The sophomore finished with a 45-0 season record.
“It’s great,” Barnett said. “I’ve been working for this for a long time, and I finally got it. I can’t be any happier.”
Barnett began the tournament by beating Pewaukee freshman Nate Carerros in the preliminary round on Thursday, Feb. 23 and followed up with another victory against Stevens Point freshman Justin Groshek later that day in the quarterfinals.
On Friday, Feb. 24, Barnett took down Sauk Prairie junior Zeke Smith to advance to his first career state finals.
Barnett matched up with Stoughton sophomore Hunter Lewis in the championship match and held him off in the final seconds for a 7-4 decision to become the state champion.
After finishing third last season in Madison, Barnett said he was frustrated, which motivated him to an undefeated season.
“When you lose, it just drives you that much more,” Barnett said. “Third last year just sucked, and I don’t want that feeling again, and that’s why I practice so hard in the morning with two-a-days and three-a-days in the spring, summer and fall just grinding for that title.”
Barnett said he came into this year’s state tournament with more confidence than last year.
“I was pretty confident,” Barnett said. “I knew who I was going to have and how they wrestled. That finals match was a lot closer than I would’ve liked it to be. I got out on my back for a few second there and that’s not my style, but things happen and that’s just part of wrestling.”
Barnett said being able to compete for a state title with his brother Jacob and teammates would be an experience he will never forget.
“The experience has been amazing, we’ve broke records this tournament, and it’s just fun,” Barnett said. “I’m more nervous for my brother and my teammates than I am for my matches.”
Hortonville head coach Chris Gennrich said he is hoping a first state title is just the beginning for Barnett.
“He’s now our third state titlist, so that was fun and it’s nice to see that,” Gennrich said. “He works so hard for this, and I’m just
so happy he’s coming back for two more years, so hopefully we’ll get to repeat this a couple more times.”
Jacob Barnett, Luker come up short
Seniors Jacob Barnett and Elliott Luker were the first two wrestlers in Hortonville wrestling history to advance to state in all four years of high school, and both advanced to the state finals as second-place finishers.
At 126 pounds, Barnett beat Mukwonago junior Aaron Schulist in the preliminaries as well as Oak Creek’s Matt Berlin in the quarterfinals.
Barnett defeated Slinger junior Caleb Ziebell with a 7-0 decision in the semifinals to face Elkhorn Area junior Benji Peak for the state title.
The match was tied at 8 when time expired, but Peak secured a takedown in sudden victory.
“Jacob and Elliott came up a little bit short, and it hurts now, I get that,” Gennrich said. “They’ll look back, and it might take a couple weeks, it might take a couple months. I don’t know, but to finish second in the state tournament is something they’ll look back at and be proud of. I couldn’t be happier and more proud of two young men that finished as state runner-ups. It was great.”
The 160-pound Luker began his state tournament with a victory over New Richmond junior Nathan Fehlen in the preliminary round with a pin and defeated Kalyn Jahn to advance to the semifinals where Luker beat Jesse Fryda.
In the finals match, Stoughton junior Tyler Dow defeated Luker with a 4-0 decision.
“This loss is kind of disappointing, but it’s a loss to definitely a quality opponent,” Luker said. “Going into the match, I felt like the underdog and went into there with an I’ve got nothing to lose type of attitude. I knew he was going to be a great wrestler, and he definitely lived up to it. He was really tough all around and is just a really great wrestler.”
Luker said competing for a state championship was a dream come true.
“If you would’ve told me when I was a freshman that I was going to be wrestling in the state finals, I would’ve never believed you,” Luker said. “It’s definitely been a great moment and great experience and I’ll never forget it.”
Lichtfuss places fourth
Despite a preliminary-round loss, Hortonville senior Nathan Lichtfuss finished in fourth place at 138 pounds.
Lichtfuss was defeated by Sauk Prairie’s Drew Fjoser in the first round and battled his way back with three straight victories to face Fjoser again in the third-place match where Lichtfuss lost a 7-0 decision.
“To come down here as a two-time qualifier, he lost to a real tough kid in the first round and to come all the way across that back side and wrestler your way into a metal match, it’s impressive because it’s not an easy way back having to come back through those high-caliber of kids,” Gennrich said.
Gennrich said Lichtfuss should be proud that he battled back to compete on the final day to earn a medal.
“He wrestled well and to get out of here with a fourth-place medal is something that he can be hugely proud of,” Gennrich said. “He’s a great young man, and he’s going to be so successful beyond high school, and I’m glad I could be just a small part of his high school experience. For him to win a fourth-place medal, he should be very very proud.”