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Panthers pound opponents to win sectional title

Austin Welch has a hold of the ankle of Neillsville's Jake Nordman in the 135-pound match.

Ellsworth High School Head Wrestling Coach Jack Radabaugh accepts the fact that his No. 3 and defending state team wrestling champion Panthers are a target across the state.

It's a good thing his team does too.

"We know our opponents are looking to give their best against us," Radabaugh said. "When your on top everyone is aiming for you so you have to work twice as hard to stay there. I don't mind saying on top of being fundamentally sound we're also one of the best conditioned teams around too."

And when the Panthers are trying as hard as they can they are hard to beat as they showed Neillsville and Amery in the WIAA Division 2 Team Sectional Tuesday.

Ellsworth easily won the sectional title for the fifth year in a row, beating Neillsville in semifinals 48-21 and Amery in the finals in the Warriors home gym 64-9.

It was a far closer score when the two Middle Border Conference teams met in Amery back in December but Radabaugh said the Panthers are a different team now.

"The young kids that we had back then, the ones that didn't have a lot of varsity experience, they've improved a lot," Radabaugh said. "They have developed as we hoped."

One wrestler that fit that description was Levi Kuesel. He scored a pin at 145 over the Warriors' Jared Nelson in 3:55 that broke open a close match.

"I know for myself that my strategy was to really be aggressive and attack him," Kuesel said. "We know they were beat up a little bit and we knew we're getting stronger each day and that made it easier for us wrestle hard and go after them."

From Kuesel on the Panthers recorded six pins and also picked up a forfeit win against Amery. Pinfalls went to Tanner Eggenberger at 152, Noah McLay at 160, Parker Hines at 171, Tyler Hunter at 215 and Nick Oeltjen at 285.

Zach Reister at 140 and Brent Stockwell at 112 also got pins for the Panthers while Sam Huppert won 4-0 over the Warriors' Gabe Paulson at 119, Roarke Langer won 4-2 at 125 over Kyle Larson and D.J. Yarwood won at 130 by a 16-6 major decision over Amery's Connor Friese.

Ellsworth winners against Neillsville include Oeltjen, Stockwell, Huppert by pin, Langer, Yarwood, Austin Welch by a 3-2 decision over Jake Nordman at 130, Reister, Kuesel, Eggenberger, McLay, Luke Albarado, who won his first varsity match by fall at 215 over Adam Enstad.

See more on the sectional meet in next week's Herald and in two weeks will be a special preview of the upcoming state team tournament.

Ellsworth will face No. 2 Oconto Falls in the state team tournament semifinals March 6 in Madison. Oconto Falls won the final two matches of its sectional final dual meet against No. 1 Luxemburg-Casco to break a 25-25 tie and win 33-25 for its second straight title. No. 4 Lodi will take on No. 5 Pewaukee in the other semifinal.

This Saturday 13 Panther wrestlers will try to get through the individual sectional tournament in Somerset.