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WIAA team state preview: Panthers in pursuit of three-peat

The Ellsworth Panthers will compete in the WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament in Madison on Saturday, March 3 where they will attempt to bring home the program's third consecutive team state title. Photo courtesy of Jon Claesson

The Panthers will return to Madison's UW Field House on Saturday, March 3 — a facility that's become their home away from home — to compete in the 27th Annual WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament for the 13th year in a row and the 17th time in program history.

Though the Panthers have won eight team titles, last year was the first year the program had won back-to-back Division 2 state championships. The Panthers plan to add to their list of consecutive titles by bringing home gold hardware on Saturday.

What: 27th Annual WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament

Where: UW Field House, Madison

When: The Division 2 and 3 semifinals begin on Saturday, March 3 at 10 a.m., and the finals will follow at 3 p.m. The Division 1 quarterfinals will begin on Friday, March 2 at 5:30 p.m., D1 semifinals are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday night, and the finals will begin Saturday at 3 p.m.

Price: Ticket prices are $13 for the Friday sessions and $8 for the Saturday sessions.

Here's a preview of all four teams that will be competing in the Division 2 WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament:

Ellsworth (15-6): The Panthers advanced to the state tournament after defeating Spencer/Columbus Catholic on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at the sectional final held at Hayward where they claimed a 47-21 win over the Rockets and their 15th dual win of the season. Instead of just preparing themselves for March by dominating conference opponents, the Panthers decided to up the ante this year by adding some more challenging opponents to their schedule. The Panthers competed in the Clash National Wrestling Duals in January for the first time in program history where they saw 28 of the best high school wrestling teams in the nation. Three of Ellsworth's six dual losses came at the Clash; they were defeated by Oak Park River (Illinois), Vacaville (California) and Wasatch (Utah's 2017 4A state champs). The three other Panther dual losses came from well-respected Minnesota teams — Foley, Albert Lea and Simley. Ellsworth's head coach Mark Matzek designed his team's 2017-18 schedule with one end goal: being primed for the team state tournament. As the one seed, the Panthers will face Chilton/Hilbert in the semifinals at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Luxemburg-Casco (20-0): The Spartans will also be making their 17th appearance at the state tournament this weekend, and are looking to seek vengeance for the 2017 tournament. The Panthers edged the Spartans 27-26 in last year's finals, giving Luxemburg-Casco its fourth state runner-up finish in program history. The Spartans sealed a spot in the tournament by defeating Lakeland 63-8 at the Freedom Sectional final, and enter into the tournament with a perfect dual record. They've won 11 Division 2 team titles (1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2012 and 2013) and hope to add their 12th on Saturday. The Spartans, the No. 2 seed, will take on Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau/Melrose-Mindoro in Saturday's semifinals, and are expected to get a finals rematch against the Panthers Saturday afternoon.

Chilton/Hilbert (16-6): The Tigers are much less familiar with the UW Field House than the Panthers or Spartans, and will be making their second state tournament appearance on Saturday. The only other time the co-op qualified to compete on the big stage was in 2013 when they were eliminated in the semifinals. The Tigers earned a trip to Madison by defeating Kewaskum by a one-point margin in their sectional final dual. Their reward? Facing Ellsworth, one of the most decorated programs in Wisconsin, in the first round.

Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau/Melrose-Mindoro (10-5): Saturday will be the Red Hawks' debut at the team state tournament. Their introduction to the Field House comes following a 31-30 decision over Lodi in the Viroqua Sectional final. They'll have their work cut out for them against the Spartans in Saturday's opening round.

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