The 2017-18 Ellsworth Panthers wrestling team won its opening-season invitational tournament by 83 points. They took the Eau Claire North Invitational title by a 103-point margin. The team competed at The Clash XVI where they claimed wins over Shakopee (Minnesota's 2018 Class 3A state runner-up), Zumbrota-Mazeppa (the Minnesota Class 1A 2018 state champs) and Prior Lake — three of Minnesota's top wrestling programs.
The Panthers were undefeated against Middle Border Conference teams; they beat every conference opponent by at least 46 points. Ellsworth claimed seven conference champions at this year's MBC tournament, and sent 12 wrestlers to individual sectionals where six would advance to state. Four of Ellsworth's six individual state qualifiers earned a spot on their weight class' state podium.
The Panthers won their team sectional final dual 47-21, becoming one of only four teams to qualify for the 2018 WIAA State Team Wrestling Tournament held on Saturday, March 3 at the UW Field House in Madison.
Most high school programs can only dream of a season resume such as Ellsworth's (16-7), but for the Panther wrestlers, this seasons' accomplishments will be overshadowed by their 30-28 state finals loss to Luxemburg-Casco (22-0) for some time.
"We came all this way and we took second," four-time individual state champion Sam Stuhl said. "We have to live with that."
The Panthers took a 7-0 lead over the Spartans after their two beginning matches; Dalton George defeated Jacob Zellner by a 3-2 decision, and Conner Ekholm followed with a major decision.
The Spartans responded with two consecutive pins two take a 12-7 lead before a Caleb Linder win by pin that gave the Panthers a 13-12 advantage, but it'd be their last until Jared Lansing's 6-2 decision in the 152-pound match gave the Panthers a two-point edge going into the final bout of the season.
Cedric Kosnopfal took his best shot at Devan Vandenbush, who he was pinned by at the individual state tournament, and even had the Luxemburg-Casco senior locked in a cradle in the second period. However, Vandenbush overtook Kosnopfal by a 12-4 major decision, sealing the Spartans' 12th Division 2 team title.
The Panthers came three points short of securing the program's third-consecutive state title, but in head coach Mark Matzek's eyes, still managed to give the Ellsworth community something to be proud of.
After being asked to explain the emotions of taking second place at state, Matzek took a six-second pause then responded by saying, "I'm satisfied with the kids' effort, I'm just not satisfied with the outcome."
Like each and every one of his wrestlers, Matzek said he'll spend some time questioning what else he could have done to help his team put three more points on their final score.
"I'm thinking about what can I do as a coach to make sure that this doesn't happen again next year," Matzek said. "You know, I'm thinking of what steps I could have taken to get three more points."
But not once did he question the effort put forth by his Panther wrestlers. "I am so proud of these guys."
Matzek mentioned the gutsy performances of Bailey Poellinger, Jon Cain, Linder, Ekholm and Kosnopfal.
Poellinger lost 6-3 to Lucas Joniaux, who took fourth place at state in the 106-pound weight class. Cain avoided getting pinned by three-time state champion Bryce Bosman, Linder and Ekholm secured detrimental wins for the Panthers, and Kosnopfal wrestled his heart out in the final match of the night.
"I told him I believed in him," Matzek said of his conversation with Kosnopfal during a break for a nose bleed in the 160-pound match. "And I still do."
But as Kosnopfal's final match of the season came to a close, so did the high school careers of Ellsworth's five seniors — Owen Matzek, Stuhl, George, Ekholm and Linder.
"The effort those five seniors showed today was awesome, too," Matzek said.
At the end of the day, Linder, who had two wins by fall at the state tournament, was more focused on his team's final results rather than his own stellar performances. "Wrestling is an individual support, but this is team state and we all wanted to win," Linder said. "All of the emotions come as a team, and we just wanted to do our best for one another."
When asked how it feels knowing he'll never wrestle for Ellsworth again, Linder said, "It is very sad. Very sad. I grew up with Ellsworth wrestling."
Stuhl let the end of his high school wrestling career sink in by remaining on the mats of the Field House until they were rolled up at the tournament's conclusion.
"I don't know if I'm sad because we lost or if I'm sad because I'm done with high school wrestling," Stuhl said. "I think that's hitting me now. It's emotional, and you'd expect it to be, but I'm just blessed that I get to continue with my wrestling. I get to know that this isn't my last match."
Stuhl will continue his wrestling career at North Dakota State University, but he'll leave behind teammates, coaches and a sibling who have helped shape the wrestler he is today.
"It's so hard. It's very hard knowing that after four years of wrestling with my brothers, I'll never get to compete on the same team as them," Stuhl said. "But it's life, and I've been blessed to be a part of this team, and I'm so thankful that I came here."
As for coaches Matzek and Jack Radabaugh, Stuhl said, "They made me the best wrestler that I could have been. I can't thank them enough."
Matzek knows he'll never be able to replace his four-time individual state champion, but just as the Panthers did when four-time champ Jens Lanz graduated in 2014, the team's underclassmen will have to work to fill the holes of the varsity team — the task they've been preparing for since their youth careers began.
"We're never going to replace a four-time state champ in our lineup, but everyone else is just going to have to be the next man up," Matzek said.
But before he looks onto the 2018-19 season, Matzek and his wrestlers will do their best to try and celebrate all they achieved this year instead of focusing on how they came up short.
"I don't want to diminish the fact that these guys took second in the state of Wisconsin," Matzek said. "This team has had some great accomplishments and add in a state runner-up finish against a very good Luxemburg-Casco team. I'm so proud of them."
2018 WIAA DIVISION 2 STATE TEAM WRESTLING TOURNAMENT SEMIFINALS RESULTS
Ellsworth 53, Chilton/Hilbert 6
160: Cedric Kosnopfal (Ellsworth) over Gaven Lisowe (Chilton/Hilbert) Dec 3-0
170: Connor Ekholm (Ellsworth) over Kaiden Mikalowsky (Chilton/Hilbert) Dec 8-3
182: Dalton George (Ellsworth) over Bryce Wurm (Chilton/Hilbert) Maj 12-0
195: Mathias Beyer (Chilton/Hilbert) over Ryan McGregor (Ellsworth) Dec 5-4
220: Logan Peterson (Ellsworth) over Jairet Mikalowsky (Chilton/Hilbert) Fall 3:50
285: Caleb Linder (Ellsworth) over Jacob Gehl (Chilton/Hilbert) Fall 1:18
106: Joe Boehnlein (Chilton/Hilbert) over Bailey Poellinger (Ellsworth) Dec 10-4
113: Carter Huppert (Ellsworth) over Phoenix Ladd (Chilton/Hilbert) Fall 1:03
120: Charlie Stuhl (Ellsworth) over Peyton Ladd (Chilton/Hilbert) Dec 11-4
126: Jon Cain (Ellsworth) over Maverik Ott (Chilton/Hilbert) Dec 8-4
132: Owen Matzek (Ellsworth) over Caleb Kopecky (Chilton/Hilbert) Fall 2:51
138: Sawyer Hamilton (Ellsworth) over Dylan Anhalt (Chilton/Hilbert) Dec 7-1
145: Sam Stuhl (Ellsworth) over Zach Boehnlein (Chilton/Hilbert) Fall 3:47
152: Jared Lansing (Ellsworth) over Trent Breckheimer (Chilton/Hilbert) Maj 12-0
Luxemburg-Casco 44, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau/Melrose-Mindoro 21
160: Reece Worachek (Lux-Casco) over William Johnson (GET/MM) Maj 12-3
170: Jacob Zellner (Lux-Casco) over Nic Petersen (GET/MM) Maj 17-3
182: Landon Lockington (GET/MM) over Dakota Robinson (Lux-Casco) Dec 3-0
195: Bryce Burns (GET/MM) over Austin LeRoy (Lux-Casco) Fall 0:37
220: Nate Lloyd (Lux-Casco) over Sam Jansen (GET/MM) Fall 1:51
285: Josh Marciulionis (GET/MM) over Mason Ravet (Lux-Casco) Fall 4:52
106: Lucas Joniaux (Lux-Casco) over Kohl Linberg (GET/MM) Fall 1:14
113: Isaac Blohowiak (Lux-Casco) over Colton Sime (GET/MM) SV-1 6-4
120: Parker Coppens (Lux-Casco) over Bailey Fitzl (GET/MM) Dec 7-2
126: Bryce Bosman (Lux-Casco) over Jack Marley (GET/MM) Dec 10-4
132: Julian Purney (GET/MM) over Nathan Ronsman (Lux-Casco) Fall 5:35
138: Cameron Lemmens (Lux-Casco) over Bryce Blaken (GET/MM) Dec 7-3
145: Colton Worachek (Lux-Casco) over Hunter Andersen (GET/MM) Fall 4:43
152: Devan Vandenbush (Lux-Casco) over Jaden Anderson (GET/MM) Fall 1:15
2018 WIAA DIVISION 2 STATE TEAM WRESTLING TOURNAMENT FINALS RESULTS
Luxemburg-Casco 30, Ellsworth 28
170: Dalton George (Ellsworth) over Jacob Zellner (Lux-Casco) Dec 3-2
182: Connor Ekholm (Ellsworth) over Alex VandenPlas (Lux-Casco) Maj 14-4
195: Austin LeRoy (Lux-Casco) over Ryan McGregor (Ellsworth) Fall 1:22
220: Nate Lloyd (Lux-Casco) over Logan Peterson (Ellsworth) Fall 3:32
285: Caleb Linder (Ellsworth) over Mason Ravet (Lux-Casco) Fall 3:16
106: Lucas Joniaux (Lux-Casco) over Bailey Poellinger (Ellsworth) Dec 6-3
113: Isaac Blohowiak (Lux-Casco) over Carter Huppert (Ellsworth) Maj 14-6
120: Charlie Stuhl (Ellsworth) over Parker Coppens (Lux-Casco) TF 21-6
126: Bryce Bosman (Lux-Casco) over Jon Cain (Ellsworth) Maj 12-4
132: Nathan Ronsman (Lux-Casco) over Owen Matzek (Ellsworth) Dec 3-0
138: Sawyer Hamilton (Ellsworth) over Cameron Lemmens (Lux-Casco) Dec 3-2
145: Sam Stuhl (Ellsworth) over Colton Worachek (Lux-Casco) Maj 15-4
152: Jared Lansing (Ellsworth) over Garrett Jeanquart (Lux-Casco) Dec 6-2
160: Devan Vandenbush (Lux-Casco) over Cedric Kosnopfal (Ellsworth) Maj 12-4
Video highlights of the state tournament will be added to this article later in the night on Saturday, March 3.