Brooks Empey was a force not to be denied during the oddity called the 2020-2021 prep wrestling season.
The Stoughton senior already had won a WIAA Division 1 state individual title and a repeat team championship as a junior.
As a senior — with the threat of COVID-19 forcing a late start to the season and making even daily workouts a challenge — Empey ground out nothing but victories.
Empey went 19-0, taking a 2-1 decision over Ashwaubenon’s Nathan Moynihan in the WIAA Division 1 state individual tournament final at 220. He won all three of his matches at team state as Stoughton took home the runner-up trophy.
And then, Empey delivered an even bigger result: He announced his commitment to the University of Wisconsin wrestling program.
And now comes one more honor: Empey has been named the Wisconsin State Journal 2020-2021 All-Area Wrestler of the Year.
“I’m excited to announce that I have committed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to further my wrestling and academic career,” Empey wrote on Twitter on Feb. 25.
At the state meet, Empey credited his victory in the individual state title to patience — a necessity in the one-point decision.
“Not a lot happened in that match. (Moynihan) didn’t really want to create action, and I like to create action. … I had to be patient. I couldn’t force things.”
Empey was one of five Stoughton wrestlers to qualify for championship matches, but the only one who won. His brother Griffin, a sophomore, lost in the 285-pound final — as did junior Nicolar Rivera, a two-time state champ who suffered his first career loss.
“It means a lot to me,” Empey said. “It’s hard work. It’s one thing to win. It’s another thing to go out there and defend. It’s a whole different mindset. It comes down to how you prepare.”
Also considered for the top honor was Baraboo senior John Gunderson, who was not denied in this year’s Division 1 state final at 182 pounds. Gunderson (15-0) pinned Ashwaubenon’s previously unbeaten Connor Ramage in 2 minutes, 47 seconds, in the final. Gunderson took second at 182 last year.
After placing five wrestlers in Division 1 title matches and taking second in the team state tournament, Stoughton’s coaching duo of Dan Spilde and Bob Empey earned all-area Coach of the Year honors.
Mark Natzke, who led Waunakee to a Division 1 team state semifinal in its first tournament visit, also was considered for the award.