Stoughton freshman Nicolar Rivera was ready for his championship match Saturday.
OK, that’s a bit of an understatement.
Rivera recorded a takedown just 4 seconds into his WIAA Division 1 106-pound championship match against Kaukauna junior Jaden Verhagen. He controlled the pace of the match, and spent almost all of it collecting cradle near-falls on the way to a 15-2 decision at the Kohl Center.
Rivera became Stoughton’s 50th individual state champion and elevated his season record to 55-0.
“It’s feels good, and it’s fun,” the quiet Rivera said.
The freshman doesn’t say much or show a lot emotion on the mat. He gets right to it and doesn’t waste any time creating his offense.
Rivera has wrestled at national-level events for years, so the atmosphere of the capacity crowd didn’t hinder his style.
“It doesn’t really faze me and it’s not really nerve-wracking anymore,” he said.
While it was business as usual for him, Rivera capped a memorable season and set himself up to become a wrestler the state will be talking about for a long time. He’ll get one more weekend to show Wisconsin what he’s got as the Vikings will defend their 2018 title at team state beginning Friday at the UW Fieldhouse.
“An exclamation to his individual goals here this weekend with his state title,” said Bob Empey, Stoughton's co-coach with Dan Spilde. “Now the focus comes back to his team, and we’re excited for his energy to be with us next weekend.”
About an hour after Rivera’s triumph, teammate Hunter Lewis scored a dramatic come-from-behind win for a second consecutive night — giving Stoughton 51 all-time titles, besting Mineral Point’s 50 for most in WIAA history.
Lewis trailed Elkhorn’s Daniel Stilling by four points in the second period of the 138-pound bout before a head throw with 50 seconds left got him a takedown plus a near fall, creating a five-point swing.
Clinging to a one-point lead, he rode out Stilling the entire third period for an 8-7 win.
“I knew I was going to have to pick up the pace or get a big move,” he said. “I ended up getting the big move and started racking up points, and then held on to the lead last period.”
It’s his second title after a win at 120 last year.
Lewis got banged up in his semifinal win over Arrowhead’s Jack Ganos, a match he also trailed by four points but came back to win.
Lewis finished his individual season at 52-1 and made some history in the process.
“It’s definitely a pretty cool feeling to be not only the guy to tie it but break the record,” Lewis said. “Pretty special.”
River Valley senior Shane Liegel won his third consecutive Division 2 title, collecting the 44th pin among his 47 victories this season against Little Chute’s Bryce Schumacher.
“Honestly I don’t even remember (the move),” Liegel said. “I have no idea what the move was. I’ll go back and watch it. But it worked, I guess.”
Liegel finished with a two-year record of 95-0. He won state at 170 last season and at 160 as a sophomore.
In a family full of wrestlers — his brothers have won state titles while his father wrestled for the Badgers in the 1980s — Shane carved out his own legacy with a career that ended in three gold medals, bringing the family total to eight.
“It means the world to me,” Liegel said.
In his third trip to the state finals, Middleton senior and Minnesota recruit Kevin Meicher fell short of a second title after coming out on the losing end of a grind-it-out 8-3 battle with River Falls’ Nathan Fuller.
“I was just going to try and leave it all on the mat, knowing it would be my last school match,” he said. “I tried to go out and there and be relentless. He really was good at defending everything.”
Stoughton had two other wrestlers earn runner-up finishes. Brooks Empey lost 5-4 to Marshfield’s Sam Mitchell at 195. Empey was up on his feet in the final seconds but couldn’t get a tying escape.
Vikings sophomore Luke Mechler ran into a buzz saw in the 145-pound final in the form of Arrowhead’s Keagan O’Toole, who took his third straight title with a 16-3 major decision.
Sauk Prairie’s Bryant Schaaf, master of the down-to-the-wire victory, ran out of steam against the Whitefish Bay co-op’s Dajun Johnson and lost 5-1 at 160 pounds in Division 1.
Waunakee’s Reed Ryan, a North Dakota State football recruit and state runner-up last year, lost to Brookfield Central’s Jacob Somlai by fall in the 220-pound final. Somlai, who secured his pin with 4 seconds left in the second period, finished his season 47-0. Ryan went 45-3.
Wisconsin football signee Keeanu Benton was thrown by Bay Port’s Max Meeuwesen in the 285-pound final and couldn’t recover. Meeuwesen got Benton’s shoulders down in 2:18.
Benton appeared to be banged up, holding his knee a couple of times in his match. He was able to walk off the mat under his own power.
Watertown’s Edward Wilkowski fell to UW recruit Eric Barnett of Hortonville in the 126 final.
Boyceville’s Brock Schlough (50-0) became the 17th wrestler in state history to win four WIAA state titles, beating Princeton’s Guenther Hebbe 11-3 in the Division 3 final at 152.
“Boyceville is a big wrestling school with a lot of history and state champions and placewinners,” Schlough said. “It’s a privilege to be the first four-timer.”
Also in Division 1, Madison Memorial’s Kaden Reetz (36-4) finished third at 152, and Berhett Statz of Waunakee (43-10 at 126) and Cade Spilde of Stoughton (45-8 at 160) earned fourth-place finishes. Taking fifth was Matt Brewster (40-7 at 220) of Watertown. Riley Nilo of Milton (40-9 at 106), Jessie Tijerina of Portage (40-5 at 126) and Zachary Marek of Waunakee (43-9 at 182) finished sixth.
In Division 2, Jefferson’s Quintin Gehrmann (37-5 at 113), Edgerton’s Cole Bavery (39-5 at 132) and Monroe’s Bodie Minder (41-10 at 220) finished fourth. Taking fifth were Garrett Moll of Lodi (42-7 at 132), Devin Alt of River Valley (34-16 at 138) and Dean Neff of Jefferson (47-7 at 160). Finishing sixth were Weston Wright of Jefferson (33-17 at 120) and Daniel Enloe of the Belleville co-op (33-14 at 285).
In Division 3, Mineral Point’s Logan Schmitz (37-6 at 145) took third and Poynette’s Cash Stewart (39-3 at 113) was fourth. Mineral Point also had three fifth-place finishers: Danny Pittz (38-6 at 126), Caden Carey (37-8 at 132) and Nolan Springer (36-10 at 152).