Eric Barnett wins 2nd state title
State wrestling roundup
By Erik Buchinger
Hortonville wrestler Eric Barnett won his second consecutive WIAA Division 1 state title at the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday, Feb. 24.
After wrestling at 106 pounds last season, Barnett went into Madison in the 113-pound weight class and defeated Jack Ganos of Arrowhead in a 12-2 major decision in the championship match.
“I think I wrestled very well,” Barnett said. “I got to my offense and scored a lot of points. I definitely still have stuff to work on. With the state tournament and everything, the results were exactly what I wanted. I wrestled pretty dominant out there.”
Barnett said he was pretty confident he would win going into the state tournament.
“There was one competitor that I had my eyes on watching his film,” Barnett said. “I sort of expected to come out on top, but anything happens especially at the Kohl Center when emotions really affect your performance.”
Barnett described the feeling of the official raising his arm in front of thousands of people at the Kohl Center as “the best feeling in the world.”
“It’s just great to have my family there and everybody who supports me,” Barnett said. I pointed up to the Hortonville section because they’ve been supporting me through everything I’ve done.”
Barnett said his reaction this time was different from last year’s state title when he was more animated after winning his first state championship.
“The kid in the finals last year – me and him kind of butted heads, and there was a lot of emotions going into that match,” Barnett said. “It was a very close match and came down to the last second. This year, I was a little more dominant. I didn’t know the kid and wasn’t really concerned going into the third period whether I was going to win or not.”
Barnett pinned his first opponent Antonio Puentes of Racine Horlick on Thursday and later beat Sauk Prairie’s Zeke Smith with a 9-3 decision.
Barnett defeated Rhinelander’s Reuben Guzik in the semifinals on Friday to advance to the state title match.
Barnett, who is a junior and is committed to wrestle at the University of North Carolina, finished the season without a loss for the second consecutive year and has not been defeated since his first state appearance in 2016.
After finishing in second place at the Green Bay Preble sectional, Hortonville’s 170-pound wrestler Kirkland Hills said he felt relief that he would end his high school wrestling career in Madison.
“That was huge,” Hills said. “I had so many mixed emotions going into sectionals. There were parts when I just wanted the season to end because I didn’t want the pressure anymore, and there were parts where I have been thinking about going to state for about six years now. It was a lot of relief after the match ended.”
After hearing what former high school wrestlers said about not making it to state, Hills said he did not want to have any regrets.
“It was a lot of relief when I made it [to state, knowing I’d get to experience this because a lot of kids who graduated before me who didn’t make it – they talk about it 10 years down the road and they’re like, ‘I wish I would’ve done it,’” Hills said. “I kept having those thoughts in my head, thinking I don’t want to be that guy who says I came close.”
At the state tournament, Hills lost his preliminary round match to Holeman’s Kalyn Jahn and lost his second match to Jake Deates of Kenosha Bradford/Reuther in a 9-7 decision.
“I was actually pleased with what happened,” Hills said. “I went in there as an underdog and didn’t have too many expectations. I wanted to go in there and compete, and I had people I wrestled that won metals down there last year. I felt that if I go in there and wrestle my hardest, I would come out of the tournament happy.”
New London’s 138-pound senior wrestler Garrett Ruckdashel grew out his mustache throughout the wrestling season and said he used the extra upper lip hair as a good luck charm that led to him advancing to state for the first time.
“It definitely had 90 percent of my overall luck that I had,” Ruckdashel said. “We put all the power to the stache since after Christmas when it finally started to come in pretty well. The stache didn’t let me down this weekend, I kind of feel like I let the stache down this weekend, but I put a lot of power to it.”
Ruckdashel earned a bye to the quarterfinal round, but he lost to Traeton Saint of Prairie Du Chien in a 5-2 decision on Friday. A few hours later, Ruckdashel was defeated by the same score to Northwestern’s Calen Kirkpatrick.
“I didn’t think I wrestled too bad,” Ruckdashel said. “I had tough kids both matches. I made a mistake or two that cost me a match, and that’s something you can’t do down at the state tournament.”
Ruckdashel said he felt confident he could match up well with just about any wrestler in the weight class going into the tournament.
“I felt like I could compete with anybody and felt like I could get to the finals, and in the finals I probably would’ve had the four-time state champ,” Ruckdashel said. “But I felt like I could’ve gotten there, and I still feel like I could’ve. I had chances. The kid that I got beat by in the quarters, I could’ve beat him, and he ended up in the finals, so I thought I could’ve been there too.”
Ruckdashel said he is happy to have ended his high school wrestling career in Madison.
“It feels great to finally get that accomplishment,” Ruckdashel said. “My career is over as a Bulldog, but it was awesome to finally get there and represent the Bulldogs at state.”
As for his mustache, Ruckdashel took a razor to it after the state tournament.
“It kind of went away,” Ruckdashel said. “A lot of people wanted it, but I just had it for wrestling season, and I felt like it had no purpose to me after that.”
New London senior 170-pound wrestler Jacob Hoier said he has been working for most of his life to have a chance to compete at the state tournament.
“It was awesome, it was a dream come true,” Hoier said. “I had been working all season for this. For the last 12 years, I’ve been working to go to state. I was thinking senior year would be my chance, and it all came through.”
Hoier said he is satisfied to be able to say his last match as a high school wrestler came in the state tournament.
“There’s no better feeling than that,” Hoier said. “I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s great. There’s no better place to wrestle, so it’s awesome.”
Hoier lost his only match of the tournament in the preliminary round in a 6-0 decision to Viroqua’s Tyler Hannah.
“I had a really tough opponent with Tyler Hannah from Viroqua, and I knew that coming in,” Hoier said. “I was still going to go out there, try my hardest and see what happens. I feel like I wrestled him OK. The first period was scoreless, and I ended up losing 6-0, but I feel like I left it all on the mat and have nothing to be ashamed of.”
After attending the tournament as a fan, Hoier said he was not nervous going into his match.
“I’ve been there watching three times before, so I knew what to expect – big crowd, big scene,” Hoier said. “I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be, so that was good.”
Hoier said he will always remember competing for the New London wrestling team.
“All the memories I’ve made with my teammates over the years, all the friendships I’ve made – the bond you make in the sport of wrestling, there’s nothing like it with how close you get with your teammates,” Hoier said. “I’m going to cherish these memories for the rest of my life.