Stoughton Area High School senior Brooks Empey wrestled all season with a target on his back.
That’s what happens for the defending Division 1 state champion at 220 pounds. Empey pulled out a thrilling 2-1 win over Ashwaubenon senior Nathan Moynihan to repeat as the WIAA Division 1 state champion at 220 on Saturday, Feb. 13, at Kaukauna High School. Moynihan was called for stalling in the third period and that paved the way for Empey’s title.
“It’s hard work and determination,” said Empey, (13-0) who has been ranked No. 1 at 220 in the Division 1 Wisconsin Wrestling Online state poll all season. “Everyone is chasing you when you are on the top. They set their goal to beat you. To go out there to take another championship, it’s an honor to take it home to Stoughton and the family.”
The Vikings had all six wrestlers at the state tournament medal. Five grapplers reached the finals. The quartet of junior Niolar Rivera (132), senior Luke Mechler (160), senior Rudy Detweiler (195) and sophomore Griffin Empey (heavyweight) each finished second place. Freshman Cole Sarabacker (113) took fifth place.
“Putting five kids in the state finals is so difficult to do,” Stougthon co-coach Dan Spilde said. “Most people can’t even understand how difficult that is. We always pride ourselves on finishing ourselves on finishing strong. They put their whole heart into it. We have no regrets because they wrestled hard.”
OT move beats Rivera
Rivera, who weighs 126 and is ranked No. 1 at 132, entered the state championship match 120-0 in his career. It appeared like he would cruise to a third straight state championship.
In a championship match against the state’s two top-ranked wrestlers, Kaukauna senior Jager Eisch, Rivera scored on an escape and takedown in the second period to take a 3-0 lead. Eisch came through with an escape and then scored on a takedown with 26 seconds left in the third period to tie the match at 3. Eisch then scored on a takedown in overtime to stun Rivera.
In overtime, it became a scramble and Eisch used his strength to take down Rivera.
“It’s what high school wrestling is all about,” Spilde said. “You have two returning state champions going at it. That’s what people love to see and what they buy tickets for.”
The two-time Stoughton state champion said his performance was bad. He’s planning on using the sting of the loss for motivation heading into the state team tournament Saturday, Feb. 20, at Kaukauna High School.
“I’m going to attack him next week,” Rivera said. “I wanted to tie up. I attack on the tie ups.”
Rivera could have wrestled at 126 in the postseason, but chose to wrestle up a weight class at the regional.
“Nicolar didn’t know what weight he wanted to go and he’s awfully light,” Spilde said. “He went up to wrestle there because he wanted to see that match and wrestle him. He loves a challenge and he wanted to try it. I give him credit for that. Not everyone would want to go up a weight.”
Rivera reached the finals by breezing by Holemn junior Parker Kratochvil 14-5 in a quarterfinal match. He then knocked off Union Grove’s Cade Willis 5-1 in the semifinals.
He scored on a takedown of Willis with 12 seconds left in the first period. He then had an escape to start the second period to take a 3-0 lead and secured the victory with a takedown with 33 seconds to go in the third period.
Rivera wasn’t the only top-ranked Stoughton wrestler to lose in the finals.
Mechler finishes second
Mechler (12-1), top-ranked at 160, went 2-1 and finished second place. In a battle of the top two-ranked wrestlers at 160, it came down to the wire.
Second-ranked Arrowhead senior Jack Ganos scored on a takedown in the final seconds of the third period to beat Mechler 3-1.
Spilde said Ganos’ game plan was to tie Mechler up tight.
“He is one of the best at defending and Luke wasn’t quite able to finish those shots,” Spilde said. “As good as Luke is at finishing he’s about as good at countering. It turned into a brawl. Luke will go down as one of the best wrestlers in Stoughton history and in my opinion he’s one of the hardest working.”
Mechler had a leg attack in the final 20 seconds, but couldn’t come through with the takedown.
“I needed to finish my shots,” Mechler said. “I was in on a lot of attacks and didn’t finish when I needed to.”
One week before, Mechler defeated Ganos 2-2 at the Mukwonago sectional.
To reach the title match, Mechler pinned Noah Kopp of New Berlin West/Eisenhower in 1:38 in a quarterfinal match. Then in the semifinals, he defeated D.C. Everest senior Freddy Lehrke 11-2.
Detweiler pinned in final
The championship match at 195 was the third battle of the state’s two top ranked wrestlers.
Top-ranked Bay Port senior Drake Anderson pinned second-ranked Detweiler in 1:57.
It was the first loss this season for Detweiler (12-1), who will play football at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater next season.
“We knew that kid (Anderson) was a dreidel specialist,” Spilde said. “He fought him off early and then got caught in one.”
In a quarterfinal match, Detweiler defeated Shawano senior Gage Timm 6-2. He reached the finals by pinning Wisconsin Lutheran senior Amos Weide in 4:58.
Brooks Empey has wrestled only two three period matches all season en route to repeating as the state champion at 220.
Empery defeated Moynihan 2-1 on a stalling call in the third period. It doesn’t take anything away from a repeat gold medal.
“He was really defensive against me,” Empey said. “I had to keep on the attack and moving him around and I eventually got the stalling call on him. He wasn’t doing a whole lot so I had to make it prevalent to the ref to show him he wasn’t going to do a whole lot. He was trying to wear me out. I had to use my power to move him to make him look like he’s not attacking.”
Empey (13-0) opened the state tournament with a technical fall win over Neenah junior Caleb Letson in 5:40. He then rolled by Greenfield senior Skley Gill-Howard, pinning him in 1:12 in a semifinal match.
Griffin Empey is second
Brooks’ younger brother, Griffin Empey, a two-time state qualifier, was the only sophomore heavyweight to qualify for state.
He took second after losing a title match to Oakfield senior Ben Kawczynski 3-0. The match was scoreless after two periods. Kawczynski scored on an escape and then a takedown in the final minute of the third period to seal the win.
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “He’s a great athlete and has good offense for a heavyweight. He moves his feet well. We are excited he made it to the finals and it’s always heartbreaking to lose. He put up a nice battle in the finals and that’s an awfully physical kid who has been on that stage before.”
Griffin Empey opened the state tournament with a 6-2 win over Appleton North junior Ethan Hansen in a quarterfinal match. In a semifinal match, he defeated Menomonie senior Girard Jones 5-4.
Empey scored on an escape at the start of the second period and with a takedown and two-point near fall extended his lead to 5-1 at the end of the second period. He was then called for stalling three times in the third period and survived to reach the finals.
Sarbacker finishes fifth
Sarbacker was one of three freshmen to qualify for state at 113. Sarbacker went 2-2 to finish fifth place.
In a quarterfinal match, he lost to eventual state champion Noah Tonsor of Slinger by a pin in 2:39. Sarbacker rebounded by breezing by Shawano junior Damien Wudtke 11-0 in a consolation wrestleback. He then lost a nail-biter to D.C. Everest freshman Easton Cooper 5-2. In a fifth-place match, Sarbacker clipped South Milwaukee freshman Connor O’Donnell 5-3.