The second-ranked Merrill wrestling team understandably felt it left plenty on the table at last weekend’s WIAA State Individual Wrestling Tournament, and yet it won the whole ball of wax.
The boys ran up 81.5 points in the coaches unofficial standings, best of 90 teams represented in the tourney, and four points better than #1-rated Kaukauna. Those standings are based on the same system that was in place until the state team tournament replaced it in 1992.
“That’s a state tournament title for us and a neat thing for this group of kids,” MHS coach Scott Arneson said. “We won a state championship. That’s a pretty lofty statement. Our community, kids, club and coaches can be proud of that. That’s what it’s all about.
“Let alone that they still have a chance to win the official team title.”
The Bluejays put four on the Kohl Center medal stand out of seven qualifiers – including a second title for 220-pounder Tyler Schmidt, runner-up placings for both Mason Reinhardt (160) and Ben Hintze (182), and a fourth-place finish for David Pophal (170). 
Schmidt improved to 50-1 on the year to back up his 45-0 state championship campaign from last season. 
“Tyler earned his two golds,” Arneson said. “He did a great job showing discipline. He beat a kid that was 48-0 and had over 100 takedowns on his feet, but Tyler shut down that mode. I told him, ‘This is your new house, now that you’ll be wrestling down here (for UW-Madison). Make it yours.’ ”
Schmidt cruised with a pin in 1:00 –his 40th of the season – a 5-0 win over familiar Beau Thompson of Wis., Rapids, a 12-3 major over previously undefeated Dale Wanta, West Allis Hale, and a 11-2 major over Kenosha Bradford’s La’Ryan Johnson. 
Reinhardt (47-4) also knocked off an undefeated grappler in the semis with a 10-5 win over West Bend East’s 47-0 Ben Gundrum, but picked up his third loss of the year to Wausau West’s Travis Hettinga in the finals by a 6-3 tally. Hettinga scored a reverse with one second left and a toes-in-on-the-edge takedown during the tight match. Reinhardt opened with a 16-1 tech fall and pin in 3:31.
Hintze (43-6) advanced with a fall in 2:58, a 5-1 win over Rapids’ Corey Abel and a 12-3 major over Deforest’s 33-3 Brock Allen. But he lost in the finals on a tech fall to Sun Prairie’s 47-0 Wesley Schultz.
“Mason’s a three-time qualifier and he’s placed third and second, so he’s climbing the ladder,” Arneson said. “Maybe next year he’ll catch the top rung. 
“Benji took second in state because he put together a great run. Obviously everybody wants to win gold, but he earned every ounce of that silver.”
An under-the-weather Pophal was still good enough to place fourth. He started with a 19-9 major and a 5-4 win over Kenosha’s 48-1 Izaak Simer. But he dropped a 5-1 semi, before rallying with a 9-8 win. Simer pinned him in 3:00 in the third-place match.
“David took a second (as a junior) and a fourth, and his (consolation) win actually gave us the cushion we needed to take the team title,” Arneson said. “He never makes excuses, but he wasn’t able to breathe.”
Two of the others–Scott T. Arneson (132) and Alex Klug (195) – were edged by the barest of margins in their opening matches, and their quality opponents lost in the next round eventual runners-ups, eliminating them from competition. Nathan Beyer (120) fell by major decision in his first match.
Controversy invited itself to both the Arneson and Klug results. Klug lost 7-5 on a close takedown call in the final second of overtime. Arneson led 2-0 the entire match, but his foe not only appeared to move before the whistle on a restart with 30 seconds left, he was later given an escape and takedown when a reversal could have been called.
“It was right down to the end for Alex,” Arneson said. “He wins that, he’s in the driver’s seat to place. It was a little bit questionable, but you’ve got to respect the call.
“Scotty wrestled good enough to win his match, but he wasn’t able to ride it out. The official could have let him know he let his opponent have an escape. 
“It’s a shame it’s essentially single elimination for these kids in the biggest tournament of the season. Instead of wrestling all the way back to third for kids that win the first round, they could let these kids wrestle back to fifth. Two losses and you’re done. Both those kids are top-six in their weight classes.
“Scotty, Nathan and Alex were all one of the top 16 kids to make state. I hope they value that.”
Beyer lost a 12-0 opener to Arrowhead’s 32-13 Aidan Yde.
“Nathan was struggling a little bit in the season, but him having a chance to wrestle in the state tournament was pretty cool,” Arneson said. 
Team Standings–Merrill 81.5, Kaukauna 77.5, West Allis Central 60, Sun Prairie 59.5, Menomonie 55, Stoughton 54.5, Sauk Prairie 53, Holmen 50, Port Washington 45, L.C. Central 41.5, Wis. Rapids 37, Bay Port 36, Mukwonago 32.5, Muskego 30, Pulaski 30, Wausau W. 30, D.C. Everest 29, Menomonee Falls 29, Cedarburg 28, West Bend E. 27, Hartford Union 25, Milw. Brad. Tech./Carmen 24, Stevens Point 24, Arrowhead 23, Kenosha Bradford 23, River Falls 23, Burlington 22, Ken. Indian Trail. 22, Tomah 2, West Allis 22, Germantown 20, Oak Creek 20, Verona 18, West Bend W. 18, Oshkosh W. 16, Waukesha S. 16, Manitowoc Lincoln 15, Fort Atkinson 14, Janesville Craig 13.5, G.B. West/SW 13, Rhinelander 13, DeForest 12, Milton 12, New Richmond 12, S. Milwaukee 12, Baraboo 11, Milw. Riv. Un./Shore. 10, Middleton 9, Oregon 9, Waterford 9, Elkhorn 8, Oconomowoc 7, Wauwatosa W./ E. 7, Hortonville 6, Beloit Memorial 5, Pius XI 5, New Berlin W./Eisen. 4, Waunakee 4, Eau Claire N. 3, G.B. Preb./E. 3, Hudson 3, Reedsburg 3, Brookfield Central 2, Homestead 2, Kettle Moraine 2, Madison La Follette 2, Menasha 2, Wilmot Union 2, Racine Case 1.
Merrill will open the state team tournament in the UW-Madison Fieldhouse, starting with Mukwanago on Friday. If the Jays win, they wrestle again Friday against the Bay Port/Stoughton victor.
“We’ll be bringing it!” Arneson said. “Eight teams have a chance to be the team champion. We’ve been on a high here with conference, regional, team sectional, individual sectional and individual state.”