Capturing both last Tuesday’s WIAA Team Sectional in Merrill and Saturday’s WIAA Individual Sectional at Wausau West means the Bluejay wrestlers will be well-represented in state meets the next two weekends.
The MHS boys took care of 37-20 business over Menomonie on Tuesday to assure themselves a spot in the March 8 WIAA Team State, before things took more of an individual twist on Saturday. Seven grapplers out of 12 qualifiers to the 15-team West Sectional hit the top two needed for a berth in this Saturday’s WIAA State Individual Tournament.
“Seven guys!” MHS coach Scott Arneson exclaimed. “I think in 2006 we had that many. There’s not too many times that happens, especially with the level of competition in our regional and sectional. Half our team made it to the state tournament. That’s a great accomplishment for the team, but also a great accomplishment for these individuals.
“I understand Bay Port has eight and Kaukauna has seven, but that doesn’t happen out of our sectional very often. Our sectional – year in and year out – does very well at state.”
After Tuesday, the Jays lightened up practices for a couple of days, sort of a taper used in other sports.
“We lost a little pressure because there was team state to fall back on,” Arneson said. “But these seven saw a different memo. They wanted a chance at a state title. Five seniors – what more can you want to do than wrestle at the state tournament and state team tournament, no matter how things end up.”
Last year’s runner-up David Pophal (170, 41-4, ranked 3rd), Ben Hintze (182, 40-5, #10) and defending state champ Tyler Schmidt (220, 46-1, #1) all took sectional titles, while Nathan Beyer (120, 29-17), Scott T. Arneson (132, 43-5, 5th), returning third-place finisher Mason Reinhardt (160, 44-3, 1st) and Alex Klug (195, 41-6, 9th) all placed second. 
Pophal closed out the deal with a 8-6 OT win over Menomonie’s Josh Waddell (31-4, #10), Hintze won 7-5 over River Fall’s Sebastian Larson (42-2, #6) and 7-1 over Menomonie’s Mark Bryant (34-11, HM) in the finals. Schmidt boosted his team pins record to 39 with a fall in :21 over Hudson’s Eliot Motu (32-8, 8th). His pins came in :23, :54 and :21.
“Tyler’s mission is to just pin everybody,” Arneson said. “David had another tough match, but he kept his composure. Benji earned that championship.”
Point’s Mitch Mallek (45-3, #2) had given Hintze three of his losses this year, but missed out on state.
Menomonie’s Logan Schlough (40-4, 6th) repaid Arneson for the Tuesday loss that sealed team sectional in a 1-0 match, but Anreson won a 2-0 match. Reinhardt lost 7-3 to West’s Travis Hettinga (41-3, 2nd) but responded with a pin. Klug was edged 3-1 by Rhinelander’s Connor Johnson (38-2, 2nd) and came back with a 4-1 win over Points’ Quinton Peters (37-15, HM). Beyer lost 12-4 and didn’t need a wrestleback.
Arneson was proud of the attitude of three of his four runners-up that needed wrestleback wins to advance.
“They showed how tough they are mentally,” he said. 
Devon Shultz (113, 31-17) lost a 3-0 wrestleback to ECN’s #14 Tyler Deacon (35-9) and placed third. Cody Nicholson (138, 35-14) was fourth, and Aiden Ball (106, 30-17), Hunter Welch (126, 23-11) and Seth Collins (285, 5-5) did not place.
The Jays won the team title by 3.5 points over Menomonie.
Team Standings–Merrill 147, Menomonie 143.5, Hudson 80, Stevens Point 68.5, Wausau West 67, D. C. Everest 61.5, New Richmond 50, River Falls 36, Chippewa Falls 32.5, Rhinelander 32, Marshfield 29, Eau Claire North 11, Eau Claire Memorial 6, Superior 0, Wausau East 0.
Home sweet home
The second-ranked Bluejays may have been favored in Tuesday’s Merrill Team Sectional over fifth-rated Menomonie, but that didn’t stop them from switching everyone from 152 pounds to 220 up a class. An injury to Gabes Nelles (285) helped the decision.
“As a coaching staff you go through it a hundred times how to win a match,” Arneson said. “We thought we could score a few more this way and said, ‘Let’s live with it.’ We talked to the kids early and they said they didn’t care. 
“We got three pins and Dalton (Clayton) came through with a win. Then we got to the little guys and hope they bring it and they did. It was cool when Scotty sealed the deal with the kid that beat him last year (at sectional). 
“We had a great crowd. It was a big night for Merrill wrestling. Our fans were the 15th man.”
Clayton, 15-22 on the season, won a 3-2 match to start it, and Reinhardt topped Waddell 7-4. Pophal pinned Bryant in 2:42, Hintze pinned in :53, Klug won an 11-1 major and Schmidt pinned #12 Jared Baldwin in 2:59. The first four were giving up 10 pounds, Klug 25 and Schmidt up to 60, but they worked a 28-0 lead.
Ball lost a 13-3 major to #12 Joey Ford, but Schultz beat #13 Dylan Kadlec 12-8. Beyer was edged 2-0 by #12 Drew Kress and Hayden Schlough majored Welch 13-4 to cut it to 31-11, before Arneson topped Logan Schlough 4-2. Nicholson backed it up with a 10-3 decision before HM Cole Bartz edged Merrill’s Jagger Scholz 3-1. Merrill forfeited to #2 Mason Stokke in the final bout.
Merrill’s seven individual qualifiers will wrestle in Madison’s Kohl Center starting on Thursday.