The Mukwonago gymnasium had erupted, Nate Arquinego was celebrating on the wrestling mat with a thrilling, match-clinching victory, and coach Jon Wierzbicki was nowhere to be found.
"I may have been halfway up the bleachers high-fiving parents," Wierzbicki admitted. "I lost it for a little bit there. There's all these hours put in as a program, to have it come down to something like that makes it worthwhile. This is a high-school memory that will last forever."
Arquinego recorded a pin with 5 seconds to go in his match at 138 pounds in what was essentially a winner-take-all bout with Mauricio Cardoso, recording six points in a match he had never led. It was the critical swing in the WIAA Division 1 team sectional Tuesday, and Mukwonago ultimately defeated West Allis Central, 35-31.
"They wrestled each other earlier, and the West Allis Central boy headlocked him (for a pin)," Wierzbicki said. "So it was ironic we went into the match saying, 'Hey, look out for his headlock,' and then we end up throwing a headlock out of desperation. It's the beauty of high school sport."
With the Indians nursing a four-point lead and Central state-ranked standout Mark Choinski waiting in the 145-pound match to close the meet, the penultimate match was essentially the clincher one way or the other. Cardoso led after two periods, 6-3, and he had an 8-5 lead in the final seconds when Arquinego tried one last move.
"When I'm in a situation down by that much, I just have to feel confident in the skills that I have," the junior Arquinego said. "If I have to make a big play, I have to make a big play. … I think of every match as the state championship, because one day it will be. Whether we're losing, or tied, or it's going to be tough, I just have to wrestle the way I wrestle, because otherwise I wouldn't win."
Everything was going West Allis Central's way.
Mukwonago came into the meet missing five starters with illness or injury, including Brett Schmitz, Will Hendriksen, Jeremy Schneider, Tom Stingl and Skyler Mayotte. In the fourth dual, Central's Brandon Driessen trailed Mukwonago's Patrick Thelen for the entire 182-pound match before Driessen landed a takedown and back points just before the buzzer for a 7-6 win.
Mukwonago's Mitch Major secured a win with a late takedown and back points in the next flight at 195, but Robert Torres grabbed a takedown at 220 in the final 7 seconds to break a tie for a 5-3 win.
Nick Armstrong dominated his match at 113 but never got the pin call desired by the Mukwonago cheering section, settling for a major decision. In the night's marquee match, Nathan Smith incurred just his second loss of the year, bumping up to 120 pounds to battle Central standout Tere White, who won the 4-3 decision.
"I'm excited for Tere White after seeing that match," Central coach Jon Nelson said. "He's dialed in, he's ready to go. Same with Mark (Choinski, who pinned his man at 145), he's dialed in and ready to go. Tyus (White) has a tough bracket (in the sectional at 106 pounds), but he's going to beat all those guys in the draw. Unfortunately, we have to focus on our individual stuff, which we were not planning on doing. We were planning on doing the whole realm."
Tyus White, Choinski and Jason Alvarez all grabbed pins for the Bulldogs. Chris Helm bumped up to 160 pounds and won his match, as well. It was a tough finish for a Central team that also lost to Mukwonago in the same spot last year and appeared to have this one sewn up.
Nelson noted that Cardoso had three stalling calls to work with and could have elected a more passive approach with his lead in the final seconds.
"We tried to get our points where we could," Nelson said. "We got our points in areas we thought we wouldn't, but that was definitely an upset we weren't expecting."
On the spot
Andreaus Schwartz had no idea he'd be wrestling until the moment he was told to get on the mat.
Though the senior's twin brother, Darius, is one of Mukwonago's top wrestlers, Andreus just began wrestling nine months ago, though he finished the season as a JV conference champion. Tuesday was his first varsity match ever.
"I wanted to be a UFC fighter, and I figured all the best UFC fighters have a wrestling background, so that's why I started," Andreus said. "I felt like there were times where I was confident enough to take varsity, but the guy in front of me kept putting me down, trying to make me stronger. He was an obstacle I had to go through."
Andreaus said it was probably the best circumstances to not know what was coming, with no time to think before he went out to record a major decision at 132 with two matches to go, giving MHS a 29-25 lead.
"I saw the coach going to the table, (point to me and say), 'You're wrestling.' There were times where I'd get all stressed out about the match I was going to wrestle, so I just went out and wrestled as well as I can, as long as I can."
Darius had just done his park, recording a pin at 126 to tie the score. Tommy Kolasinski opened the match with a pin at 152, and Charlie Younger pinned his man at heavyweight.
"Coach said to me before the match, 'We need six out of you,' so my whole mental thought was to go out there and get that six," Younger said. "We had some guys that don't usually wrestle out there, and we have kind of a patchwork lineup. I knew I just had to do my job and then cheer on my teammates.
"I've seen Nate wrestle ever since seventh grade. I know how he wrestles. This year, especially, he knows what his body is doing out there. He knows his positions. I knew what he was going to do. He's always a third-period wrestler."
And what a third period it was.
"I don't like to throw in the first couple periods," Arquinego said. "Guys have too much energy, they can counter too easily. I was down by several points, so with the time left I knew it wasn't going to be takedown-escape, takedown-escape, I was going to have to make a big move. I knew I had to score and score quick."
Mukwonago will face off with Merrill, the No. 3 team in the state according to the Wisconsin Wrestling Online state rankings, in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. March 7 at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse in Madison.
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