Three grapplers take conference titles
The distance Mike Konvalinka has come was demonstrated last Friday at Brookfield East in the Greater Metro Conference wrestling tournament, when Sussex Hamilton took third place among seven schools.
Wrestling down at 195 pounds after spending much of the year at 220, Konvalinka ran into Brookfield Central's Josh Mokwa in the semifinals. Last year, Mokwa defeated the Hamilton senior in the consolation semifinal of the tourney, 2-0, but this year Konvalinka pinned his man in 3:45.
"I've been wrestling well this year, but that was still in the back of my mind," Konvalinka said. "At the exact same tournament, he knocked me off. I had some nerves going on, but once the match started, I felt good."
Konvalinka then blew past another wrestler undefeated in GMC matches, John LeClaire of Brookfield East, for the title, 11-4.
"I guess there was some controversy about whether or not (LeClaire) should have been the one seed," Konvalinka said. "I kind of had that in my mind and wrestled with a chip on my shoulder. I had to go out there and prove there's no way this kid should have been the No. 1 seed."
He was one of three conference champions, joining Bobby Holzem at 138 and Nick Knoebel at 145. West Allis Hale edged crosstown rival West Allis Central for the title, 233-225.5, while Hamilton posted a score of 201.
"We went out and proved we belonged," said coach Doug Pulvermacher. "I thought the kids wrestled extremely well. We didn't leave many matches out there, with six guys in the final, three champs and eight all-conference. It was a good haul for the kids."
After losing to Hale's Andy Moyle in the regular-season dual, Holzem won a rematch in the final with an 8-4 decision.
"It fired me up a little bit and gave me something to work for," said Holzem, who crossed the 100-win barrier earlier this season. "I kept in the back of my mind how it felt losing to him and I wanted to make sure it was a different outcome. I had to wrestle smart and work that much harder than him."
The senior Holzem grabbed hold with an early takedown and never surrendered that early lead, moving to 34-4 on the year.
"I've been peaking toward the best time of the year," Holzem said. "It's been tough competition the last two to three weeks, and I haven't lost since Moyle. I'll have to wrestle my hardest (at regional) and leave it all on the mat. Nothing is set in stone."
Looking for more
Holzem is looking to get back to state for the first time since his freshman year. Nick Knoebel, the team's lone state qualifier last year, also knows what it takes to get to Madison and showed as much with two easy victories at 145, en route to a conference title.
"I guess some people look at you differently when you're a state qualifier," Knoebel said. "You hear, 'Look out for this guy.' Sometimes people are gunning for you."
Knoebel said he was nervous for his finals match against Robert Keaton of West Allis Central after a close call against Keaton in the dual meet. But Knoebel won convincingly, 8-2.
"Pretty much once the second period started, I just calmed down."
In a scrum
Konvalinka's rapid ascension can be tied to his participation with the Menomonee Falls rugby club, which he joined last year.
"It got me to be more aggressive," he said. "In my matches last year, I was kind of timid and didn't really take charge of my matches, losing matches I think I could have won. I've been more aggressive and been more explosive … rugby has made me the wrestler I am today. I really fell in love with it."
He'll be one of several wrestlers likely to make it through from Saturday's WIAA regional at Hamilton to the sectional in two Saturdays at Arrowhead, where top two wrestlers will qualify for state in each weight class.
"We have a lot of guys who can be wrestling at the state tournament in a couple weeks," Pulvermacher said.
Second-place finishers were Kevin DuVall at 113, Phil Flegner at 126 and Ben Hollnagel at 152.
Loren Hesselgrave took third at 120, as did Aaron Zagorski at 170.
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