With a No.1-ranking on their shoulders and a target on their backs for most of the season, Pewaukee's Jacob Raschka and Blaze Beltran didn't falter on the biggest stage. Both juniors entered the WIAA Division 1 individual state wrestling tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison on Feb. 25 as the ones to beat and proved on Feb. 27 why everyone else was chasing.
Raschka won the 195-pound title with a dominating 14-7 performance over Reedsburg's Dalton Hahn, and at heavyweight, Beltran cruised to a 7-2 victory over Badger's Cole Mikrut. The state titles cemented the two as the third and fourth wrestlers to win individual titles in Pewaukee history. Before them came Chris McIntosh in 1994 and Josh Mohr in 2009.
Throughout the three-day tournament, no opponent could slow Raschka's aggressive takedowns or match his strength on the mat.
"I was as dominant as I could be," said Raschka, who ended the season with a 54-0 record. "I walked away with the gold and I put up double digits in every match. I got a first-round pin (in the preliminary round). I came out on fire and I came out on top."
In the quarterfinals and semifinals, Raschka systematically broke his opponents down with technical falls in each match. Raschka placed fourth last season at 170 and fifth at 152 in 2014 (Division 2).
Against Hahn in the finals, Raschka jumped out to an early lead in the first period when Hahn went to attack, but Raschka countered the throw for a takedown and nearfall points.
"I was nervous (coming into the finals), but I used that as fuel to the fire," Raschka said. "Sitting here watching all these people and the people got so excited (after winning their own state titles). I was just going, and when it came down to it, I just brought it."
With a year left, Raschka, who ended the season with 155 career victories, wants even more next season.
"I want to hit 200 wins," Raschka said. "I want to have the most wins in state history, maybe, and I want to go undefeated next year."
No one could slow Beltran either, but in the land of the heavyweights, the path can sometimes be unpredictable with the wide range of sizes. Beltran, who weighs 230 while the limit is 285, claimed three decision victories and also won by major decision in the semis.
In the finals, Beltran battled Mikrut, who has been considered one of the best 285-pounders all season long. With the match tied at 2 in the second, Beltran used two tilts to secure the championship with nearfall points.
"I wanted to go out there on the mat and just throw him around, but during the match, I thought, 'No, I can't just throw this kid around and get it done with like in the past,'" Beltran said. "I knew it was going to be a long one."
Beltran, who is an avid researcher when it comes to upcoming matches, was prepared for this tournament after finishing third at 220 last season.
"Every day I watched the person I was going against," Beltran said. "It helped to have one match a day (in the semis and finals). Throughout the whole day, I got to watch and learn my guy."
The film sessions especially helped in the finals, where Beltran noticed a key flaw in Mikrut's technique.
"I was watching film, and when he went into tripod, his leg and head were close enough that I could cradle," he said. "Going into the match, I knew that. I thought, 'He's going to do it, I'm going to get it.'"
It was important in the match since the cradles allowed Beltran to get the nearfall points and a lead Mikrut couldn't overcome. Beltran ended the year with a 53-2 record. Both losses came in overtime at the prestigious Cheesehead Invite around the holidays, both to wrestlers from outside Wisconsin.
The wins for Raschka and Beltran came in front of a record WIAA championship crowd of 13,966.
Two other qualifiers for PHS
Eric Halverson entered the tournament with the momentum of a sectional championship, but was thwarted by Reedsburg's Mason McMillen in the preliminaries, 6-4. Since McMillen upset top-ranked Drew Scharenbrock in the quarterfinals, Halverson was given an opportunity in the consolation bracket. Scharenbrock was too much for Halverson in the wrestleback and won, 8-4. Both of Halverson's opponents made the podium.
Austin Shibilski edged out Hortonville's Jack Huebner in the preliminaries with an 8-5 overtime victory but fell to Kenosha Indian Trail's Jacob Simar in the quarters, 12-4. In the consolation round, Shibilski trailed Sussex Hamilton's Jake Macaluso in the third period by 1, but in the final seconds secured a takedown to win a tight 4-3 decision. The next round ended Shibilski's tournament as River Falls' Austen Hakes pinned the Pewaukee senior in 2 minutes, 4 seconds. Like Halverson, both of Shibilski's losses were to opponents who finished on the podium.
Pictured: (Above) Raschka squirms away from Reedsburg's Dalton Hahn in the 195-pound state final. (Below) Blaze Beltran (left) spars with Cole Mikrut of Badger in the 285-pound final. Photos by Peter Zuzga.