Ghosts galloping into state tournament

The Kaukauna wrestling team practices prior to the state tournament.
The Kaukauna wrestling team practices prior to the state tournament.

KAUKAUNA - Kaukauna has been one of the area's best wrestling programs for years. They are again this season as they carry the number one ranking in Division 1 into this weekend's team state tournament. It’s the one tournament that defines success for the program.

The Kaukauna wrestling team has labored for the past year, waiting for the chance, the one tournament that can erase the memory of a 28-27 defeat in the last year's state championship match.

Head Coach Jeff Matczak said the team hasn’t focused on last year but it’s never far from their minds. "We haven't really had to talk about it much. It kind of left a scar with all of us that won't go away until we have a chance to make it right," Matczak said.

Robert Lee remembers last year well. He said it is a fuel for the grapplers. "From what happened last year, it's our motivator for this year. It's our little chip on the shoulder," Lee said.

With the top eight teams in the state rankings making it to Madison the Ghosts know they'll need everyone in the lineup to contribute. Coach Matczak said this year’s squad has a unique blend of firepower and balance throughout the lineup, which is ideal for the dual meet format. "It's all hands on deck. It's everybody doing what they can. Maybe it's not winning a match. Maybe it's saving some points against a superior wrestler."

Senior Will Russum, one of the eleven returners who wrestled in last year’s finals, said he and his teammates understand exactly what’s ahead of them this weekend. “We all know exactly what we have to do and what our roles are for this tournament for us to win every match and that's really important because that's what it's really going to come down to," Russum said.

The Galloping Ghosts will be making their 12th appearance in the team state tournament. This year's group wants to be the first ones to bring home that first state title. A sign hangs in the Kaukauna wrestling room that displays all of the conference, regional, sectional and state titles won by the Ghosts. The final column remains blank. It’s the column Robert Lee pointed to several times.

"I mean we talk about it every time we see each other in school." "Everyone's got that one goal. It leads up to that state championship. We've been talking about it since we were little kids," Lee said.

Russum, talked emotionally, about what this weekend means to him as a senior. "To be a senior and be on a state champion team to me that's what we worked for,” Russum said. “That's what all the practices accumulate to. Everything comes down to team state and that's what we want, team state."

The Ghosts get their chance to exorcise the demons of past state tournaments this weekend.