Both Whitnall wrestlers who qualified for this weekend's WIAA state tournament lost narrow decisions in Thursday's opening round at the Kohl Center in Madison.
In a closely-fought duel that saw four lead changes, Falcon 106-pounder Anthony Senthavisouk lost a 9-7 decision to Arrowhead's Aidan Yde. The Whitnall sophomore and Woodland Conference champion's season ended at 46-5 when Yde lost his quarterfinal match, eliminating Senthavisouk from wrestleback action.
Whitnall 170-pounder Zach Barnhart gave up four points in the opening period to Beaver Dam's Jackson Bailey, ranked third in the state. Bailey then stalled out the remainder of the match. Though Bailey was penalized for stalling, Barnhart was unable to make up the first period deficit and lost 4-2. The Falcons co-captain and youngest of three Barnhart brothers who wrestled for Whitnall, Zach finished his final season with a 43-9 record.
Despite the abbreviated state tournament presence, the season was a good one, according to co-head coach John Quinlan. "Overall, Craig (Austin, co-head coach) and I are very happy. It didn't look good at the start of the season. Unless you go back to the early 1980s, we haven't had a situation where there wasn't either a returning state qualifier or conference champ. When we drew up a possible lineup before the season started, you just kind of scratched your head--here were young guys that had losing records.
"As young as we are, the focus should have been on technique, but we had to go with a lot more live situations right away," said Quinlan.
The season's turning point came in mid-December following dual wins over Pius and Cudahy/St. Francis. "We reflected a little bit after the Pius match," Quinlan said. "At that point we'd been through a lot of matches, against tough competition in tournaments and duals. And at that point we said, You know what? We're okay. We were 9-7 going into the Christmas break, and three of those losses had gone down to the last match.
"If we'd been 4-12 or something like that, we might have packed it in. But we were 9-7 and saw what the season could be, and the team saw it, too," added the coach. "If somebody was going to beat us, they'd better beat us in December. Then we went 11-2 in January, and we did some of our best wrestling in February."
"We had three first-year assistant coaches and you never know how that's going to work out, but they've done a great job. They and the team bought into what Craig and I did with our lineups: bumping people around for the benefit of the team, even giving up 15 pounds when it was for the benefit of the team," Quinlan said.
The outlook for next season is promising. "As important as Zach Price and Zach Barnhart were to this team, we're still only losing two guys," he pointed out. "Everybody on our roster wrestled in a varsity match at one time or another. And whether it was junior varsity or varsity, everybody got in at least 25 matches. It's going to be nice next year, instead of having one returning sectional qualifier, we're going to have eight.
"They've gotten a taste of the experience. They can see the next step. They can say, 'Hey, I was knocking at the door.' Now it's a matter of knocking the door down.
- When not following Whitnall wrestling, I spend a lot of time hanging out with gearheads at Road America. One of them once told me that you only need two tools to fix anything: WD-40 to make it go faster and duct tape to hold it together. Credit much of what this team did this year to its co-captains, Zach Price and Zach Barnhart. Zach Price was the duct tape that held this team together. Watch this kid before a meet. It's not his own match that he's concerned about, it's everyone else's. The other 13 guys are all his little brothers, including Joe, his real one. Zach Barnhart might have been charitably described a year ago as the class clown. This season: the WD-40. His commitment to the team and to himself has been, to abuse an overused word, amazing. No one, not a coach, not a teammate or fan, not even his parents, would have predicted conference and regional championships, a trip to the state tournament. But they didn't fall into his lap; he earned them, and he led by example. Both of these guys will be knocking down a lot of doors in the not-too-distant-future.