MADISON - The simple fact that Nicholas Wilfong was even wrestling, much less competing at the state level, was amazing itself.
The Deerfield junior missed nearly a month of the season with an elbow injury, which he originally suffered in the fifth grade, and kept him off the mat until the day before the Capitol Conference Meet in early February.
“My elbow got stuck and I couldn’t bend it all the way for a while,” Wilfong went on to explain. “Once I could get it (extended) after about three weeks it was still questionable whether I was still going to wrestle again this season; (the doctors) aren’t 100 percent sure if there’s nerve damage or not.”
“Regardless of the injury this was my goal this season. I’m glad to be here and I would like to get here next year and get on the podium,” Wilfong added.
Wilfong accomplished his goal and on Feb. 27 took the mat at the 77th WIAA Individual State Wrestling Tournament at The Kohl Center in Madison.
Wilfong faced a tough first-round opponent in La Crosse Aquinas sophomore Joseph Penchi, ranked No. 4 in the WiWrestling.com poll. Penchi got the upper hand early with a pair of takedowns and a three-point nearfall and led 13-0 after the first period.
Just eight seconds into the second period Penchi won by technical fal, 15-0.
“He knows that if he is to close that gap between himself and the elite wrestlers up here he’s going to have to put in the work over the spring, summer and fall; that’s on him, and I think he will,” said Deerfield head coach Paul Haag. “To get up here and see what it’s about and you don’t have the success you’d hope to have you have two choices, your work to get there or live with it as-is.”
“He’s got that taste in his mouth now and he should be hungry to come back.”
Being the third of three brothers -- Alex qualified in 2014 and Zach wrestled at state in 2018 -- Wilfong took some pointers from his older siblings on what to expect at The Kohl Center.
“Zach helped me warm up and he helped me through the sectional meet last week, guiding me through it. They were helpful,” said Wilfong.
Wilfong finished the season 25-12.
“I’m super proud of him,” Haag said. “To be up here after a nearly 30-day layoff says something about who Nick is. Last year he got to sectionals and got that taste and was able to close the gap there. Now he’s seen the Kohl Center, he’s seen the type of athletes he’s going to run in to here, it helps. There’s no guarantee he’ll be back, but if he puts in the work like I know he will, he will return next year.”