Football always came first for Henry Koeppen. That’s one of the reasons he took up wrestling, qualifying for state in just his second year in the sport.
Cody Endres, head wrestling coach for Lodi, convinced him that becoming a grappler would help him on the gridiron.
“Cody recruited me and told me it would help improve my football skills,” said Koeppen, one of six Blue Devil wrestlers who advanced to the WIAA Division 2 Individual State Meet this past season.
Competing at 285, Koeppen lost his first match at the Kohl Center in Madison, dropping an 8-2 decision to Baldwin-Woodville’s Moson Baribeau. Nevertheless, the junior enjoyed getting a chance do battle on the biggest stage in Wisconsin high school wrestling.
“It was fun,” said Koeppen. “It was a cool experience. It’s something I’ve never done before.”
Zane Licht has been there, done that. The 152-pounder won his second consecutive WIAA Division 2 state title recently and made it look relatively easy. He feels good about his accomplishment.
“Not many people have been able to do it,” said Licht, who will be wrestling at the collegiate level next season at North Dakota State University.
What an incredible season it was for Licht, who became the fourth two-time state champion in Lodi history. He may have had the best season ever for a Blue Devil, as he set single-season records in wins (57-0), team points (374.5) and takedowns (380). Amazingly, Licht did not surrender a takedown all season.
Licht rolled to a state championship this time around, earning a 17-2 technical fall in 5:48 over St. Croix Central’s Noah Nusbaum, a 9-1 major decision over Sugar River’s Eli Leonard and a 6-1 decision against Wrightstown’s Nick Alexander in the first-place match. This time around, Licht had more faith in his abilities.
“Yeah, I had more confidence, especially as it was going to the end, where if I put my mind to it, I could do it,” said Licht.
For all his individual accomplishments, Licht said the high point of the season for him was being a part of Lodi’s battle in the team sectional finals at home against top-ranked Prairie du Chien. Even though the Blue Devils lost, the atmosphere was electric.
“It was fun seeing the guys wrestling their hearts out,” said Licht. Still, he does take pride in what he achieved individually. “Obviously, beating the (school) takedown record and not giving up a takedown all year. That made all the work over the summer and preseason worth it,” Licht added.
Mason Lane also made the podium for Lodi, placing fourth at 182 pounds. Lane’s dad is a coach, and he said he’s gone to every state meet since he was born as a fan. It was different being a competitor.
After beating Prairie du Chien’s Bryce Lenzendorf 7-4 in the opening round, Lane was edged 5-3 by Two Rivers’ Max Matthias in the quarterfinals. Going through the consolation round, Lane defeated Freedom’s Patrick Moore 3-1 and got a forfeit in the semifinals to reach the third-place match. Matthias beat Lane again, this time by an 8-1 count.
“I planned on definitely placing. It’s not how I wanted it to end, but I still have a year left to accomplish my goal,” said Lane.
Overall, it was a good year for Lane.
“There were a few losses that were hard,” said Lane, “but I got better, had better focus. I erased 10 losses off my record from last year.”
Like Licht, Lane loved the home environment at team sectionals against Prairie du Chien. The crowd was at a fever pitch.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” said Lane. “I haven’t seen our gym like that. And then to win my match in overtime and go back-to-back with Kylar winning in overtime, too, that was incredible.”
Kylar is Kylar Clemens, who also qualified for state this year at 160 pounds. He lost his opening round match 6-0 to Freedom’s Tucker Brockman. Still, making his first trip to state at the Kohl Center was memorable.
“It was really cool, a cool atmosphere,” said Clemens. “I got to experience a lot. It was crazy. There were a lot of fans and a lot going on, but I wasn’t focused on that. My focus was on the mat.”
That win in his match against Prairie du Chien was something Clemens will never forget.
“It didn’t end up so good, but in overtime, getting that takedown, that was crazy,” said Clemens, who emerged victorious 8-6 with a sudden victory over Jeremiah Avery in that Prairie du Chien match.
Aside from the results for Licht and Lane, the highlight of the state meet was Owen Breunig winning Lodi’s first match of the tournament by pin in 2:52 over Baldwin-Woodville’s Hunter Gartmann at 138 pounds. He lost the next two matches, one by major decision 11-3 and the other by decision 7-2.
Still, that pin was meaningful for Breunig, a senior who finished his high school career at state.
“I got my 100th win,” said Breunig. “My goal was to place, but it was just good to be on those mats. It felt good. It felt special to get the 100th win there.”
Isaiah Groskopf also advanced to state for Lodi, as he lost by technical fall 15-0 in 5:34 to Regis/Altoona’s Caden Weber. The time between sessions four and five were the most enjoyable for Groskopf, while wrestling in front of stands full of fans was exciting.
“It was fun, but I didn’t focus on the crowd,” said Groskopf. “I tried to make it feel like it was a normal meet.”
Even though the state meet is hardly just another meet.