The Menomonee Falls and Wauwatosa wrestling teams were competing for a little bit of history on Feb. 12 in the WIAA State Team Sectional dual at Arrowhead.
So they decided to put on a good show.
And the final act was the second period technical fall that Falls' 182-pounder Ayoola Olapo earned over Tosa's Matt Miller that drew the curtain down on a sensational, intense and thrilling 30-27 victory for the Indians over the Woodland Conference champions.
"It was just a great high school event," 11-year Falls coach Jim McMahon said. "I don't know how much it cost people to get in here, but they sure got their money's worth.
"... We talked about the journey, some of these kids were born wrestlers, some have been with us since seventh and eighth grade and some just joined us in high school. They all came together to make this happen."
First-ever team appearance
And with it, Falls earned its first-ever berth in the WIAA State Team Tournament. The Indians have a quarterfinal matchup against Bay Port on March 1 in Madison.
Tosa had also been shooting for its first state team berth.
Olapo (42-2) was pleased that the match came down to him with the Indians trailing Tosa by a 27-25 count.
"It was empowering," he said of the feeling. "I knew I could do it and I needed to do it for the sake of my team. It was tough to watch (the 13 bouts beforehand) because we've been in these situations before. I tried not to be scared because I knew I could trust my teammates."
For veteran Wauwatosa coach Kent Morin, it was a disappointing outcome.
And he knew where the match turned. It turned every time a Falls wrestler won by pin or technical fall (three pins and one tech fall) and the number of times his team won by pin or tech fall (only one pin).
"You could see how the matchups were going to fall," he said. "We just couldn't get the add-on bonus points (from major decisions, tech falls or pins). Our middle of the lineup, where we're strong, we just won decisions.
"We needed to be ahead by more at the end."
And they couldn't get there.
Tosa grabbed an early lead on a pin by Devine Burt in 1:03 at 195 pounds, but then Falls seized momentum back with a tough 4-2 decision by 220-pounder Matt Aili, and then added to it with a pin by 285-pounder Trayvon Handy in just 32 seconds, and then with another stick by 106-pounder Aaron Daly over Sean McDuffie (3:04).
In one of the most thrilling matches of the night, Tosa's Kai Castaneda hung on for a 5-4 sudden victory period decision over the Indians' Jerrot Holz at 113. The noise built and built during that match.
It was just a precursor of things to come.
Tosa wins six in a row
Holz's older brother, Bill, (40-4) gave the Indians their biggest lead of the night as he finally pinned Tosa's stubborn Zach Miller (37-4) in 5:48. It was 21-9 Falls at that point, but it would get more interesting because the series of intense decisions that Morin referred to were just about to get started.
Tosa would win six matches in a row and one was crazier than the next.
Ben Reagan defeated the Indians' Casey Crangle, 7-2, in overtime at 126; then A. J. Manucci downed Jake McMahon by a 6-0 count at 132.
Tosa's unbeaten Max Nelson (27-0) had to work hard to stay that way at 138, outlasting Falls' Austin Meyers, 8-4. At 145, Marcus Morrow finally tied the team score at 21 with an 8-5 decision over the Indians' Sam Schwabenlander.
In a 50/50 match, Tosa's Alex Comte outlasted Falls' Jon Haririe, 4-1, at 152, and in the match that had both sides on their feet, Tosa's Sam Bertz outlasted the Indians' Alex Koch, 10-9, as Koch had Bertz down but out of bounds as time ran out in their 160-pound match.
At that point, Tosa was up 27-21, but Morin and coach McMahon both knew where the advantage lay going into the final two bouts.
The Indians' Jake Fuiten (34-13) simply overwhelmed Tosa's Sam Hanrahan (15-15) by an 8-0 count at 170 to make it 27-25 Tosa and then the noise got turned up to its loudest all night, as Falls sent out its hammer, Olapo.
"I remained confident all night," McMahon said. "Even as we were losing those matches in the middle, I kept telling everyone 'We're all right, we're all right.' "
And his advice to Olapo before he went out to the mat? "Just win, but be careful."
Miller had no defense against Olapo's aggressive and strong double leg attack as Olapo took him down and let him up time and again as the Falls' crowd chanted "Let's go Ayoola!" over and over again.
When the final whistle sounded, Olapo jumped to his feet and embraced his overjoyed teammates.
McMahon was happy for his anchorman.
"I felt very confident sending him out there," McMahon said, "because he's been such a leader for us all year - just a great kid with a great work ethic."
Morin just wishes his team could have been in better position at the end.
"Like I said, we needed to be up more, but those last two matches weren't the ones that lost it for us," he said. "They (the Indians) got the big matches with the add-on points and that was the story."
Now that the Indians have reached the promised land, McMahon wants the team to work for more.
"I hope this can now be the gold standard for the program," he said. "I read somewhere that it takes 10 years to build a program and here we are (11 years in). I'm excited for the Falls now. Kids want to wrestle, but it's a challenge, it's always a challenge.
"There's no easy route to the top."
Indians to state
UP NEXT: Qualifiers from each weight class at the Individual Sectional held Saturday at Oconomowoc (see separate article) head to the WIAA State Individual Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison at 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (Feb. 21-23). Both Bill Holz and Olapo were state qualifiers last year with Holz taking sixth at 106 pounds. The WIAA State Team Tournament is March 1 and 2 at the UW-Madison Fieldhouse. Falls takes on Bay Port in a quarterfinal match on March 1. They lost to the Pirates in the Merrill Northern Exposure Duals over the holidays by a 51-24 count but that was with a much different lineup.
KEEN OBSERVATIONS: Front row and center at the Tosa dual was former Indians coach Jeff Dillman, who was pleased as punch with the outcome. "It's wonderful," he said. "It makes you feel great. They've got great young kids with the right chemistry."
Also there was Wauwatosa coach Kent Morin's brother, Keith, the retired coach at Greenfield. "What an awesome high school match," he said. "It was history. Somebody was going to go to state for the first time and how cool was that?"
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