Koel is still the trailblazer for Falls' wrestling program
Won district's only state title in 1981
Before there were recent WIAA state runner-ups Ayoola Olapo or Aaron Daly or before there were recent state placewinners like Bill Holz, James Dederich or Mike Basch (it's not a fully inclusive list here), there was Pat Koel, the only state champion in Menomonee Falls wrestling history, who claimed his crown in the 138-pound class for old Falls East in 1981.
Koel was a most unlikely and humble champion.
"He was something," said then Falls East coach Rick Ericksen. "He would be the one that would come to the Saturday practices with doughnuts, which really didn't sit well with me (as all wrestlers try to watch their weight), and he was a guy who came into state with something like six losses (28-6 overall) but he just came out of nowhere to become number one."
Ericksen, who spent 17 years as a business manager and comptroller for the Falls School District and who has been the Director of Business and Auxiliary Services for the Germantown Schools for the last six years, was himself a 1972 graduate of Falls East, who served as an assistant and then head coach for the Titans' grappling program in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He noted that he tried to raise the bar for the East program back then, getting them into tougher tournaments like the Hartford Duals and others. Koel and his teammates like Paul Thielke, Pat Davidson and well-known area wrestling official Gary Teeters, succeeded, lifting the Titans into the championship ranks of the old and still much-missed Braveland Conference and earning coveted individual state tournament berths for Teeters, Koel and others.
Which culminated in the WIAA state tournament of 1981. Ericksen said that Koel had had a solid year but nothing to indicate that he could become a state champion.
He got through the preliminary rounds at state and then found himself in the finals, facing a wrestler from Oregon, Wisconsin.
Ericksen can still remember the match to this day.
"He (Koel) was behind, but then he hit this step-over move and put the guy to his back for a five-point swing," said Ericksen. "It was a huge change in momentum and we were all stunned by it."
And when Koel's arm was raised in triumph before the old UW-Madison Fieldhouse throng, Ericksen remembers being very moved by it all.
"I can't even begin to describe how I felt," he said with a chuckle. "I think I cried. It was an achievement I didn't if he would be able to pull off, but he did it. …I just think he was a very hard worker, who had battled some tough competition that season and came into his own at the right time."
Thirty-plus years on, Koel remains a quiet and humble individual, said Ericksen, shunning the limelight, and telling anyone that will listen there are others who have achieved more and who are much more worthy of attention than he.
But he is and remains the standard bearer for the wrestling program, which hadn't even gotten anyone to the state individual finals after Koel until this recent marvelous finish for the Indians. That effort included Daly at 106 pounds and Olapo at 182, making WIAA State Individual finals, which they both lost in very tough matches.
Current Falls' coach Jim McMahon thinks that Koel is a great role model for the team to look up to.
"I want him to get the recognition he deserves," said McMahon.
As for Ericksen, he is impressed by what McMahon and his team achieved this year, as the Indians won Greater Metro Conference Tournament, WIAA regional and WIAA Team Dual sectional titles (which earned them their first-ever berth at the state team tournament).
"Because I know what kind of work had to go into it," he said. "What they've done is very special, beyond explanation."
Koel serves as role model
Only Falls state wrestling champ
FINAL NOTES ON THE GREAT FALLS SEASON: Seniors in the final 14-man line-up included Olapo (48-3), Matt Aili at 220 (21-23), Alex Koch at 160 (20-17), Jon Haririe at 152 (23-19), Sam Schwabenlander at 145 (29-17) and Austin Meyers at 138 (21-19). Senior Nick Umbs (9-15) also contributed at 182 and 195 during the course of the season. Key returnees include state qualifiers Daly at 106 (45-8), 113 Jerott Holz at 113 (34-9), and Bill Holz at 120 (45-6), along with Casey Crangle at 126 (35-14), Jake McMahon at 132 (21-14), Jake Fuiten at 170 (37-14), James Dow at 195 (18-16) and Trayvon Handy at 285 (20-16).
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