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February 29, 2012 | 07:31 AMMADISON — For the first time in school history, three Badger wrestlers reached the medal stand Saturday at the WIAA individual state meet.
And it was only the beginning of the biggest week in the program's 50-year history. On Friday, Badger will compete at the WIAA team state meet for the first time.
Badger wrestlers have only won one match at state in the last four years, so last weekend's performance was quite the leap.
"It's great for the kids," Badger coach Shane Koehl said. "A lot of people don't know what the sport is about and they wonder why kids would work that hard. It is great to get recognized. The school is starting to recognize us and people want to know more about wrestling. The standard is a lot higher now."
Success will do that for a program. Badger has had two individual champions, but both won decades before any of the current Badgers were born.
On Saturday, senior Eddy Ruzga had the highest finish, taking third place at 220.
After dispatching Chippewa Falls' Grant Schindler, 8-2, in the first round last Thursday, Ruzga faltered in the quarterfinals with a 5-2 loss to Mukwonago's Luke Belich.
"Eddy was frustrated and wasn't himself against Belich," Koehl said.
Ruzga recovered, though, winning two matches on both Friday and Saturday. In the consolation semifinals, Ruzga pinned De Pere's Isaiah Hayes in 4:25. In the third-place match, Ruzga downed Elkhorn's Dakota Johnson for the third time this year in a 7-5 decision.
"Ruzga was very upset about not winning the quarterfinal," Koehl said. "He said he wasn't going to lose again, and he didn't. It was a great way to finish."
Ruzga finished the season 43-5.
At 285, Badger senior Tom Cychner placed fifth with a 3-2 record. Along with Randy Shine at 138, Badger had two kids in the championship semifinals Friday night. However, both lost and moved to the consolation bracket.
Cychner was dominant in his fifth-place match, a 5-1 victory over Menomonie's Connor Hanson. Cychner wound up 39-8 on the season.
"Tom didn't get the benefit of the doubt on two takedown calls," Koehl said. "He had one with five seconds left. The referee said Tom's opponent wasn't on the mat long enough. It's sad because a kid worked that hard and then lost on a judgment call. We just have to work that much harder to take it out of the officials' hands."
Shine breezed through the first two rounds, winning by decisions of 6-0 and 4-1. But in the semifinals, Shine was handled by Wisconsin Rapids' Keegan Einerson, 7-1. In the fifth-place match, Shine was blanketed by Wausau West's Nate Hettinga, 1-0.
"In his first two matches, Randy was real solid,Koehl said. "If would've wrestled the semifinals Thursday, he would've won. The layoff got to him, so he came out timid Friday night. The Rapids kid took Randy out of his game."
In the consolation semifinals, Shine lost, 3-1, to Arrowhead's Adam Yde, who won the state title at 126 last year. Shine finished the season 39-6.
At 182, Tayler Hildebrandt lost his first two matches and was eliminated.
"Tayler lost to an Oak Creek kid who took third," Koehl said. "He was a little overwhelmed. He didn't really blink the whole time."
Hildebrant, a junior, finished 27-11 on the season.
The last time Badger had a wrestler place as high as third was Hank Peters in 2000.
Badger (19-4) battles Hartford (17-3) Friday night at 7 p.m. at the University of Wisconsin Field House. Hartford returns to the tournament for the eighth time overall and for the third time in the last four seasons.
The Orioles had three kids compete in the finals at last weekend's individual meet, resulting in two state champions, Nate Hennes at 132 (46-6) and Nick Becker at 152 (49-2). Bobby Nachreiner (106, 33-4) lost in the title match, 10-8.
Koehl knows the Badgers have a stiff challenge.
"We have a shot to beat Hartford, but they are very good," he said. "They have some holes in their lineup. We have to beat a few of their studs. We need a big match in the middle weights. Randy (Shine), Rory (Shine), Terry (Konrad) and Andy (Cychner) have to come up big. We can't be satisfied with just being there. It might never happen again, and it might be the only chance for some kids. They need to understand that and wrestle their butts off."