Jack Kalloch had come too far to be denied.
Nicolet's North Shore Conference 113-pound wrestling champion had made a goal of the WIAA state meet ever since he started the sport about five years ago. The thought had become even more urgent when he lost his opportunity to earn a spot in Madison with a shoulder injury last season.
But even after a stellar senior year and a strong tournament run, the dream was on the verge of being denied in the WIAA sectional meet at Milwaukee Vincent on Saturday.
Following a stunning last-second defeat to Menomonee Falls' Ben Bonesho in the sectional final, Kalloch found that he had to fight for that spot at state as he had to face North Shore rival Cooper Fergus of Whitefish Bay in a wrestleback for the second state meet berth in the weight class.
But Kalloch responded like a champion. He had edged Fergus in regional competition the week before, but made no bones about who was the better wrestler today, as he turned Fergus and pinned him in 1:09 to claim that coveted spot at the Kohl Center in Madison on Thursday.
"It has been a four-year goal," Kalloch said. "I knew I would make it to finals, but there I just made a little mistake and it cost me. I just kept saying in my head afterward, 'I can't let this kid (Fergus) stop me from achieving my goal.'"
Coach Gus Kaufmann was proud of Kalloch's effort.
"Losing like he did (on a takedown in the last 30 seconds) was tough," Kaufmann said. "Difficult to bounce back from. But Jack took a nap, put the headphones on and hit the reset button."
A change in strategy against Fergus helped make a huge difference in the wrestleback, Kaufmann said.
"We wanted Cooper to be the one to take the shots while we used our defense to score," Kaufmann said.
Kalloch will have a first-round bout at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Kohl Center in Madison. The quarterfinals will be held later that evening while semifinals are 7 p.m. Friday and the championship bouts are 6 p.m. Saturday.
Kaufmann hopes to bring several athletes with him so they can get a look at what the state tournament is like.
Kalloch (30-8 overall) did that earlier in his career and it motivated him to get to this point. He started his day at sectional in impressive fashion, pinning an Arrowhead opponent (50 seconds) and then doing the same to a Wauwatosa (3:24) foe.
But Bonesho (26-10) proved to be a tougher nut to crack. Kalloch had the lead for most of the match before Bonesho circled and kept his feet moving getting that critical late takedown.
As noted, it left Kalloch bruised, but not defeated.
The only other Nicolet wrestler to advance out of the first round at sectionals was 285-pounder Armani Johnson (17-14) who beat an Arrowhead opponent, 3-0, in his quarterfinal before settling for fourth after losses to Cedarburg and Hamilton opponents.
The only other senior than Kalloch at sectional was 195-pounder Isaiah Agara (15-9).
"I hope this (Kalloch's advancement) can rally the team," Kaufmann said, "because I think we got a bunch of good, young guys on this team ready to pop."
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