Of the numerous title banners in the Nicolet gym, there is one for wrestling.
To be perfectly frank, there isn't much on it, especially in the way of WIAA honors.
A 1964 notation for a WIAA sectional championship is just about the only item there. No one in the school can remember the last time even a regional title was claimed.
But that 1964 note will now have company.
Knight coach Gus Kaufmann and his team knew it had a chance in the regional they were hosting Feb. 11, but he needed everyone's help to make it happen. That included the 14 wrestlers he had on the mats, and it included his family members who were doing everything from running the scoreboard to providing snacks for the hospitality room (his wife Sarah's French toast was a big hit).
Old friends like youth club coach Jeremie Ott lent a mighty hand.
In the end, it all came together, and the Knights made history with a meet victory. They were a little nervous heading into the lunch break, but they came out of it fired up, and in the next round, recorded 10 wins, including eight pins, to finally put some distance between themselves and Marquette.
But even though the title was close to happening, Kaufmann would not let himself believe it until the very last moment.
"Everyone kept coming up to me and saying 'Congratulations,'" he said, "but I told them, 'Don't tell me anything. I don't want to jinx it.' Finally after the 220-pound wrestleback, I could see that we were up 28 points, and I could finally relax."
The title earned the Knights a date with Greater Metro Conference champ Menomonee Falls in the WIAA team sectional dual that was held Feb. 14. The winner of the dual will advance to the state team tournament, March 3-4 in Madison.
"We're wrestling for experience," Kaufmann said. "We'll put in a good effort, but this is strictly going to be for experience."
In the meantime, Nicolet will send 13 wrestlers to the WIAA individual sectional at Oconomowoc on Saturday, Feb. 18. The top two in each weight class will advance to the state individual tournament in Madison, Feb. 23-25.
Returning state place winner Parker Keckeisen will lead the Nicolet charge.
In the meantime, Kaufmann is soaking in the adulation from his coaching friends, who knew how much time he put into making the regional title happen.
"Gus has worked very hard at Nicolet to build it," said retired Whitefish Bay, Germantown and Homestead coach Barry Bernstein. "I hope this gives him some added tools in his recruiting bag and increased visibility across the school."
"I’m happy for Gus," said Bay coach Dale Loebel. "Winning the regional was their goal from the day the WIAA announced the new regional assignments.They had a run where they had bonus points in a bunch of matches, and the momentum turned in their direction. Their kids and their staff work hard. That regional plaque is something they can always look back on with pride. I hope they carry that momentum and have a great sectional."
It will be hard for them to top the regional title.
The Knights earned four class titles and scored 243 points to outdistance Marquette (225).
Earning the individual titles were Ryan Kuesel at 113 pounds (35-6), Robert Lagerman at 126 (15-20), Keckeisen at 170 (38-1) and Collin Shea at 182 (24-8). Kaufmann said it was a great day for Lagerman to earn his first tourney title and noted Shea did a great job of rallying after falling behind in the first period of the title match.
Seconds went to Kazi Wynn-Beavers at 106 (12-13), Peter Driscoll at 160 (19-18) and Cameron Cooper at 285 (11-16). Other sectional qualifiers included Alex Riedijk at 132 (20-19), Jaren Yoder at 138 (20-22), Ray Martin at 145 (2-6), Nick Noble at 152 (10-16), Will Deitrich at 195 (7-9) and Barry Quinnies (3-7) at 220.
"It was a small tourney, and in a situation like that, it can sometimes be hard to stay focused," Kaufmann said, "but everyone was on point and really pulled their own weight. We battled straight on through."