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Nicolet's Parker Keckeisen was clearly frustrated after his 4-2 loss to Manitowoc senior Jose Acosta in the 170-pound WIAA state final match Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Kohl Center in Madison.

He was frustrated by Acosta's carefully crafted defensive game plan that negated Keckeisen's attacks. It was a plan which prevented the Knights' ace from registering a takedown, something which has not happened to him all season.

Keckeisen, a sophomore, went to his knees afterward, put his head to the mat momentarily and then brought it up, disgust written all over his face. It was an expression that didn't change much 20 minutes later when he accepted his runner-up medal, having had his "State title or bust" plan come up just a tantalizingly bit short.

But Keckeisen (45-2) still has time to become Nicolet's first state champion since 1962, while this was Acosta's first state crown. Acosta was in happy tears as he accepted his championship medal and the commemorative bracket. He, like Keckeisen, had no doubt put in many long years of sweat, pain and no doubt frustration, too, to get to this point.

No doubt, he at a time or two in his recent past bore the same look of disgust that Keckeisen wore Saturday night.

Nicolet coach Gus Kaufmann understands that and hopes his ace will learn from it in future years.

"That was a real sense of relief that Acosta had on his face," said Kaufmann, "and I get that. You put that big of a goal in front of you and you put in all that time, all that focus, all that effort. It's just a lot of emotion that comes out.

"Parker is rightfully disappointed. Last year he came to state with the goal of winning a couple of matches, seeing what it was like and he winds up fifth. Everyone celebrated that. This year, he set a big goal in front of himself. His focus was school, wrestling, school, working out. This year, he wanted to win the whole thing.

"So he's going to take this in and get back to the gym and work even harder."

Kaufmann admitted that this was still a moment to celebrate for the program. Keckeisen is believed to be the first state finalist for Nicolet since Jim Wolf won the 103-pound state title in 1962 and the first medalist since Kaufmann's old teammate and pal Amos Besaw claimed third at 140 pounds in 1997.

Celebrate, because the road that Keckeisen took to the finals wasn't the easiest. He had to survive two difficult matches on the first day, Feb. 23, as he defeated New Berlin's physical Jake Belongia (38-4) by a 7-4 count and then came back minutes later to beat Elkhorn's Riley Remington (39-8), 9-2.

Keckeisen and Acosta even met in passing along the mats on Feb. 23 as they shared a moment to check on each other's progress.

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Keckeisen overcame a major hurdle in the Friday, Feb. 24, semifinals when he edged top-ranked La Crosse Central senior Connor Williams (48-2) in an 8-7 thriller.

At the time, Keckeisen said "he couldn't wait" for that match with Williams, "couldn't wait to prove myself."

Which brought him to the coveted and thrilling "March of Champions" along with the other finalists. More than 30 Nicolet wrestling supporters were there cheering on Keckeisen.

Acosta got the critical first takedown in the first period with just 23 seconds left in the session. Keckeisen earned an escape in the second period, but couldn't take down Acosta in the final 50 seconds of the session.

Acosta took a shot to the nose on one of Keckeisen's patented aggressive charges in the third, but couldn't take down the elusive Ships senior as time eventually ran out.

Kaufmann said Acosta set up a perfectly crafted trap for Keckeisen.

"Parker was calm and confident all day, but sometimes you get sucked into the other guy's plan," he said. "It happens sometimes because the first two periods we just didn't execute our gameplan. The third period, he started taking more shots attacks, but Acosta was waiting for us. He was able to position himself and counter.

"This was still an incredible season for Parker. He wrestled incredibly well and represented the school so well. We couldn't be prouder."

Keckeisen has time to alleviate this pain, get to the top of the podium. The Knights program, which finished third in the North Shore Conference and won its first WIAA regional title in many years, is positioned well, too.

The Knights lose only two seniors out of the starting lineup: Collin Shea at 182 and Cameron Cooper at 285. The team had about 10 freshmen on its roster this winter and Kaufmann thinks there might be another 10 or 12 coming out next year.

The program's goals should be as lofty as its leader's, said Kaufmann.

"We got to team sectional this year (falling to Menomonee Falls); now we want to win it," Kaufmann said. "We also want to get at least three or four kids to state next year. Our goal should be to win."

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