Following his team's impressive 58-15 North Shore Conference wrestling win over rival Homestead on Jan. 12, Nicolet wrestling coach Gus Kaufmann asked his team to close the postmatch huddle with a team shout of "Nicolet."
He asked them to do it as loud as they could, and they did so emphatically.
Such is the pride of the resurgent Knights this season as they improved to 5-1 in NSC duals.
"We were really happy with how we wrestled tonight," Kaufmann said. "Our No. 2 goal this season is to win the regional (in February), so we were really pushing to get those bonus points. Major decisions, tech falls, pins. We'll need those if we want to win that meet. We need to see who we have out there in those big matches because we need the kids to be able to handle the pressure and keep moving forward."
One Knight who is always moving forward is Wisconsin Wrestling Online's choice for No. 1 in the state at 170 pounds, sophomore Parker Keckeisen, who improved to 22-0 on the season with a 19-7 major decision of the Highlanders' Jacob Zupke.
Keckeisen, who was a sixth-place medalist his freshmen year at state at 160 in 2016, said it's going to be a special year for the Knights and himself.
"The No. 1 ranking is nice," he said, "but it just means I have to keep working. My off-season really helped me, especially that time in Fargo last summer (at the Cadet Nationals). I'm better now with people close in on me, better able to handle underhooks (people lifting him from under his arms) because it's going to be a state championship or bust type of season for me.
"We also really want that regional title."
Nicolet was well in control of the match by the time Keckeisen hit the mat against the Highlanders. Homestead coach Ernie Millard was proud of Zupke's effort against the dominant Keckeisen.
"Jacob worked really hard in the off-season," Millard said. "We know Parker is an outstanding wrestler, but Jacob has worked hard and tried to get better against one of the best out there."
There were several forfeits in the match, all part of a problem many teams around the state are having with participation in wrestling declining, but there were still a number of good contested matches.
The highlight match was a meeting of rising 113-pounders. Nicolet's Randy Kuesel and Homestead's Messi Elgin were scoreless after one period, but Kuesel gradually took control for a 6-0 decision.
"That was a really good win for Ryan because Messi has become a very tough wrestler in the last year," Kaufmann said. "I thought Ryan handled things very well."
Other match wins for Nicolet included Robert Lagerman's 10-0 major decision at 126, Peter Driscoll's technical fall at 160, Collin Shea's pin at 182 and Cameron Cooper's pin at 285. Millard was proud of Highlander freshman 285-pounder Mason Resch, who initially caught Cooper in a head throw but was eventually pinned on the roll-through. It was Resch's first varsity match.
Match wins for the Highlanders included Cooper Hunt's pin at 120 and Luke Wolfram's 9-3 decision at 152.
Millard thought his kids wrestled well against a good team. He said sophomore Wolfram is getting better and better in just his second year of competitive wrestling. With low numbers this year, he's working hard to establish a sense of esprit de corps among his troops.
"I'd do anything to get anybody out," he said, "but the kids we have are working hard. We have only two seniors, so we just need to figure out a way to add people and grow the team."
The Highlanders were at the Brookfield Central Invite on Saturday, Jan. 14.
Kaufmann also likes where his team is going. The Knights also took part in the Clintonville Trucker Invitational on Jan. 14.
"Homestead always comes ready to wrestle, and I was pleased with how the guys took everything very seriously," he said.