Brock Milkent showed the character of a champion Saturday afternoon. And because of it, the Waukesha South wrestler finds himself competing in the prestigious season-ending WIAA state individual wrestling tournament this week at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Milkent, one of the top 285-pounders in the state, appeared on his way to an impressive sectional championship at Waukesha West. In the first round, the South junior pinned Robert Kraklow of Mukwonago in just 38 seconds and in the semi-finals he pinned Alex Morton of Greenfield in just 65 seconds.
All of that momentum carried over into the finals for Milkent, where he took a commanding 12-0 lead over Martin Flemming of Hamilton midway through the third period.
And then disaster struck. Milkent made one bad move and Flemming stuck him, pinning Milkent with just 31 seconds remaining in the match, ending his dreams of winning the sectional championship.
However, Milkent still had work to do if he wanted to make his second consecutive trip to the state tournament. He now had to go into a wrestleback against talented Ryan Vankerkvoorde of West Allis Hale. The winner would move on to Madison and the loser would see his season come to an end.
That's where the real character of the 16-year-old Milkent came shining through. Not letting the heartbreaking loss to Flemming get him down, Milkent pinned Vankerkvoorde in just 73 seconds, earning second place and a berth in the coveted state tournament.
"It was very disappointing to lose in the finals, especially after I had the big lead," Milkent said. "But I knew that I had to get back out there and win another match. I wanted to finish the day off the best I could. It feels great to be going back to state."
Ryan Green, coach of the Blackshirts, said he was proud of the way his talented 285-pounder bounced back after getting pinned in the finals.
"Brock showed a lot of heart by bouncing back and getting second place by pinning his opponent in the wrestleback," Green said. "I think he learned a lot in that loss in the finals. He overcame adversity and now he can take something away from that loss and move on. He's a very dedicated wrestler and I think that showed last Saturday."
Tough draw at state
Sporting an impressive 35-6 record this season, Milkent drew arguably the toughest opponent in this year's 16-man field. He will wrestle Stoughton senior Jessie Nelson in the opening round on Thursday afternoon. Nelson, who finished third last year, is 50-1 this season and owns the best record of all the 285-pounders. He's the favorite to win this year's championship. In the last two years, Nelson has a 103-7 record.
"Brock knows the bracket and he knows that Nelson is a very talented wrestler," Green said. "But Brock has wrestled him twice this season so he knows what to expect. To be the best, you have to beat the best and that's how we're looking at Thursday's match."
Milkent has lost twice by decision this year to Nelson. Milkent also has split with Beaver Dam's Ryan Budde, who sports a 39-2 record and is considered by many to be the second favorite in the weight class this year.
"I've wrestled Nelson twice this year," Milkent said. "He's a very good wrestler. But I learned some things in those two matches and hopefully I can wrestle my best match against him on Thursday."
Milkent will bring some credentials of his own into the first-round match. He's won tournament championships at Sun Prairie and Oshkosh and a second to Nelson at the Badger State meet.
"Brock has worked very hard to get to this point of the season," Green said. "He's very dedicated and has worked extra hard to improve his flexibility, speed and quickness. He's now a two-time state qualifier and that tells you how hard he works at the sport."
Last year, as one of just two sophomores in the 16-man, 285-pound field, Milkent lost in the first round to Connor Hansen of Menomonie on a first-period pin. He did not get a second match when Hansen lost in the second round.
As for this first round match the highly touted Nelson on Thursday, Milkent was straightforward.
"I'm going to go into Thursday's match and do the best I can," Milkent said. "I'll just go out there and see what happens."
South's Bill Prochniewski won the biggest showdown at the Waukesha West sectional.
Competing at 113 pounds, the No. 4-ranked grappler in the state took down No. 2, edging Austin Quartullo of Muskego in the final, 3-0.
Prochniewski (43-2) took fifth two years ago and lost in controversial overtime finish with Bobby Nachreiner of Hartford in last year's 106-pound semifinal, 6-4. It was his only loss of the year, and he battled back to take third.
Waukesha West's Nick Delapaz also advanced by taking second place at 145 pounds. He has a challenge similar to Milkent's, facing No. 1-ranked and undefeated Jared Scharenbrock of Sun Prairie (42-0) in the first round.
Justin Dentici of Catholic Memorial (39-5) will compete in Division 2 after taking the third and final qualifying slot from the Waupun sectional.
Delapaz had to defeat South's Jordan Yatchak in the wrestleback, 6-2, to earn that final spot in a winner-take-all battle. West's Richard Shaw took third, just missing the state field.
The same was said of David McLeod of Memorial, who took fourth.
113 - Bill Prochniewski (43-2), Waukesha South, Sr. vs. Henry Prange (20-16), Bay Port, So.
145 - Nick Delapaz (25-11), Waukesha West, Sr. vs. Jared Scharenbrock (42-0), Sun Prairie Jr.
285 - Brock Milkent (35-6), Waukesha South, Jr. vs. Jessie Nelson (50-1), Stoughton, Sr.
182 - Justin Dentici (39-5), Catholic Memorial, Sr. vs. Lucas Stephenson (41-2), Sturgeon Bay, Jr.