Elkhorn’s Stilling goes after his second straight state title
ELKHORN Wrestlers tend to break down a six-minute match into three phrases.
The first period involves technique. The second begins to test a wrestler’s conditioning. Period three is all about heart, as wrestlers are forced to dig down deep to find a way.
Jake Stilling has mastered all three phases. Unfortunately for Stilling—or fortunately depending how you look at it—he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase his skills in phases two and three. The Elkhorn High senior and defending Division 1 state champion at 170 pounds is such a skilled technician that many of his matches don’t make it past the first period.
“Jake competes with confidence and handles pressure extremely well,” Elkhorn coach Ken Reynolds said. “He knows how to prepare to wrestle every match. He has been very consistent.”
Stilling takes a 42-1 record into today’s WIAA Division 1 preliminary match against Cody Grunenwald (40-10) of Wausau West.
If Stilling can win a second state title by winning four matches over the three-day event, he will join Scott McLernon (1982-83) as the only two-time state champion in school history.
“My goal is to work hard and have fun,” Stilling said of his third straight state appearance. “I never look at who I’m wrestling or what their record is. I know what I’m capable of and what I need to do to be successful.
“I want to go up there and dominate. And that means working on pins and tech falls. That’s what we’ve talked about at club practice.”
Stilling wrestles for the Elkhorn Ringers in the offseason, a club team out of Milwaukee.
The University of Wisconsin was Stilling’s dream destination for college and that’s where home will be the next four years. Stilling chose Wisconsin over Minnesota and one other Division I school.
“It’s an hour away, I like the coaches and I already know a couple of guys on the team,” Stilling said. “It was a perfect fit for me.
“I’m probably going to redshirt my first year, but that’s OK. I will still have four years to wrestle after that.”
Stilling has a chance to be one of two state champions for Elkhorn this weekend. Senior Dakota Johnson is 33-0 at 220 pounds and the top-ranked wrestler at that weight in Division 1. Johnson hurt his shoulder in a semifinal match at a national AAU tournament last summer but is back to 100 percent. He was fourth at state last year.
“That would be awesome,” Johnson said of the possibility of the Elks having two state titlists. “The program’s never had two state champs in the same year, so that would be really cool.
“We don’t talk about it happening or what it would feel like, but we both know what we have to do to make it happen.”
Johnson will have his work cut out for him in a tough 220-pound bracket at state, but Stilling will be heavily favored to repeat.
If you want to catch Stilling in action this weekend, be sure to tune in to phase one. There may not be many opportunities for phases two and three.