Shane Gantz keeps the picture on his cell phone showing him standing on the podium at the WIAA Division 1 state wrestling meet in 2016. But when the Waukesha West wrestler looks at that image a few times a week, the intent isn't to recall the joy of placing sixth at 152 pounds. He's motivating himself to finish better.
Entering the week at 26-0, the West senior has only the loftiest goals in mind for 2017, and his output on the mat has demonstrated he's ready for them. Including a win over reigning Division 3 state champion Brock Schlough of Boyceville, still the No. 1 wrestler at 160 in D3, Gantz has been impressive.
"He treats every match like it could be his last and wrestles his heart out, so it doesn't matter who he is going against," West coach Derrick Amrhein said. "His senior year, he has really developed as a team leader. He sets the tone with his work ethic and relentless approach in getting better day in and day out. He pulls other wrestlers aside and gives them pointers all the time. State last year was when everything he had worked for started to come together. He has been wrestling year-round, so he hasn't missed a beat since."
Although, to hear Gantz tell it, the state tournament last winter was one of missed opportunities.
Eddie Smith of Sauk Prairie rode him out for a 3-0 win in the fifth-place match, so Gantz has worked on preventing that sort of thing from happening again.
"I've been working a lot on bottom," Gantz said. "This year, I don't think anyone has ridden me out for more than a minute."
He lost close decisions to Stoughton's Tyler Dow (8-4), the eventual state runner-up and to third-place finisher Tre'Vaughn Craig of Greenfield (6-4), so Gantz has been amping up his offense.
"One of my strengths is that I'm tough to take down," Gantz said. "I score off other people a lot. This past year, I've been working a lot on my offense. My coaches have helped me open up more and use my offense to take people down."
He said his match with Dow in last year's first round was one of the most tiring he's experienced. Dow, who could very well meet Gantz in the postseason again and is the No. 2 wrestler in the state at 160, put Gantz on his back for an early 4-point lead.
"I almost took him down out of bounds at the end of the match to tie it up," Gantz said. "We were supposed to wrestle at the Badger Tournament at the beginning of the year but our team ended up not going because of the snow. I was a little disappointed in that. I just wanted to wrestle him again."
In the meantime, Gantz (ranked No. 3 at 152), has beaten everyone else, including an overtime win over the No. 4 wrestler in those same rankings, Noah Jackson of Kenosha Tremper. The win over Schlough clinched the Bluejay Challenge crown in Merrill and earned Gantz the tourney's Outstanding Wrestler plaudit. In winning the prestigious Mid-States title, he defeated three state-ranked wrestlers, including Jackson.
History in making?
Waukesha West has never had a state champion, though Jim March was runner-up in 2001. Shane's older brother, Seth, took fourth place in 2011, and Seth is now a member of the West coaching staff and working with his youngest sibling.
Four-time Classic 8 Conference champion Tyler Semrad also serves on the West staff and helps push Shane.
"They just put up a board in the wrestling room of all the state qualifiers," Shane said. "It's been a while since anybody has done really well at state ... but I don't want to get ahead of myself."
Shane's older siblings include Steve, Scott, Shawn, Seth and Rachel, who played tennis at West. The brothers, save for Steve, all wrestled in the program.
"His family is a wrestling family," Amrhein said. "He has been exposed to wrestling his whole life and truly loves and understands the process. Going into matches, there is no doubt in my mind that Shane has outworked his competitor. He's a technician. I've never met someone work so hard at something, and there are only good things in store for him going forward."
An initial version of this article indicated that Seth Gantz was the most recent top-four finisher from Waukesha West. Nick Wall took fourth place for West at the 2012 state meet, one year after Gantz.