Scoles on the hunt for rare four-peat

Kewaskum junior Braeden Scoles rides on the back of Amery senior Eddie Simes in the 160-pound championship match during the 2022 WIAA Division 2 State Individual Wrestling Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison.

Kewaskum wrestler Braeden Scoles is a lunch-bucket, team-first sort of person in the practice room, the sort who blends into the background and is just one of the guys.

“No special treatment, it’s the way I Iike it,” he said. “We’re all just friends and treat each other the same way.”

In keeping with that spirit, the three-time WIAA state D2 champion is always trying to improve himself either with early morning workouts or by going to Max Askren’s Academy in Mequon where he’ll test himself against the likes of WIAA state D1 160-pound favorite and friend Charlie Millard of Homestead.

Fourth-ranked nationally by FloWrestling at 160, Scoles prepared himself for his final prep season by going an impressive 7-1 in the Fargo Nationals over the summer, losing a tough decision in the semifinals but still taking an impressive third.

That finish did not satisfy him at all.

“I was a bit disappointed,” he said. “I wanted to be on top. It was just fuel for me and proved that I was not where I wanted to be yet.”

He is having a hard time convincing anyone is Wisconsin of that point, as the overwhelming majority of his 49 wins (against zero losses) this winter have been by pin or technical fall. The closest match so far this season was a 6-4 decision over Millard in the finals of the Homestead Scramble in January.

“That was a good one,” said Scoles. “Charlie and I wrestle together all the time.”

It’s all in preparation for Scoles’ attempt to carve his name on the Mt. Rushmore of Wisconsin prep wrestling this weekend at the WIAA state tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison.

If he steps on top of the podium on Saturday night again as the D2 160pound champion as he is heavily favored to, he will become only the 23rd wrestler in history to win four consecutive WIAA state titles, joining the likes of local legends such as Olympian Jesse Thielke of Germantown and Keegan O’Toole of Arrowhead.

Not that Scoles has given the much-sought-after honor much thought.

“I really don’t know what I think about that right now,” he said of the fourth title. “I let other people think about it. I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve been doing and not let myself get overwhelmed.

“It is cool though, and I do really appreciate the opportunity to be here, because a lot of other great kids have not.”

But his thoughts go well beyond his place in history, because Scoles sees himself as a “relationship kind of guy” someone who likes to talk to people, bring them into the process and help them feel welcome.

Given his attitude, the momentous feat of a fourth straight title is only a small part of the story of legacy and leadership that Scoles wants to leave behind at Kewaskum. He wants the program to grow and to be even better after he graduates and takes his formidable skills to the University of Illinois next fall.

Kewaskum coach Scott Rhoads said that Scoles is succeeding at the task in an impressive way far belying his still young years.

“Braeden has made Kewaskum notice our wrestling program and has made many young students want to be a part of it,” he said. “Our numbers are skyrocketing, and he's the reason. Everyone looks up to him, not only because of his winning, but more so because anyone can catch him on the side, and he will pay them undivided attention and care.

“It's near impossible to find another teenager who is on that level of maturity. I think he knows what his daily impact is for our program, and he goes about it in a perfect way. I’ve never heard him say a single statement about his success, in fact he really hates to mention it.

“He grounds himself with his teammates and encourages them to be the best they can be. In this case, we have many second-year athletes who look as though they’ve been in the sport for a decade, and he’s a big part of their growth and success.”

That’s exactly the point Scoles is trying to make and as evidence of that, he and many of his Indian teammates helped out at the staggeringly successful youth tournament that Kewaskum hosted on Feb. 19 where it was literally elbowto- elbow with little future potential state champions.

“The kids tourney was even better than last year’s,” said Scoles. “We had around 525 kids and it was a blast working with them. It was really busy, but we managed.”

In comparison, last year’s youth tourney, which Scoles worked the day after he won his third state D2 title, drew north of 350 wrestlers.

The increase has everything to do with Scoles, said Rhoads.

“He is so aware of his team, their wants, and their needs,” said Rhoads. “If I ask him to do something specific for our team, he’s on it without a hesitation.

“Lately, I’ve really been taking advantage of him as a senior, making club tournament videos to help our club break record attendance in other recent home event, then I ask him to take a big risk and do a Facebook Live interview in front of the full tournament attendance and he said ’Yes’ immediately.”

The level of engagement by an elite athlete like Scoles on the youth level is already having a ripple effect on the Kewaskum high school team.

The Indians came up just a little short of claiming the East Central Conference title this winter losing on close calls in both the dual meet and tournament to eventual champion Winneconne.

But they were able to close the team portion of the season on a great note on Feb. 11, when they finished second in the WIAA D2 regional at Portage, earning a berth in the WIAA team dual sectional championships on Feb. 14 at Lodi.

There they lost their semifinal to eventual sectional champion Prairie du Chien, but the memory of earning that team qualifying berth is something Scoles said he will treasure.

“We were down 2-1/2 points (to Campbellsport) for second,” said Scoles, “and it all came down to Dominic Eversmann (at 285 pounds). He needed to win (his wrestleback for second) as it was the final match of the tournament, and it seemed like the entire gym was surrounding that mat.

“When he won everyone went crazy!”

Scoles did his bit to help the cause that day with three pins.

As Rhoads said, the team’s increased competitiveness is because Scoles has attracted more people to come out (25 this season). He has made wrestling cool at Kewaskum and he’s reveling in the benefits of his “Pied Piper” status in his final prep season, especially with moments such as that eventful regional meet.

“I’m really enjoying this season,” he said. “We’ve got a nice full team for a change, which is a lot of fun. I think in my sophomore year we had only eight to 10 guys and now we’re filling all 14 (weight classes) for the first time in a long time.”

Scoles (49-0 on the season and 1603 for his career) will bring along part of the present and that carefully cultivated future of Kewaskum wrestling with him to Madison this weekend.

He will be joined by junior repeat state qualifier Dylan Soyk (43-7) at 195 and first-time state advancers freshmen James Racer at 113 (45-7) and Ethan Immel at 120 (41-11). Scoles, as the top seed, will get a bye into quarterfinal round that will be contested on Friday morning, Feb. 24, while the others will take part in first-round bouts this evening.

Finals will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday Feb. 25.

Scoles is more excited about his teammates’ prospects than he is for his own.

“I think James and Ethan have a chance at getting on the podium (top six),” said Scoles. “They have three more great years of wrestling ahead of them and I think Dylan is really dialed in now. He definitely has a great chance of placing.”

Scoles is endlessly grateful to his hometown for the opportunity and to Rhoads for helping cultivate his talent.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better coach than Scott,” said Scoles. “He’s done everything I needed him to do to help me be successful. He’s been very consequential in how well I’ve done.”

As for Rhoads, he is going to take in this moment and savor every second of Scoles’ final matches in a Kewaskum singlet.

“Coaching an athlete that has the ability to reach a fourth state title is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “Many coaches retire without the opportunity to sit mat-side of a kid like that. I’m extremely lucky to have that opportunity.

“I’m lucky he’s a Kewaskum athlete, lucky he has the work ethic he has, and very lucky he’s the most humble, selfless kid I’ve ever met. … If he wins his fourth title, it will be a great honor to have been invited to his mat.”

Scoles now stands as someone who has an excellent chance to step on center stage Saturday night at the Kohl Center in Madison and bask in the loud, warm applause of 17,000 wrestling fans who understand when real history is being made.

Even if the historic figure himself is still trying to puzzle out what all the fuss is about.

“I’ll try to take it all in and enjoy it,” Scoles said. “Think about it being my last moment here, moving on from high school and my home town.

“All that it means to me.”

Stay up-to-date on all the latest Washington County sports news with a subscription: Click here