Making history: Northwestern wrestlers take top honors at state meet

It’s the first time Northwestern High School has had three wrestlers finish in the top three at the state meet, according to coach Tim Kaufman.

From left, Northwestern High School wrestlers Tommy Brown, Ian Smith and Tanner Kaufman pose on Saturday, Feb. 25, with their WIAA Division 2 wrestling medals at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Contributed / Tim Kaufman

MAPLE — With the final 35 seconds ticking down in the third period of the WIAA Division 2 state championship wrestling match at 195 pounds, Ian Smith knew time was running out.

He and his opponent, Chase Matthias of Two Rivers, had kept the score close throughout the entire state title match at the Kohl Center in Madison, and with the final buzzer approaching, they were tied 2-2.

The footprint of the Grand Foot Path in Douglas County

“He got a shot off on me, and I ended up scoring off of it,” Smith said. “There was a little bit of a scramble at the end. He ended up getting away. That was the end of the match. It ended up being 3-2.”

Smith recalled the flurry of activity in those final moments.

“Everything happened so fast, but after it was over it was just a flood of emotions,” he said. “It was a big sigh of relief.”


With the win, Smith became the first individual wrestler to win a state title for Northwestern High School since Mike Kauther in 1998, according to WIAA records. Kauther was the Division 2 champion at 135 pounds.

Smith is no stranger to the championship match at the WIAA state meet. The junior has made it to the finals each of the last three years.

Wrestlers stand on podium
Ian Smith, center, stands atop the podium on Saturday, Feb. 25, after winning the WIAA Division 2 championship match at 195 pounds at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Contributed / Tim Kaufman

One key difference on Feb. 25 was his opponent. Matthias, while formidable, was not a powerhouse wrestler like Clayton Whiting of Oconto Falls, who Smith faced in his first two state title matches. Whiting, a four-time Wisconsin state champion, wrestles at the University of Missouri now.

“Chase Matthias was a super good opponent, but I would say the pure dominance of Clayton Whiting was probably the biggest difference–he was such a good wrestler,” Smith said.

Podium finishes

The 2023 state meet had particular significance for the Northwestern community, as Smith was one of three Tigers wrestlers to finish on the podium in their respective weight classes. In addition to Smith, Tanner Kaufman was the state runner-up in Division 2 at 170 pounds, and Tommy Brown took third in Division 2 at 113 pounds.

It’s the first time Northwestern High School has had three wrestlers finish in the top three at the state meet, according to coach Tim Kaufman.

“For a little town like Northwestern, it was pretty neat to see three kids in the top three. We’ve never done it before,” he said. “It was a pretty emotional weekend.”

Tanner, a senior, didn’t expect to make it to the championship match. His goal was to get a medal at the state meet.


“For me, personally, I think the night before — the state semifinal match — was more like my personal state championship. Winning that was a big deal to me, so the next night I think I took a little bit too much advantage of that and wrestled a little too relaxed,” he said.

Northwestern wrestler Tanner Kaufman, third from right, smiles on the podium on Saturday, Feb. 25, after finishing second in WIAA's Division 2 at 170 pounds during the state wrestling meet at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Contributed / Tim Kaufman

Silas Dailey of Plymouth controlled the championship match, winning on a 16-0 technical fall.

Brown ran into the eventual state champion at 113 pounds in the state semifinals, Charlie Meudt, of Dodgeville. The loss put him in the consolation bracket, where he battled back to get to the third-place match.

There, he faced Wyatt Magolski of New London, and came away with a 3-0 decision. The senior Tiger said it was more of a challenge than he initially expected.

“I had never heard of (Magolski) before. I had never seen him before at any tournaments … It definitely caught me off guard with how good he was,” Brown said.

Tommy Brown, second from left, poses on the podium on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, at the WIAA state wrestling meet at the Kohl Center in Madison after finishing third in WIAA's Division 2 at 113 pounds.
Contributed / Tim Kaufman

Looking back with gratitude

A few weeks removed from the whirlwind of a state tournament, the wrestlers reflected on their season.

For Brown and Tanner, graduation approaches in just a few months. Tanner will attend the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he plans to play football. Brown said he’s not quite sure yet, but he might pursue an apprenticeship through his father’s plumbing business, Greg’s Plumbing.


Brown said he’s most proud of making the podium at state with his friends.

Wrestling at the state tournament was Tanner's proudest moment, especially since many of his family members made the trip to Madison to watch him compete.

A contingent of fans made the trip, Tim said, and the state matches were broadcast in the high school auditorium to watch if students wanted. He said the community’s support meant a lot to the athletes.

And for Smith, Tanner and Brown, seeing each other find success hit home.

“That was really special because I’ve been wrestling with those kids as long as I can remember,” Smith said.

Tanner echoed Smith’s sentiments.

“I got to wrestle in a state finals match, and then two matches later, I got to watch my best friend win his first state championship,” Tanner said. “It was a pretty special moment for us just because of all the hours we’ve spent working out together, traveled all over the country together and then to see each other succeed was a pretty special moment,” he said.

Jen Zettel-Vandenhouten is the regional editor for Duluth Media Group, overseeing the Cloquet Pine Journal and the Superior Telegram.
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