Aiden Worden got his first taste of the state wrestling tournament watching his older brother, Owen, compete in 2016 and 2017.
Now, it’s Aiden’s turn to be on the mat, under the bright lights and on center stage. He’s earned it.
Fort Atkinson senior Aiden Worden will make his first appearance at the WIAA Division 1 Individual State Wrestling Tournament on Thursday at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Worden (41-6) wrestles Middleton junior Bryce Falk (42-9) in Thursday’s D1 preliminaries, which begin at 3 p.m. and are followed by quarterfinals at 5:15 p.m.
“It’s been my goal to wrestle at state since watching, along with my dad, Owen do it during his career,” Worden said. “I wanted to be on that mat once in my high school career.”
Worden wrestled the majority of the season at 160 pounds. During Badger East duals, he bumped up to 170. Starting at last month’s Terry Kramer Open, Worden wrestled exclusively at 170, the weight he figured to have the best chance of advancing in postseason competition at.
“I was used to 170,” Worden said. “My dad looked ahead at the postseason and saw there were two really strong guys at 160, so we knew it would be a tough road. We considered 170 and when I committed to it, I started pounding down food.
“My speed helps me a lot. I lack a little strength, but I make up for it in my speed.”
Worden’s path through to state was anything but smooth. He finished fourth — and in the last qualifying spot — at regionals. At sectionals, Worden, who is a combined 77-17 the last two seasons, went 2-1 and placed second to move on. He pinned his first opponent at 5:12, eked out a 5-3 decision in the semifinals before dropping a 9-2 decision in the title match.
“I’m grateful to be at state and have that opportunity,” Worden said. “My emotions will not be so much nervous, but they are going to be filled with happiness that I’m there. A lot of thankfulness to God for sure.”
Worden and his dad, Shane, have bonded through the sport of wrestling.
“Having my dad as a coach on the mat is a big help,” Worden said. “He’s able to give me that advice off the mat when I lose.
“At sectionals, he believed in me every match and believed I could do it. We’ve gotten really close over the sport. I know I couldn’t be at where I am now without him.”
At the TKO last month, Worden surpassed 100 career victories and established a new school record for takedowns.
“One hundred wins, the takedown record and winning conference this season are things I won’t forget,” Worden said. “Obviously now making it to state will be on that list too. I’d like to thank my practice partners Rayhan Lopez, Draven Sigmund and Tristen Trevino.”
Fort wrestling coach Chris Winkelman wants Worden to take it all in at the state meet and enjoy the ride.
“This could be the last time Aiden steps on the mat in his career unless he pursues it in his collegiate career,” Winkelman said. “It’s important he just enjoy the ride.
“Aiden’s had goals since he started wrestling in middle school. He set goals for himself and he’s been able to achieve them. Making state is the pinnacle of his goals. Now he’s reached that. He’s such a hardworking kid. I’m fortunate to be along for the ride.”
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