Kuklinski Pulls Rank

By Joe Shinners

Special to the Journal Sentinel

      Ask third-year Milwaukee Pulaski wrestling coach Joe Flick what strikes him most about junior Jeremy Kuklinski and he quickly summarizes the 103-pounder’s main attribute.

      “Hard work,” said Flick of his star wrestler. “He’s always working hard. He’s been a pleasure to coach. He’s constantly working.”

That effort has helped Kuklinski, in only his third year of wrestling when most sports demand youth training and year-round involvement, hold the No. 5 ranking in the state among Division 1 103-pounders this year.

Kuklinski actually started the year ranked No. 1 at 103 in D1 in the initial ranking at wiwrestling.com. But he fell to No. 5 behind Port Washington freshman Alex Dieringer (No. 1), Wausau West sophomore Jon Schuster (2), Tomah junior Kevin Betthauser (3) and Janseville Craig freshman Siven Furseth (4) after the first weeks of the season.

It wasn’t that Kuklinski did anything wrong. The returning state qualifier went 10-0 at the Milwuakee Hamilton Duals last week to improve his overall record to 23-0 this year and has given up only one takedown to start a match all year.

Among the victories was a 3-2 decision over Milwaukee Custer/Marshall senior Jordan Roberts at the Hamilton Tournament. Roberts was a state qualifier a year ago as well.

Kuklinski controlled the match with his double-leg ride and strong upper body to get past Roberts. Those are his strengths on the mat, and he developed them searching for workouts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, area camps and clinics.

“Jeremy’s got a man-strength to him compared to other 103-pounders,” said Flick. “From his first year to now, he’s totally refined.”

That’s why, Kuklinski isn’t worried about his drop in the rankings, especially with a chance to prove himself at the 56-team Oshkosh on the Water Tournament, one of the state’s big holiday tournaments.

It is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Friday and conclude with the finals at 5 p.m. Saturday at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Kuklinski finished fifth at Oshkosh a year ago in a breakout performance.

“I’m not worried about it,” said Kuklinski after the Hamilton tournament of his drop in the rankings. “I’m just trying to take it one match at a time. I was surprised I was ranked No. 1. My goal is to go back to state. And win it.”

No matter what happens from here on out, Kuklinski will have to thank Pulaski teacher Rudy Ruiz for spotting the bulky 103-pounder walking through the hallways at school during Kuklinski’s freshman year.

“He asked me to go out,” said Kuklinski. “At first I didn’t want to. But I said I’ll try it and I liked it.”

Kuklinski went 23-13 as a freshman and posted a record last year of 43-8, leading to this year’s rise a top-five ranked wrestler.

Ruiz, a three-time private schools 103 state champion from Milwaukee Thomas More, had an eye for talent. Kuklinski, a chiseled and powerful lightweight, has been hard at work ever since.

“Rudy found him,” said Flick. “It took while for Jeremy. It was a bit of a struggle at times, just like any other young kid. But once Jeremy began to pick it up, then the wheels started turning in his head. He’s got a hunger for learning.”

And his involvement has been more beneficial that racking up victories on the mat. His grades have improved to the point that becoming an academic violation casualty is not an issue, and his temper has been brought under control.

“It’s been good,” Kuklinski said. “I have anger management problems and wrestling has helped me deal with that. And it helped me with my academics. I mean, I’m not a 4-point student, but I get a 2.5. Wrestling helped me organize and get better at my studies.”