The 2021 State Wrestling Tournament feels different but it also has some welcome adjustments.
The first thing wrestlers noticed was the weigh-in and warm up areas. A move from the hallways of the CHI Health Center to the convention center area. The first thing fans will notice is six mats on the first day as opposed to eight. Most of the changes are welcomed by coaches.
“The warmup area is excellent. If that is the change you want to keep from COVID that would be the one we want to keep,” Omaha Central coach Jimmie Foster said. “I’d like to see them bring a couple more mats down and give us more space.”
The biggest change to this year’s state tournament is the format. The four classes will have two day tournaments. Class A and D Wednesday and Thursday with B and C on Friday and Saturday. Similar to the NCAA Division II National Championships.
The Friday night semifinals at the state wrestling tournament is one of the best nights of the year in prep sports. This year the semis and finals will be all in one day.
“If you go three days you can get a little more of that pageantry into it,” Foster said. “The kids can have some of that build up. When you do a two day (tournament) it turns it into more of a traditional tournament feel in a high school gym. I hope when we come back fully we can go back to a three day tournament.”
The traditionally large crowds are missing this year with the four classes split into separate sessions.
“I understand why we did it for COVID. I know I enjoy watching the Class D kids and there is more to it with the crowds and everyone screaming,” Foster said. “From a coaching standpoint you want your kids to experience it and the fans to enjoy themselves.”
Most of the coaches and athletes have adjusted well to the changes. Considering the alternative of not wrestling at all.
“With Covid you have to do what you have to do in order for us to compete. This is much better than saying we would’ve done this or I wish we could’ve done this,” said Foster. “I can guarantee you there is not one person complaining. If they say you can not wrestle or you can wrestle like this…whatever they tell us to do that is what we are going to do.”
To no one’s surprise Millard South leads the team race after day one. The Patriots (103) have a commanding 38-point lead over North Platte and Papillion-La Vista’s 65 points. Grand Island 62.5 and Norfolk’s 61.5 round out the top five. The Patriots went 9-1 in the quarterfinals. Of the nine wins, five came by pin and two major decision.
Omaha Central sophomore DJ Bonam is the story of the day and likely the tournament. The 106-pound sophomore finished fourth in the weight class last year. This season hasn’t been his best, specifically towards the end of the season. Bonam had lost six of his previous seven matches prior to the state tournament.
A fourth place finish at districts meant he would face No. 2 ranked Miles Anderson (Millard South) in the first round of the state tournament.
Bonan came away with an 11-9 decision in the first match of the day.
“I was dealing with a lot of personal issues and just got out of physical therapy for a strained hip flexor,” Bonan said. “I feel good.”
The 106-pound sophomore finished fourth in the weight class last year.
“It was really a mindset thing. Last year was really why I am going this hard this year,” Bonam said. “I promised myself I’d never get fourth or lower. I’m trying to go for three-times (champion).
In the quarterfinals Bonam defeated Omaha Northwest freshman Josiah Leslie with a 14-2 major decision. Bonam is back in the semifinals, where he’d hoped with some renewed confidence.
The Patriots advanced nine into the semifinals. Caleb Coyle (120 pounds), Conor Knopick (126), Aiden Robertson (132), Joel Adams (138), Tyler Antoniak (145), Scott Robertson (152), Antrell Taylor (160), Connor Hoy (195) and Nolan Olafson (285).
The best match of the day was likely in the first round at 220-pounds. No. 4 rated Ryan Zatechka and No. 5 rated Garret Moser of Fremont. Moser scored a reversal with :26 seconds left in the second period. In the third, Zatechka got an escape but couldn’t take the lead with a late takedown and Moser advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 victory.
In the quarterfinals Bellevue West senior Jack McDonnell, the No. 2 rated wrestler at 170 faced No. 4 rated Guillermo Espinoza of Millard North. Trailing 2-1 in the second period McDonnell scored on a reversal that led to a quick pin with 1:22 remaining in the second period.
Quickest pin goes to Bellevue East Garrett Grice. The 120-pound senior pinned Ein Obermiller (Grand Island) in :24 seconds to advance to the semifinals.
The Class D race is a tighter one. Plainview leads the race by 16.5 points headed into the semifinals and consolation matches. The Pirates have four in the Thursday semifinals. Elkhorn Valley is sitting in second place with 40.5 points and also has four in the semifinals.
Quickest pin of the day goes to Plainview’s Scout Ashburn. The 120 pound junior pinned Paxton’s Dominic Geho in 11 seconds. A close second is Ansley-Litchfield’s Hunter Arehart with a 14-second pin in the quarterfinals over Arapahoe’s Jordan Smith.
Best D matches of the day
A first round matchup between rated wrestlers at 120 saw No. 5 rated Cauy Morgan of Sutherland defeat No. 6 rated Logan Peterson of South Loup. With the score tied at zero Morgan scored a quick reversal in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Peterson scored an escape with just under :50 left in the period. A neutral start was Peterson’s choice to start the third. A double-leg-takedown by the freshman Morgan with 25 seconds gave him the 4-3 win.
The match of the quarterfinals was at 132. No. 3 rated Jon Peterka (Sutherland) faced off against No. 5 rated Tahner Fahm from Plainview. Peterka scored first with a takedown in the first period. Peterka scored an escape just before the end of the second period to take a 3-0 lead. Starting down in the third Frahm scored a reversal with 1:10 remaining. Leading 3-2 with 11 seconds left Peterka scored a reversal and won the by 5-2.
At 220 pounds No. 2 rated Brandon Knoles of Perkins County scored a 3-1 win over the No. 1 rated Chet Whichmann of Palmer. Knoles scored a takedown with 14 seconds left to secure the win and move onto the semifinals.
Records and achievements
Palmer senior Ruger Reimers advanced to the semifinals with two wins on Wednesday. The victories were the 204th and 205th of his career which tied and gave him the all-time class D record for victories and ties him with Derek Robb (Sidney, 2018) for third on the all-class charts.
Garden County senior Colton Holthuls recorded his 150th career win with a first round pin. Holthuls is one of three defending champions in the Class D this year. Elkhorn Valley’s Hunter Bennett also recorded his 150th career win with a quarterfinal pin. Bennet and Alizae Mejia (170, Plainview) are also looking to become repeat champions.