Rubek: Heavy team favorites, sold-out crowds. It's Nebraska state wrestling

1 month ago Omaha World Herald

I’m sensing a trend here.

Storylines that are becoming more and more familiar are expected to headline the state wrestling tournament beginning Thursday at CHI Health Center, a three-day event that is the hottest ticket on the local sports calendar.

Friday night’s semifinal session and Saturday’s gold medal round are each sold out for the second straight year.

“It’s a championship atmosphere,” Nebraska Schools Activities Association Assistant Director Ron Higdon said.

Packed stands welcomed both a return to normalcy and a new beginning 12 months ago.

After the 2021 tournament was altered due to the pandemic, the traditional format was back. And then there was the history-making aspect to the weekend, which included the first-ever sanctioned girls state tournament.

Electricity followed.

Big crowds saw Millard South continue its reign in Class A, and perhaps the most talented duo to ever come out of the same class in Nebraska history wrap up gold-medal seasons.

Get ready for take two.

The top-ranked Patriots — all 14 of them — are geared up for what most expect to be a fifth-straight Class A team title. Only two other programs in Nebraska history (Grand Island from 2009 to 2013, and Omaha South on two separate occasions) have accomplished that.

Other favorites are no strangers to the top of the podium, either.

Omaha Skutt won 20 Class B championships over the course of 21 years, the last of which came in 2018. David City Aquinas won the program’s fifth state title a year ago in Class C, and is widely considered the team to beat in Class D in Omaha.

Both Skutt and Aquinas are ranked atop their respective classes after winning state duals titles two weekends ago. Same for Broken Bow in Class C.

While tight team races might be in short supply, talent on the mat certainly won’t be.

Among the best out there will be Bennington’s Kael Lauridsen, a Nebraska recruit going for his fourth state title. His club teammate, Millard South’s Joel Adams, will wrestle at Michigan after chasing an Olympic dream next year.

They may both soon swap red for blue, but each said this week that they’re excited to put on one more show at the state tournament.

Lauridsen and Adams, each ranked in the top five nationally at their respective weights, will get plenty of attention, but don’t sleep on some of the other talent that will be on display.

Especially on the girls side.

If year one was a feeling out process, this season has been a legitimizer of sorts. Numbers and interest are both up. As is recognition.

At least six girls have found themselves in rankings amongst the best in the nation this season. One bracket will feature two of those wrestlers, with Fairbury senior Makena Schramm (unbeaten and ranked No. 7 by USA Wrestling/FloWrestling) and Claire Paasch of West Point-Beemer (No. 22 in the same rankings) appearing on a collision course for the 190-pound gold.

Some of the same proponents that brought the sport to sanctioned status — a year before wrestling-crazy Iowa, I might add — are already thinking about what’s next.

Good problems to have.

Yes, wrestling fans, the sport’s arrow is pointed straight up in the state of Nebraska.

Seeing that trend yet?

Photos: Nebraska state wrestling tournament championship matches

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Nick covers high school soccer, wrestling and other sports for The World-Herald.

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