Both coaches say they’re not focusing on what the other’s team is doing.
But when Grand Island and Omaha Burke get going Thursday at the state wrestling tournament, you can bet plenty of others will be.
The two top-ranked teams in Class A are the clear front-runners to leave with the team title in Nebraska’s large-school class.
The only question now is who leaves the CenturyLink Center with “champion” on the trophy.
Grand Island is the favorite, having won each of the past four Class A crowns. The Islanders also beat Burke handily in a dual in mid-December and won the only individual tournament that both were in.
“That doesn’t matter much this weekend,” Grand Island coach Mike Schadwinkel said.
Burke has finished in the top three each of the past two seasons. A year ago the Bulldogs were second, just 39 points behind Grand Island.
They’ll bring plenty of firepower this year, too. Aaron Fletcher at 113 and Jake Wilcoxen at 126 are defending champions. Both are ranked No. 1 in their weight class.
Fellow senior Justice Bridgeford (152) also has a state title, and Jordan Hammond (No. 2 at 145) was a runner-up last season.
Even with all of those tournament points returning and three other wrestlers ranked, Burke coach Wes Boehm said he’ll need to get the most from his 12 qualifiers to make a run at Grand Island.
“We just have to go there and have everybody wrestle their best,” he said. “Let the points fall where they will.”
Grand Island, which sends 13 to state, has a returning champion in top-ranked 120-pounder Dante Rodriguez. Trey Trujillo, No. 1 at 132, won a state title two years ago. Junior Chase Ries is the top-ranked 195-pounder.
Much like Boehm, Schadwinkel said his message is always the same.
“We have to focus on ourselves and perform as well as we possibly can,” he said. “We feel confident that if we do as well as we can we’ll win the state championship.”
One of the more interesting weight classes to watch features highly ranked wrestlers from both teams.
At 126, Wilcoxen drew the side of the bracket that includes two-time state champion Hunter Bamford of Kearney, ranked second. Grand Island’s Matt Bolan, No. 3 at that weight, is on the other side. Bolan lost to Wilcoxen earlier this season, his only setback to Nebraska competition all year.
“If you think you’re a state champ, who cares where you are?” Boehm said. “You have to go out and wrestle the best anyway.”
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113: Aaron Fletcher, Burke, 113
120: Dante Rodriguez, Grand Island, 106
126: Jacob Wilcoxen, Burke, 119 ('11), 120
126: Hunter Bamford, Kearney, 103 ('10, 11)
132: Trey Trujillo, Grand Island, 112 ('11)
132: Hayden Hanson, Prep, 126
138: Ronald Wells, Central, 125 ('11), 132
152: Justice Bridgeford, Burke, 152('11)
160: JaVaughn Perkins, North, 135 ('11), 152
285: Harrison Phillips, Millard West, 220
106: Nolan Laux, Hastings, 39-0
138: Ronald Wells, Omaha Central, 29-0
145: Kenny Martin, Lincoln SW, 40-0
152: Kalen Mazankowski, Kearney, 24-0
160: JaVaughn Perkins, North, 34-0
170: Preston Lauterbach, Bell. West, 34-0
220: DJ Castillo, Lincoln High, 32-0
285: Harrison Phillips, Millard West, 27-0