KEARNEY, Neb. — The Grand Island wrestling team got a scare.
The Islander juggernaut, which has won five straight state championships, needed a strong next-to-last round to enter the final round with a 3.5-point lead over Kearney at the Bearcats’ invitational.
But with seven champions, the Islanders left with a 255-249 win. Hastings was a distant third in the 10-team meet with 143.5 points.
“Kearney came and performed well today, and I thought we kind of stumbled a little bit here and there,” Grand Island coach Mike Schadwinkel said. “They put together a great effort today and we powered through it with upper weights in the medal rounds, and that was the difference.”
Kearney won three weight classes through 132 pounds, but Grand Island won all but two of the weights from 138 on up.
Senior Andrew Rojas got the Islanders rolling with a technical-fall victory over Kearney’s Trevar Bigelow in the 138-pound championship. Rigo Barraga (145), Billy Thompson (160), Haris Talundzic (170), Tyler Shriner (182), Edgar Silva (195) and Chase Ries (220) followed with championship victories. Thompson, Shriner, Silva and Ries won with pins, adding bonus points to the team total.
Schadwinkel told his team entering the final round, “We’ve got to go get every win we can, and we have to get some bonus points, because we knew they were going to fight and give us a challenge the rest of the way.”
Kearney started strong, with Gabe Crocker winning the 103-pound championship and brothers Damon and Dante Rodriguez winning at 126 and 132 pounds. Kearney’s only other champion was heavyweight Gabe Ledesma.
“We did everything we could, but we gave a couple close matches away that we probably could have pulled off the win against them,” Kearney coach Ty Swarm said.
Coaches voted Damon Rodriguez the outstanding wrestler award. The transfer from Kearney Catholic defeated three returning state medalists on his way to the gold medal.
“For him to step out and do what he did today was unbelievable. He just wrestled solid and won the major battles ... and showed some guts in winning every match he had,” Swarm said.
Damon Rodriguez — the younger brother of Dante, who transferred to Kearney from Grand Island after winning two state championships — finished sixth and fourth at the state meet in Class D while wrestling for Kearney Catholic.
“I like Class A. It’s treating me better,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t know a lot of people. I just assumed they would be a lot tougher.
“I just went out there and gave it my best and proved a lot of points. I think I showed a lot of people what I’m capable of.”