OMAHA – So much for State Wrestling Tournament stage fright.
As a sophomore, Grand Island Northwest’s Austin Cooper did not like the eyes of the CenturyLink Center Omaha peering down on him.
"I got too nervous," Cooper said. "With all those people watching, it was taking a toll. Then I realized that there are only 30-plus people looking at you."
That helped Cooper relax last year. He finished fifth at Class B 152 pounds after a semifinal loss.
Cooper won’t be freaked out this afternoon, especially for the Parade of Champions.
The senior advanced to the Class B 160-pound final with a dominating performance against Omaha Skutt’s Alex VanDyke Friday night. The fifth-ranked Cooper (26-3) recorded two takedowns in the first period, then pinned the unranked freshman in 3:41 to advance to today’s 3 p.m. finals.
"I knew I had to be aggressive," Cooper said. "I kept waiting to take my shots. I didn’t want him to catch me on top. I kept cutting him."
Cooper will become the fifth Northwest state wrestling champion and second under 11-year coach Brian Sybrandts with a victory over Columbus Scotus’ Marcus Dodson (52-1). The second-ranked senior claimed a 2-1 decision over Cooper in last week’s B-3 district meet at York.
Dodson won on a second-period reversal was the difference.
"I’m going to be ready tomorrow," Cooper said.
Of course, Sybrandts was not sure Cooper would wrestle in the postseason after he sustained a torn labrum in the Central City Invite finals Jan. 9. Cooper did not return until districts.
"I’m really happy for him," Sybrandts said. "He’s been banged up. We were hoping that he would be back. Now, he’s wrestling for a state championship. That’s huge for him to get a shot to be the best in his senior year."
Cooper is not the only area Class B wrestler with a chance at a golden finish.
Adams Central went 2-1 in the semifinals. Junior Marc Zeckser (No. 3 at 145) and senior Kendall Oberheide (No. 2 at 220) earned finals spots in completely different ways.
Zeckser used a third-period escape to post a 1-0 victory over fourth-ranked Cody Lambert of Ashland-Greenwood. Oberheide dominated No. 3 Cole Krecklow with a 13-5 major decision.
"Excitement and just thinking about moving on to the next match," said Oberhede, who finished fifth at 220 a year ago. "I’m looking forward to it."
Oberheide will face top-ranked Logan Radik of Gretna in the finals. Zeckser will meet No. 1 Boys Town senior Bill Adusei, who seeks his third state title after claiming two in Virginia.
"I’ve seen him wrestle," Zeckser said. "I know it will be tough. If I get on top, I need to make sure to keep him down."