Led by its group of talented seniors, the Norfolk Panthers wrestling team won the Class A-3 district wrestling tournament on Saturday at Norfolk High School.
Ten Norfolk wrestlers qualified for next week’s state wrestling tournament, including all seven of those seniors. Among the 10 qualifiers were two champions — seniors TeJai Clausen, at 126 pounds, and Caleb Licking, the Panthers’ No. 1-rated 152-pounder who will be seeking his second-straight state championship.
Clausen (26-19) defeated Hunter Johnson of Elkhorn South (35-15) in his championship match — a match which went into extra periods tied 2-2.
In the one-minute extra period which followed both wrestlers started on their feet, each looking unsuccessfully for a take-down and the automatic win. That sent the match into two 30-second periods, with each wrestler getting his choice of starting on the bottom or the top. Clausen managed to escape from the down position, then maintained control of Johnson during his turn on the bottom to record the win.
“He’s a really good quality wrestler; I knew he was going to be tough right from the start,” Clausen said. “When I was down I just tried to stand up, get position, and break away. Then I had to ride him out and keep him from scoring. It’s really key to just have good position and technique.”
Licking (35-1) pinned John Harkendorff (31-22), also of Elkhorn South, at 5:14, but was especially pleased with the team’s accomplishments.
“Norfolk has never qualified for the state duals meet before, so that’s pretty awesome,” he said. “Every senior made it to state today, so that’s pretty cool for our class to do that together.”
But other important team points were earned in third-place matches — all wins by pin — by Blake McDonald, a sophomore, who won his 132-pound third-place match; senior Connor Neal, who won at 170 pounds; junior Alex Thompson, a winner at 182; and sophomore Matthew Montgomery, who won at 195 pounds.
Other seniors also contributed to the Panthers success — Dominick Carr and Josh Kohl both lost by decision in championship matches but finished second, Nate Kathol contributed third place points, and Dylan Grey finished fourth.
Those qualifiers all helped Norfolk claim the team title — after trailing Elkhorn South entering the finals — finishing with 152.5 points. Creighton Prep finished second with 136.5 points ahead of Elkhorn South’s 131.0 points.
“We had some good things happen in the consolation finals for thirds and fourths; when you can come back from a loss and win by pin in the consolation finals, that counts for bonus points, too,” Norfolk coach Tony Brown said. “All of our seniors qualified, which was important.”
The Panthers had entered the finals in second place, trailing South by two-and-a-half points, until Norfolk wrestlers finished strong for the team win — which also automatically qualifies the Norfolk squad for the Nebraska State Duals Tournament in Kearney, a goal Brown and the team has had all season long.
“For the last three or four years, since they started the state duals meet, we haven’t made it down there,” Brown said. “We always thought we were a pretty good dual team, and we had beaten some of the teams that have qualified. Well, now we’ve qualified. We’ve got the state wrestling tournament to take care of next week, and then we’ll go down to Kearney for the state duals.”
“As a district champion we’re an automatic qualifier; now what they do is take the number of state qualifiers you have and the points they score at the state meet this week, and that determines what seed you have at the state duals meet,” he said. “There are eight teams that qualify, and we’re one of those eight. That’ll be pretty nice to make that trip; the kids are pretty excited.”
The A-3 district also featured several state-ranked wrestlers who were involved in competitive matches.
In the 138-pound championship match, Elkhorn South’s No. 6-rated wrestler, Alec Welch (44-9), defeated No. 3 Jake Oltman (38-6) of Lincoln Southwest by pin at 3:08.
Cade Brownlee (42-2), the state’s No. 1-ranked wrestler at 182 pounds, defeated Fremont’s No. 2-ranked Sean Lambert (29-1) by the score of 3-2.
Another match between highly-ranked wrestlers, at 285 pounds, featured No. 1 Tristan Wilson (37-3) of Creighton Prep, who pinned No. 2 Shane Henderson (31-8) of Elkhorn South at 3:03.
1. Norfolk 152.5, 2. Creighton Prep 136.5, 3. Elkhorn South 131.0, 4. Lincoln East 121.0, 5. Lincoln Southwest 117.5, 6. Fremont 91.5, 7. South Sioux City 69.0, 8. Lincoln Northeast 61.0.
106: 1. Cody Fielder, FRE; 2. Corbin Harrington, EAST; 3. Dominic Wiley, PREP; 4. Bennett Wright, SOUTH.
113: 1. Nathan Rizek, EAST; 2. Noah Molzahn, FRE; 3. Izzy Miranda, SSC; 4. Chayse Schaub, LNE.
120: 1. Cody Carlson, FRE; 2. Joshua Via, SOUTH; 3. Corbin Sindel, LNE: 4. Dylan Grey, N.
126: 1. TeJai Clausen, N; 2. Hunter Johnson, EAST; 3. Mason Engwersen, EAST; 4. Caden Frazier, LNE.
132: 1. Martin Meza, SSC; 2. Dominick Jimenez, EAST; 3. Blake McDonald, N; 4. Riley Pelster, PREP.
138: 1. Alec Welsh, SOUTH; 2. Jake Oltman, LSW; 3. Nate Kathol, N; 4. Riley Schmohr, EAST.
145: 1. Jacob Schroyer, SSC; 2. Connor Burney, LSW; 3. Eamon Morrison, PREP; 4. Cade Kammerer, EAST.
152: 1. Caleb Licking, N; 2. John Harkendorff, SOUTH; 3. Jace Brandl, PREP; 4. Tyler Carstens, LSW.
160: 1. Derrick Hobbs, PREP; 2. Josh Kohl, N; 3. Jonha Pillow, LSW; 4. Kalen Roth, EAST.
170: 1. Isaac Odell, EAST; 2. Justin Shaw, LSW; 3. Connor Neal, N; 4. Justin Pettit, FRE.
182: 1. Cade Brownlee, PREP; 2. Sean Lambert, FRE; 3. Alex Thompson, N; 4. Tanner Bodfield, LNE.
195: 1. Kyson Schnell, LSW; 2. Wyatt Knudsen, SOUTH; 3. Matthew Montgomery, N; 4. Tyson Merchant, SSC.
220: 1. Nick Pray, PREP; 2. Dominick Carr, N; 3. Andrew Hamik, SOUTH; 4. Connor Clanton, LSW.
285: 1. Tristan Wilson, PREP; 2. Shane Henderson, SOUTH; 3. Christopher Mandeville, LNE; 4. Drake Reinke, EAST.