Bailey Vanderpool has traveled a rocky road.
As a returning champion in 2014, he lost in the finals. Last year, he missed the tournament.
But the Omaha Skutt senior is back in the Class B wrestling finals, seeking his first title since 2013, after pushing the SkyHawks closer to another team championship Friday night.
Vanderpool’s 4-3 win at 138 pounds over returning champion Ben Rodriguez of Scottsbluff made for a 22-point swing in the team standings. Scottsbluff had won its first two semifinals to make a move, and Vanderpool’s victory kept the Bearcats only points off the lead.
At 22-0, Vanderpool will wrestle Josh Velasquez of Bennington (46-3), whom he has not faced this season, in the final weight class of Saturday’s 3 p.m. finals session at the CenturyLink Center. The round begins with the 145 finals and continues back around until the 138 finals, when Isaac DeLoa of Millard South goes for a fourth Class A state title.
Vanderpool appeared on that path to four titles after winning as a freshman. Then came the finals as a sophomore, when he was pinned by undefeated Joseph Hayek of Seward in the second period.
Skutt suspended Vanderpool for last year’s state meet after an incident in the district tournament.
He began this year as a 145-pounder. After missing most of January with what new SkyHawk coach Chas DeVetter said was an injury “and other reasons,” Vanderpool came back as a 138-pounder and continued his unbeaten ways.
“Being in the finals has pretty much been my one goal this season,” Vanderpool said. “I wasn’t at state last year for a lot of reasons, and the only way to come back on top is to win gold.”
The arena was at its fullest in several years for the semifinals. When the four hours of matches ended, three team champions from 2015 — Millard South in Class A, Skutt in B and Amherst in D — were the team leaders. In Class C, David City clinched its second title in three years.
DeLoa’s opponent in the finals will be Jonathan Killingsworth of Lincoln Southeast, a senior who is a returning champion and is undefeated this season.
A pair of juniors seek their third titles — Korbin Meink of Skutt at Class B 120 and Christian Miller of Plainview at Class D 126. Also going for a third is Friend senior Zemua Baptista, an Iowa State recruit, at Class D 160.
Millard South led Columbus 128.5-103 after Friday, followed by a tight pack of Kearney, Omaha Burke, Grand Island and Millard West. Those four teams were separated by eight points.
“It used to be an arms race, where if you didn’t get 200 points, you didn’t get it,” Millard South coach Doug Denson said. “Those days are gone. If you get 120, 130 points, you’re doing pretty well. Now everyone knows each other, and we’re battling like crazy.”
Plattsmouth remained the chief rival to Skutt, which hopes to extend its title success to 18 in 19 years. The Blue Devils hit a rough patch during the semifinals and lost four in a row, but they have two in the finals to Skutt’s three and trail the SkyHawks 132-106.5. Gretna is third and Scottsbluff fourth.
DeVetter said the semifinal round “was OK.”
“Obviously we have high goals, and we were hoping to get a few more in,” he said. “But I felt like our guys wrestled hard and, well, we just came up short a couple matches. Right now we’re just about the three guys in the finals and getting some gold medals and on the backside get some bronze medals.”
The race is for second in Class C behind David City, which has four in the finals. In second place behind the Scouts is David City Aquinas. The Monarchs have two in the finals. Same for third-place Wilber-Clatonia, which is a point behind Aquinas. Another point back is Valentine, which went 0-for-5 in the semifinals.
Wins by Jacob Klingelhoefer at 170 pounds and Dane Bogard at 195 salvaged the semifinals for Amherst, which has won Class D the past six years. The Broncos lead Elkhorn Valley 97-78.5, with Burwell in third.
“If we don’t win at 170 and 195, we’re starting tomorrow in second place,” Amherst coach Tyler Herman said.
Vanderpool was one of four who reached the finals by beating past champions. Wesley Dawkins of Lincoln High topped Connor Laux of Hastings at Class A 120, unbeaten Evan Waddington of Wood River downed Jordan Kelber of Valentine at Class C 113 and Connor Donscheski of Palmer pinned Marcos Escalera of Winside at Class D 132.
The first returning champion to fall was on Thursday, when Alec Foltz of Columbus Scotus lost to Kole Gray of Plattsmouth in the first round of Class B’s 152-pound class.