For four straight years — from 2005 to 2008 — the Class A state wrestling team title resided at Millard South.
After the last four, it’s had a 308 area code, traveling west to Grand Island at the conclusion of the state tournament.
There is a real chance that the hardware makes its way back to Omaha this season.
An Omaha Burke team that was last year’s runner-up brings back a loaded lineup that includes three state champions, six returning medalists and starts No. 47 in the intermatwrestle.com Fab 50 — a list of the nation’s top teams.
Bulldog coach Wes Boehm knows all about that. He’s heard the talk about his group being the one to take down Grand Island.
Boehm isn’t buying it yet. He points out the state tournament points returning for each team.
“If I would look at it, I would make Grand Island the favorite,” Boehm said. “They should be, on paper, ranked No. 1.”
What those numbers don’t take into consideration is just how close Burke was a season ago. The Bulldogs finished 39 points behind Grand Island, and that was without the services of one of their standouts in the middle of the lineup.
In the previous three years, the Islanders had won the Class A championship by an average of 84 points.
A group of Grand Island seniors that included four-time champion Andrew Riedy and four-time finalist Carlos Rodriguez is gone.
“You lose the greatest wrestler in your school’s history,” Grand Island coach Mike Schadwinkel said of Riedy, “and it’s not just like you can say ‘Well, we’ll fill in another one.’ That’s a hit for anybody. But we’ve got a lot of depth and we’ve still got a lot of strong and capable kids. We didn’t do the things we did the last four years with just that class. We feel like we’re going to be right in the mix.”
As does Boehm, who concedes that his team will contend but isn’t yet ready to make it the favorite. Not with the four-time defending champs still with plenty of talent.
“We think we were one of the top teams last year, and we are one of the top teams this year,” Boehm said. “We have high goals. But they’ve got to keep grades and keep working hard. If (the title) does switch over to us after all of that, so be it.”
Back for Burke are Aaron Fletcher, Jake Wilcoxen and Justice Bridgeford — all past state champions. Bridgeford is the aforementioned standout that Burke was without at last year’s tournament.
The senior was arrested for multiple offenses the weekend before the state tournament and remained detained while his teammates competed at state.
“Hopefully he learned his lesson from it,” Boehm said.
A wrestler can earn a maximum of 30 points if all four wins at the tournament came by fall. Doing so in a bracket that featured Omaha North’s JaVaughn Perkins (who defeated Bridgeford three times during the season) would have been a tough chore.
It shows how close the Bulldogs were to dethroning Grand Island and putting a halt to the Islanders’ three-year run.
One of Burke’s strengths lies in its depth. Also back for the Bulldogs are Jared Green, Jordan Hammond and Joe Contreras, all medalists last season. Hammond lost in the finals and Green finished third after losing a tight decision to Riedy of Grand Island.
Five of Burke’s six returning medalists are seniors. Wrestling at state goes a long way, Boehm said.
“We’ve got experience,” Boehm said. “I think they know what it takes to get there, the work ethic and that.”
The Bulldogs start the season at tournaments in Missouri on the first two weekends. They’ll go to Grain Valley this weekend and to Jefferson City the following weekend for the always-tough Missouri Duals.
Then comes a trip to the Islanders’ backyard for the Grand Island Fracas tournament in mid-December.
It could be the first of four events in which the top two teams in Class A go at it. Both are expected at a tournament at Omaha Creighton Prep later in December, and both will have plenty of wrestlers in the individual state tournament in mid-February. They could meet for the first state dual team title a week later in Kearney
“I see a lot more parity in Class A,” Schadwinkel said. “It could make for a pretty exciting season.”
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