If before last year's state wrestling tournament someone would have told Ben Burmester that his Pender team would leave Omaha with five individual champions, he would have been sure a team title was part of the haul, too.
“We didn't think there would be any doubt at all with that kind of success,” the senior said.
It was a runner-up trophy Pender took home, however, after Amherst used its depth to win its third straight Class D crown.
It was a rude awakening but a lesson learned for this season's Pender team that returned four of those champions. The Class D No. 2 Pendragons head to a tough Madison Invitational this weekend still seeking to fill in around five wrestlers who own state titles. Each is ranked No. 1 at his respective weight classes.
Burmester is in that group, a winner at 171 as a sophomore before finishing as the 182-pound runner-up last season. He's at the top of the 182 rankings this year.
While top-ranked Amherst may return only one state champion, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the class. Amherst won the Cross County Invitational last weekend, finishing ahead of Class B York, Class C No. 7 David City and Pender.
“Some of our kids need to start stepping up,” Pendragons coach Dennis Oliver said. “After this weekend, I think they understand that.”
The core group that earned a majority of Pender's points last season will do much of the heavy lifting. Juniors Mark Dunn (120), Benny Oliver (126), Jacob Sebade (138) and senior Garrett Bowder (132) join Burmester as top-ranked Pendragons.
Getting points from other spots in the lineup, though, is the challenge.
“I can't count on everyone doing what they did last year,” Dennis Oliver said. “And Amherst can't count on their guys doing what they did last year, too. Last year I thought nine (qualifiers) would do it and I was wrong. It'll be interesting.”
Creating depth in wrestling at the Class D level isn't easy.
“I don't have that luxury,” said Oliver, who added that 15 kids went out for wrestling. He's had to work to fill 13 of the 14 weight classes.
Still, it seems like something around this time of year has happened the last two seasons to spark things down the stretch, according to Oliver. With tournament host Class C No. 2 Madison and two other ranked teams in the field, Oliver is hoping that roll begins Friday.
“Believe it or not, we're a momentum team,” he said. “Somewhere around this weekend, something always seems to happen and we catch fire. I haven't seen that this year.”
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