Not since his Omaha Skutt program got its feet under it has Brad Hildebrandt gone into a season the way he did this one.
Without a returning state champion.
Since Kasey Kohl won the school's first state title in 1997, the Skyhawks have brought back at least one defending champion each season.
Last year's winners — Thomas Gilman and Andy Hollins — graduated. Back are three medalists, but only one who wrestled in the finals. It's strange territory for a team that has won 14 of the past 15 Class B team titles.
“It's required some of our other kids to step up in a leadership role,” Hildebrandt said.
It hasn't stopped Skutt from maintaining its annual lofty expectations. The SkyHawks are ranked No. 1 in Class B entering their own tournament Saturday, the Jesse Greise Invitational. Finals are slated for around 3 p.m.
Hildebrandt's group is doing things a little differently this year. Skutt has just one wrestler ranked No. 1 in his weight class and two others ranked second.
The SkyHawks are using depth to get the job done.
“I think that's a huge mentality for us,” senior Phillip Rasmussen said. “We might not have a returning state champ, but we have a lot of guys in the lineup, though, that are some key bullets.”
Skutt goes into Thursday's dual against Elkhorn South, at 5:30 p.m. in the Millard South gym, with the momentum gained from a team title at the Platte County (Mo.) Invitational.
Three SkyHawks — junior Brian Peska and seniors JT Sloboth and Nick Jensen — won individual championships at the always-tough tournament. Sloboth, a runner-up a season ago, is Skutt's only top-ranked wrestler.
Peska, Sloboth and Rasmussen are the returning medalists for the SkyHawks. Hildebrandt lauded all three, as well as juniors Jake Walker and Nick Hollins, for their progress this season.
“Peska has bumped himself up into a new level,” Hildebrandt said. “Sloboth has been doing a fantastic job. Walker and Hollins have, as well. It's been fun to see them develop.”
He's also made it clear what that group will need to do to extend the Skyhawks' state tournament run.
“They've got to get to the next level,” Hildebrandt said. “For the guys that have done it, they need to kind of duplicate what they've already done down there. For some of the other guys, we need to get those points at the state tournament. We need them to get to the next level and be a placer, not just a qualifier.”
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