Even with a couple weeks of practice behind him, the thought hadn’t really sunk in for Kenny Martin.
He was wrestling again.
“My first weigh-ins, it kind of hit me,” the Lincoln Southwest senior said. “That was a really good feeling.”
Martin is back this season after missing two years of high school wrestling. He’s ranked No. 1 in Class A at 145.
Despite his two seasons off, Martin isn’t new to the scene.
His freshman season at Omaha North ended in heartbreak in the state championship match.
Leading Grand Island’s Blake Fruchtl, an opponent he had beaten three times during the season, Martin chose the bottom position to begin the third period. Fruchtl put Martin on his back and got the pin and the 125-pound title.
Next month will make three full years since that defeat. Seems like three days to Martin. He thinks about it quite a bit.
“It motivates him, that’s for sure,” Silver Hawks coach Aaron Finley said. “He’s got some goals that he openly talks about and (making up for that loss) is one of them.”
Also in Martin’s crosshairs are the Southwest takedown and pin records. Already 18-0, he’s well on his way to becoming the Silver Hawks’ second state champion.
There’s plenty of natural talent there, Finley said. But he’s quick to add that Martin is putting in the work to reach the next level.
In his time away from high school wrestling, Martin was still competing. He traveled to national tournaments. He had a runner-up finish in the 140-pound class at the Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D., last summer.
As for any rust to work off when Martin got to Southwest, Finley said there was “virtually none.”
“He is so powerful and he’s just got such good mat sense,” Finley said. “He refuses to be scored on. He’s absolutely tenacious. He’s just got it.”
All of that ability was nearly in Southwest’s lineup last season. But after transferring at the semester — Martin’s father lives in Lincoln — he was forced to sit out. His junior season was gone.
It set up a last-chance opportunity for Martin for his senior campaign.
“It’s great to be back. I’m loving it,” Martin said. “It was really tough to just watch, not wrestling, going to tournaments and watching. I was just stuck with it, knowing that one day I’d be back.”
And he is. Martin and the Class A No. 6 Silver Hawks will be in Omaha for Saturday’s Millard West Invitational. Third-ranked Millard South is also in the field. The dual tournament will conclude with bracketed finals shortly after 3 p.m.
Martin’s presence has helped legitimize a Southwest program with little wrestling history. In 11 years, the Silver Hawks have one top 10 team finish at the state tournament — they finished eighth last year.
Finley is hoping that Martin and this season’s success spark something for his program. He’s already seen more interest in wrestling around Southwest, in part because of Martin.
“People are taking notice,” Finley said.
When they get their first look, what do they see?
Finley answers that question with a story. During the summer, he was on vacation when one of the Southwest assistants called to tell him about a match between Martin and what would be his first really tough opponent in quite some time.
During the course of the match, Martin was reversed, something not uncommon in wrestling. But when Finley and company brought it up recently as a point of emphasis for Martin to work on, the competitor in Martin seemed to selectively forget the occurrence.
“I never got reversed,” Martin told the coaches.
Perhaps in Martin’s mind, he was saying that he wasn’t ever going to let it happen again.
“That’s the kind of wrestler he is,” Finley said. “You want guys like that. He’s been great to have on this team.”
Contact the writer:
402-850-0781, email@example.com, twitter.com/nickrubek