Staying focused, having experience, working hard, staying in shape, staying injury free, and the old wrestling cliche “taking it one match at a time.”
All those factors are necessary for a high school wrestler to remain undefeated at this point of the season.
Four wrestlers from the area, all in Class C, are undefeated entering the State Wrestling Tournament Thursday at CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Classes B and C get under way at 9:30 a.m., while A and D start at 4 p.m.
St. Paul’s David Gross, Ord’s Cade Svoboda, Central City’s Jeremiah Dickinson and Wood River freshman Evan Waddington are four of 21 wrestlers unbeaten going into the state tournament.
Gross is a returning state champion, while Svoboda and Dickinson are returning finalists and Waddington will be wrestling at the state meet for the first time.
Svoboda, who is No. 1 at 182 and 32-0 on the season, said taking one match at a time is a key to success for any wrestler — let alone be undefeated.
“I’ve learned in the past, especially last year, that you have to do that,” said the Ord senior, who finished second in Class C at170 pounds last year. “Upsets can happen at any time. If you are looking to the next match after the one you are supposed to wrestle, or looking back on your last match, most of the time, things usually won’t go well. The main thing is to be focused on one guy and that’s your next match.”
Having experience winning on the big stage helps as well. Gross knows that after winning the Class C, 160-pound title last year. The Wildcat senior, who is 44-0 and ranked No. 1 at Class C, 170 pounds, said being a defending state champion and being undefeated has brought some extra pressure on him, but tries not to let it bother him. He said being consistent in effort every week has helped him in his season.
“Being a returning state champion is a little more stressful but I still feel confident in what I do,” Gross said. “What has helped me this season is that I’ve been putting in the same effort every week in practice and meets. When you do that, you will get the same results.”
Dickinson, No. 1 at Class C, 138 pounds and 49-0 on the season, said a key for his undefeated season so far is always having that hunger to get better. Every Sunday after his sophomore year, he goes in for extra practice with Central City assistant coach Jac Smith, just doing certain drills, jumping rope and extra things to be a better wrestler.
“I know that there is always somebody better so that’s why I just keep working hard all the time,” Dickinson, who was second at Class C 132 pounds last year, said. “There is always something you can do to make yourself better. I figured if I wanted to be good, I need to practice all the time and that there are no days off.”
Meanwhile Waddington is 49-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class C at 113 pounds.
Even though Waddington is a freshman, he is still no stranger when it comes to the big stage. His dad and coach, Darin, takes him all over the country wrestling in some big offseason tournaments such as the Monster Match in Denver, Colorado, the Winter Nationals in Omaha, the Tulsa Nationals and many more.
He said wrestling in those kind of tournaments has helped him find success during his freshman season.
“I’ve had a lot of offseason training and gone to so many camps in the past and I feel all that has definitely helped,” the Eagle freshman said. “Wrestling takes a lot of time and dedication and you need to wrestle in those kind of tournaments in order to be successful.”
While doing all those things are big keys for being undefeated, having some good fortune doesn’t hurt either. All four wrestlers admitted they had some tense moments during the season.
Gross’ closest matches were wins over Grand Island Central Catholic’s Josh Puncochar 4-1 in the finals of the Broken Bow Invite Dec. 5 and a pair of 6-3 wins over Fairbury’s Jacob Johnson and Crete’s Ethan Sherman.
Waddington has rolled through his season and has a win over Valentine’s Jordan Kelber, who won the Class C, 106-pound title last year. Waddington pinned him in 3:25 in the finals at the Burwell Invitational Jan. 8.
Svoboda and Dickinson have been the closest to losing their undefeated status. Dickinson has one overtime victory when he defeated Papillion-LaVista’s Ethen Fitzler 3-1 at the Flatwater Fracas in Grand Island Dec. 18, along with a few other one-point decisions. Svoboda has three one-point decisions during the season.
Svoboda said being the aggressor and staying positive all the time has proved vital when the going gets tough in a tight match.
“You just need to be mentally strong and tell yourself that you are going to win in every match,” Svoboda, who will walk-on for the Nebraska wrestling team next year, said. “You know you are going to face some adversity every now and then. You just have to have the confidence in every match. When you do that, good things will happen.”
All four want to finish this weekend as state champions, but all of them know there will likely be some tense moments during the weekend.
Dickinson said in order to finish on top this weekend, you have to do what Svoboda said — take it one match at a time.
“Other than doing my own thing and staying in good position, you can’t look ahead at any point, you have to be focused on your next match,” Dickinson said.