BAYARD – Bayard senior Tristan Hunter will surely have a few jitters when he competes in the Nebraska Class C State Wrestling Tournament later this week in Omaha.

At the same time, though, Hunter figures to be as cool and confident as he’s ever been in a state tournament. After all, this year marks his third straight trip to state. The state tournament begins Thursday and runs through Saturday at the CenturyLink Center.

“My first year I was really nervous because state is big, and the guys are strong and tough,” he said. “But last year [at state] I got over that and wrestled better. It was easier to wrestle on the mat than it was my sophomore year. And then this year I think it’s going to feel like just a regular tournament for me.”

That doesn’t mean Hunter expects an easy time at state. He knows it’s still going to be a grind. But he hopes his experience at the last two state tournaments makes a difference for him this year.

“My hope is to do better than what I did last year,” said Hunter, who placed fourth last year. “And my big goal is to get into the championship round.”

Another reason Hunter should feel more confident going into this year’s state tournament is that he said he’s elevated his performance quite a bit from a year ago. He’s improved physically, and he’s also become even stronger mentally.

“I’ve stepped things up,” he said. “I stepped up my workouts so I could push even harder this year.”

He knows he’ll face some big challenges at state, but he’s ready for them.

“I just need to push harder and have more heart than my opponent,” he said.

No one was more driven than Hunter in his weight class this past weekend in the Class C, District 4 Tournament at Mitchell High School. Hunter won all three of his matches – all by pin – to capture the 220-pound championship.

After pinning Bridgeport’s Tyler Franklin in 26 seconds, Hunter pinned Valentine’s Caden Billings in 3:27 in the semifinals. In the final, Hunter pinned Sargent/Burwell’s Tyler Gideon in 2:38.

Hunter said he was elated to win his first Class C district title. He placed first his sophomore year in a Class D district. Last year he took second in the C-4 tournament.

“I was really excited,” he said. “It felt good to take first my senior year.”

He added, “It’s a great feeling to get back to state. I’ve been wanting this since the wrestling season started. I can’t wait for state.”

Hunter’s opening-round match at state is Thursday against O’Neill’s Jason Hahlbeck, a sophomore who is 23-12. Hahlbeck placed fourth in the C-2 district tournament.

Hunter, who has a 30-2 record, is one of six Bayard wrestlers who qualified for state. The others are Alex Araujo at 113, Zaine Gallegos at 285, Alex Wamboldt at 195, Mitch McKibbin at 106, and Felipe Palomo at 170.

Hunter said Bayard, which placed third as a team in the C-4 district tournament, is eager to make some more noise at state.

“When we get to the state tournament, we just have to keep encouraging each other and do the best we can,” he said.

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