NORFOLK, Neb. — Norfolk High qualified six wrestlers for the championship finals in Saturday’s Norfolk Invite, and the Panthers won four of those matches--three of them against Columbus wrestlers.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Columbus had 11 wrestlers vying for first-place, and the Discoverers grabbed championships in five of them and added second-place points in the other six to their overall total.
As a result, Columbus — with 247.5 points — earned the team championship with the Panthers finishing as the runner-up with 214 points. Omaha Burke was a distant third with 159 points, the only other team among the eight-team field within 100 points of the top finishers.
“Overall, the team wrestled really well today; we got some previous (individual) losses that we avenged today,” Norfolk coach Justin Grey said. “Weston Godfrey at 106 pounds and Aaron Dittmer at 120 lost to Columbus guys earlier in the year, so for them to beat them here is just phenomenal, really impressive how they’ve improved from week to week.”
Godfrey, a freshman, improved to 27-14 with a 6-1 decision over Clay Cerny (35-9) in his championship match, while Dittmer, a sophomore with a 28-12 record, took a 7-2 decision from Thad Baldwin (23-22) to win his title.
“Brayden Splater really closed the gap on a Columbus kid (Avery McMeekin, 152 lb.) which he had lost to 5-1 before, but today lost a tight, last-second one-point match at the end,” Grey said. “If we see him down at state, I’m confident we can beat him. When we can watch film on guys and see what their tendencies are is how we can gain some ground on them when our guys go out and execute.”
Splater (28-12) led early in his championship match with McMeekin (32-7) before giving up points late that cost the Norfolk sophomore a 4-3 decision.
The Panthers’ Ethan Behmer continued his return from injury with a 6-1 decision over the Discoverers’ Cade Fullner (24-15) to earn a title in the 145-pound championship match. Behmer, who wrestled with a cast on his wrist until a few days ago, improved to 18-4 on the season.
Two undefeated Norfolk wrestlers won their 41st matches of the season. Senior MJ Montgomery and junior Conner Cowling won championship matches in the 220 pound and heavyweight divisions, respectively--Montgomery with a 15-1 major decision over Dylan Sales (33-11) of Omaha Burke (33-11) and Cowling with a pin of Bellevue West’s Ty Reynolds (30-4) at 2:19.
“MJ was a fourth-place medalist for us last year, and for him to come back this year and be undefeated is a testament to what he’s been doing in the offseason and how hard he’s been working in the practice room,” Grey said. “He was really disappointed how state ended up last year with a loss to Columbus in the semi-final match. He’s been on a mission.”
“Conner was a state qualifier and was one match away from getting a medal last year. He’s right on the cusp of success and is doing a good job of match awareness,” he said.
The Panthers got fifth-place points from Caleb Roemhildt at 113 pounds and Travis Lamm at 126, along with third-place points from four wrestlers--Jackson Reeves at 132, Blake McDonald at 138, Zach Hintz at 160, and Dalton Freiberg at 195. Blake Forsythe finished fourth at 170 pounds, while Hunter Mangelsen added sixth-place points at 182 to round out Norfolk’s scoring.
“To have five champions and one runner-up means that we’re still doing pretty good, even with two varsity guys out of our lineup,” Grey said.
“We’re on the home stretch heading into conference, districts, and state; the main thing is keeping everybody healthy,” Grey said. “We’ll see Columbus again during the last time around for the GNAC tournament. It’s loaded--I think our conference meet is tougher than state. It’s going to expose some weaknesses that we have, but I want to know that before we get down to districts and state because we’re at ‘crunch time.’”
Team scores: 1. Columbus, 247.5; 2. Norfolk, 214.0; 3. Omaha Burke, 159.0; 4. Millard North, 107.0; 5. Lincoln Northeast, 103.5; 6. Lincoln North Star, 79.5; 7. Bellevue West, 72.0; 8. Norfolk Junior Varsity, 50.0.
Individual champions: 106: Weston Godfrey, N. 113: Tanner Kobza, COL. 120: Aaron Dittmer, N. 126: Carter Kucera, C. 132: Jerryd Hernandez, LNS. 138: Kevin Castle, OB. 145: Ethan Behmer, N. 152: Avery McMeekin, COL. 160: James Burks, OB. 170: Carson Zwingman, COL. 182: Kasten Grape, COL. 195: Dillyn Miller, OB. 220: 1. MJ Montgomery, N. HWT: 1. Conner Cowling, N.