3-2-1A state -- Depth leads to second straight title for Norton
By CONOR NICHOLL
Norton Community High School senior 132-pounder Toby Nickell has endured multiple trials and injuries throughout the wrestling season. First, Nickell had a head-on car wreck where his vehicle was T-boned. Nickell hurt his shoulder and missed a couple weeks.
"Just a question mark the whole season of if I was going to be able to pull through," Nickell said.
In the middle of the year, Nickell went to the Clay Center meet and took third. Then, he hurt his back at the midseason Newton Tournament of Champions and missed several more weeks. Next, Nickell was sick and missed more time. The week before regionals, Nickell went to Colby for what he labeled "JV state." Nickell won, but went to regionals with a sub-.500 record.
Nickell defeated Planville's Trevor Houser, the No. 1 seed, and eventually reached state. This weekend, Nickell finished sixth at 132 pounds, part of a 10-wrestler contingent, that despite multiple injuries and illnesses, captured its second straight Class 3-2-1A state tournament crown at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Norton finished with 127 points.
"We are really resilient," senior 113-pounder Branson Addington said. "We have definitely good guys backing up our main guys, so a lot of teams would be done hurting four of their varsity members, but we have been able to step up and carry on."
Addington and senior 138-pounder Alec Hager were the only two Bluejays to reach a final. During the Parade of Champions ceremony, Addington and Hager talked about Norton needing an individual title.
"We can't just win a state title without having any individual champions," Addington said.
Addington delivered a 3-2 upset victory against previously undefeated Ty Nienke of Ellsworth.
"I had so many doubts going into this year and during my year," Addington said. "There were a lot of low points, but it feels really great to come out on top."
Addington had lost 9-2 to Nienke earlier this year.
"In the end, it ended up helping me," Addington said. "Getting beat, I knew what his strengths were and what he was good at, and I trained to stop it."
The match was tied at 2-2 when Nienke gave Addington a free escape point with 62 seconds left. Addington defended Nienke the rest of the match and kept Nienke from scoring for his first career crown. Hager lost 15-6 to Fredonia's Brogan Humphrey, a four-time state champion.
"I was kind of surprised," Addington said. "I thought he would try to ride me out, but after the second period -- after I rode him -- I was pretty confident going into the final round."
Norton's superior depth allowed them to lead after each round. The Bluejays, with a team motto of "Cowboy Up, Finish the Drive," had 24 points after the first round, 74 points after Day 1 and held a 55-point lead against second place Effingham-Atchison County entering the finals.
Junior Jared Tallent finished third at 145 pounds for his second state medal, while sophomore 106-pounder Skylar Johnson and freshman 220-pounder Jacob Ross also took third -- part of a strong group of first-time qualifiers and medalists.
Tallent defeated Oberlin senior Dayton Dreher 6-2 for third place, while Ross pinned Phillipsburg junior Luke Jacobs in 42 seconds. Ross lost to Jacobs in the regional final last week. Norton coach Bill Johnson, much shorter than Green, jumped into Green's arms to celebrate the win.
"Coach was telling me to do whatever you can," Green said. "He was telling me that (Jacobs) was probably not a good thrower, so I kind of lateral dropped him and went from there."
Norton was ranked No. 1 all season, but Green felt the Panthers were a state favorite after the Bluejays took fourth at the Phillipsburg Panther Classic on Feb. 8. The Bluejays competed without some of their starting lineup who were lost for the season because of injury. That night, Norton had a full squad meeting that Green called "good for the team."
"It was pretty stern," Green said. "It wasn't yelling at all, but just kind of a regular meeting."
At the regional, Nickell's victory against Houser and first career qualification despite an 8-9 record helped spur the Bluejays.
"He is a senior, so he is a big leader, so we all just kind of jumped on that train and kept on going with it," Green said.
Johnson, the backup to last year's state runner-up Caysean Campbell, won the regional tournament and reached state for the first time.
"Mainly our JV program is really tough," Nickell said. "It's just as tough as our varsity in some spots with Skylar and Caysean."
At state, Norton pulled off several close victories Friday, including a 6-5 Hager victory in the championship quarterfinals, a 4-3 win in the championship semifinals and a 6-4 victory in the championship quarterfinals by Green. Nickell lost his first match, but then won three on the backside. His last victory was a 4-3 win to earn a medal.
"I wrestled terrible the first 5 minutes, 55 seconds of the match," Green said. "I kind of got lucky those last five seconds to win. But just shows to never give up."
Rhoades places for TMP
Thomas More Prep-Marian freshman 113-pounder Tucker Rhoades lost his first match 12-8 on Friday. He had to wait approximately 24 hours until his next match because of a different schedule than normal due to Fort Hays State University basketball games Friday night. Rhoades went to Gella's with teammate Ricky Hockett, went to bed early and was prepared for a long day Saturday.
Rhoades wrestled five matches Saturday.
"I have wrestled five matches in a day, but they weren't near as difficult as today's," he said.
Rhoades won the first three and lost the last two, but still finished 33-10 and collected sixth place. He became TMP's first non-Dylan Schumacher state placer since Preston Werth in 2010.
"I felt like I worked pretty hard all year to get sixth place," Rhoades said. "It wasn't really quite where I wanted, but it works. I just tried to ride legs. Just tried to work my way up. I knew I had to win three in a row."
Rhoades earned his state medal with a win by fall in 1 minute, 48 seconds against Bennington sophomore Kody Kind.
"It felt really good to know that I was going to place," Rhoades said. "I was quite glad to get that match over with pretty quickly, because I was already dead at that time."
Hockett, also in his first state appearance, finished 1-2 at 120 pounds and concluded his season at 25-13.
"It was a pretty successful year, I guess, but didn't perform well at state, so it's not a real big success to me right now," Hockett said.
Ellis places two of three
Freshman 120-pounder Dalton Hensley had watched the state tournament before. But it was a new experience participating.
Hensley won his first match by fall and then lost his second 9-7. He won three straight matches Saturday, including a 3-0 win against Hockett. After a 10-4 loss, Hensley came back for a 3-1 overtime victory. He took fifth place and finished 31-8.
"It's a whole lot different than watching it," Hensley said. "Wrestling all of the matches, especially when you get to the backside, gets tiring. It's fun, though. It's why you are out here - to have fun. You've just to got dig deep, want it more."
While Hensley was in the state rankings all season, senior 220-pounder Skyler Tebo wasn't even ranked entering state. But Tebo, who lost his first match, won three straight Saturday and earned sixth at 220 pounds in his first state appearance.
"Proved a lot of people wrong, I think," Hensley said. "Wrestled really good."
Tebo's best moment came when he defeated Hoisington senior Kagan Blackwell to move into the medal round. When time ended, Tebo (32-14) rolled over on the mat, looked upward, wore a smile and raised his hands in celebration. Junior Jared Pfeifer finished 2-2 at 160 pounds.
"It was definitely an awesome experience," Tebo said. "I can't even explain how exciting it was, winning the third match of the day knowing that I was going to take home a medal, it's awesome. I knew I had a lot of work to do today."
Porsch wins first title
Hoxie freshman 120-pounder Tristan Porsch has thought about winning four state titles for many years and has always looked up to the elite few who have won four crowns. On Saturday, Porsch took the first step to four titles with a 13-7 victory against Smith Center freshman David Hileman.
"Now, it's on to three more," Porsch said. "One year at a time."
Porsch completed the area's lone undefeated season at 39-0 despite an injury to his left ring finger during the second period of the finals, an injury that's happened several times.
"Might have just popped the nail out," Porsch said. "We are not sure yet. We will get it X-rayed. That happened before."
Porsch had beaten Hileman 16-1, 10-2 and 5-4 in the first three meetings this year.
"Thinking points - let's score some points and make some big things happen," Porsch said.
Weisner wins crown
Plainville senior 170-pounder Dylan Weisner rolled through his bracket en route to his first state crown. He won by fall, technical fall, fall and then by fall in 4 minutes, 24 seconds in the championship. Weisner, the heavy favorite, felt pressure throughout the week.
"If you don't feel pressure, you are not doing it right," Weisner said. "That's what my dad always says. ... I came out and took care of business and wrestled to the best of my abilities."