3-2-1A preview — Big week in the making for Johnson, Norton
By CONOR NICHOLL
From a grandfather, father and coaching standpoint, Norton head wrestling coach Bill Johnson could have one of the greatest weeks of his life this week.
First, Johnson's daughter, Kelli Wyatt, was expected to have her first child this week in Hays. The baby is the first grandchild for Bill and Joy Johnson, parents of four ages 29 down to 14.
Second, Johnson's son, Skylar, the third-oldest child, is ranked No. 1 at 106 pounds and carries a 23-2 record into this week's Class 3-2-1A state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Skylar Johnson entered the lineup late in the season after Caysean Campbell, the state runner-up last season, suffered a rib injury a couple weeks ago at the Phillipsburg Panther Classic. Bill's oldest child, Eric, won two state titles and two runner-ups. This is Skylar's first state appearance.
"You have to have respect for anyone that you wrestle, and you can get beat by them at anytime," Skylar Johnson said.
Third, Norton, despite injuries to multiple wrestlers, has strong depth throughout its roster and qualified 10 wrestlers to state. Seven are ranked for a Bluejay team that's been No. 1 all year and is heavily favored to repeat as state champions. Johnson has won six state titles, all since 2004.
Ethan Ross, the fifth place finisher at 113 pounds, and Gavin Lively, a returning varsity wrestler, are also done for the season. Senior Toby Nickell stepped in at 132 pounds and qualified for state with an 8-9 record. Sophomore Mike Kasson (26-10) spent much of the year on junior varsity, but reached state at 152 pounds and is now ranked No. 5 after he handed Smith Center senior Clint Rogers his first loss in the regional championship. Kasson filled in for an injured Gavin Lively.
"Not very many teams are as fortunate as us that we can take out a Caysean Campbell or take out a Gavin Lively and insert two guys that are now going to the state tournament," Johnson said. "That's just kind of one of the blessings that we have on our team right now, but it's kind of a curse, too, because those kids don't get to see varsity action very often."
Senior Branson Addington, ranked second at 113 pounds, and senior Alec Hager, No. 2 at 138 pounds, are the Bluejays' most decorated wrestlers. Addington (28-6) is a four-time qualifier and earned fourth place last season, while Hager (38-5) is a four-time qualifier with fourth and second place showings. Junior Jared Tallent, fourth at 145 at 36-8, took sixth last season. Freshman Jacob Green (30-7) is second at 220.
Nickell entered regional with a 5-8 record and faced Plainville junior Trevor Houser, the No. 1 seed, in the championship quarterfinals. Nickell earned an 8-2 victory and eventually took second.
"Anytime you have a ninth or an eighth seed upset a No. 1 seed and then make it into the championship finals, that's a pretty good day for that kid," Johnson said.
Nickell had been injured and wrestled hurt most of the year, but works out with Hager and Tallent everyday.
"Most of those kids here don't have that quality of partners," Johnson said. "I am really pleased with all of our kids."