2018 Season Opening Remarks
I hope the beginning of the 2018-19 scholastic wrestling season finds everyone in great health and spirits as we embark on a 4 month adventure together that will culminate in late February with individual champions, state medalists and team champions crowned. It’s hard to believe this is the 20th year for the Huskermat concept but we’re still going strong and as much of a fixture for promoting the great wrestlers in the sport in our state as we have been throughout the years. As I type the season opening remarks, the college season is about to get officially started tonight with a Wisconsin against Buffalo dual and we also have the Husker wrestle-offs as well. Things really get rolling this weekend with the Daktronics and Cowboy opens in South Dakota and Wyoming. Of course, we are just a week removed from some outstanding senior-level performances in Hungary at the World Championships. And we are also closing out the preseason competition this weekend with tournaments in Denver and Kearney and it’s one last opportunity to get some evaluation in before regular high school practices kick up in a little more than a week.
Since we last gathered in a formal capacity, we’ve had so many great “offseason” performances from our scholastic wrestlers. How about three Nebraska high school wrestlers making the Cadet Greco Roman World team? We had four wrestlers that earned Junior All-Americans in Greco in Fargo this past summer; three Cadet Greco Roman All Americans; and what can you say about Omaha Burke junior Jakason Burks, who not only won the Jr Cadet Freestyle National championship, but was the Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament. Burks also became the first Nebraska wrestler to compete in the prestigious Who’s Number 1, a matchup of the two top wrestlers in the country at their respective weight classes. Burks is no doubt, going to be one of the nation’s very best D1 prospects a year from now and we’re lucky to have an immensely talented wrestler like him in our state at this time.
On a personal note, my off-season has been incredibly rewarding with my new ongoing venture into covering underclass and youth football in the state through my NEnextt platform. Indeed, as we get started with our wrestling season coverage, I find myself still finishing up the football season for the first time in my career. In past seasons, I was a casual observer of football at this time of the year but I now have a responsibility to finish out the high school season in a coverage capacity. This new idea has been so incredibly rewarding, as I’m able to further expand my vast network of contacts and also know the multi-sport athletes so much better than before. Trust me, it's very cool to talk shop with the likes of Eric Crouch, Bobby Mills and some of the top high school football coaches in our state. I even have contacts with the Nebraska football staff who follow me for prospect identification. Some of the best football players left in the playoffs (and coaches) will be shifting their focus to wrestling shortly, just as I am doing now. Remember, to also send me your nominations (you can send via email) for the all-state football/wrestling team which will be released at the conclusion of the football playoffs. This is the third year for honoring the great wrestlers that also excel on the football field in the fall-and there are a bunch of them out there that have done incredible work on the gridiron this fall.
One big change this year that has direct scheduling implications is the move of the state duals to the week prior to districts, instead of after the season. The qualification for the state duals will reward the in-season performances in duals so you may see less individual tournaments and more dual formats-an example is the opening week York Invite which I understand will now be a dual team format (Omaha Burke will be there too!). Something needed to be done in regards to keeping state duals and time will tell whether this is going to work or not but at least it’s still around, which is better than the alternative.
Several changes from the rules perspective will have major influence this year, most notably the edge of the mat stalling rule that we’ve already seen come into play in last weekend’s Super 32 championships in North Carolina. Simply pushing a wrestler out of bounds without attempting to score has traditionally been called stalling on the wrestler going out of bounds but this year it will be called on the wrestler that is doing the pushing. I see this changing how heavyweight matches in particular are wrestled as so many in that weight class are a push/pull contest and often decided on a late stalling call-it will be interesting to see how that rule change manifests itself in individual match strategy this season.
One thing about the upcoming season that is consistent from year to year is we all think we know what might happen between now and March but you can’t ever really be sure what kind of drama we might be bestowed with. As far as some storylines to watch this year-can Millard South regain their position at the top of Class A? The Patriots look loaded from top to bottom and will have several outstanding freshmen prospects. They’ll get challenges from very talented and experienced Columbus and Omaha Burke teams, along with the usual contingent of Kearney and defending champion Lincoln East. Can anyone slow down Omaha Skutt in B? The Skyhawks have won a state team championship every season since 1998, with the exception of 2011 and they’ll be very top heavy again with a whole host of state title contenders. Both Blair and Grand Island Northwest and perhaps Hastings and Waverly look like they will be right near the top with Skutt, which might make the B team race one of the best across all classes this year. Expect Valentine to put another juggernaut team together as the Badgers show no signs of slowing down but this Broken Bow team has all but one of their 9 state qualifiers back and should be right on Valentine’s heels throughout the year. On paper, Class D defending champion Burwell looks like they'll make another run at a title, although Coach Gideon’s bunch could get a late start to the season with a possible state football finals appearance a real possibility. There are two wrestlers vying to become the 31st and 32nd four-time state champions: James Burks of Omaha Burke and Tyler Pawlowski of Pleasanton. And wow-the number of big matches throughout the state may be at a premium this year with all the current talent and current schedules. You'll want to be at the Fracas in December, trust me!
And what a great group of seniors we have for the C/O 2019-certainly comparable to some of the best collective grades we’ve seen in this state’s history. Multiple wrestlers like Phillip Moomey (Cornell), Isaiah Alford (Nebraska), Caleb Long (Iowa State) have committed to D1 schools while several others will have the same opportunity. Our in-state D2 schools have also hit the Nebraska ranks hard gathering commitments. Really, we are at a great time for wrestling in this state from an overall talent level perspective and from the groups of newcomers that will be entering the high school ranks this year and in subsequent seasons. A total of 27 state champions return to the lineup this season, which is sure to create some incredible matchups throughout the season, especially in Class A. It appears we’ll also see a highly-anticipated Class B rematch as both Sam Kolterman and Grady Griess are projected back at 195. You may even see a super matchup of state champions at the Omaha Creighton Prep holiday tournament in late December that you won’t want to miss. As I’ve done in the past, I write this without having fully immersed myself in the upcoming season yet but with the upcoming previews, we’ll talk more about what may transpire during the season-to-be.
From a college perspective, the Huskers appear to rock-solid and headed for another top national finish and both UNK and Chadron start out the year ranked in the D2 ratings, with the Lopers coming in right behind defending champion St. Cloud State. Midland leads our group of NAIA schools, starting the year ranked 14th in the country.
The format and content for Huskermat will remain the same. My primary avenue for discussion is Twitter so make sure you follow me and get other fans to follow me. I use Twitter to post updates and content links to my paid content. Our price for our season coverage will once again be $24.95 as it was when it was introduced in 2003. Your paid subscription will get you all my analysis and thoughts throughout the year, including preseason previews, Elite wrestler lists and rankings, weekly recaps and previews, Power Ratings, District projections and state tournament predictions. You can also view previous year’s content under the archive links. There’s a link on the main page at www.huskermat.com where I post all my links to features as we add them and there’s also a note about renewals for existing subscribers. And if you haven’t purchased my book Matsider which was released in 2017, you can find it on Amazon in both paper and ebook format. Matsider is my personal story and documents a lot of history of wrestling in Nebraska, including the top 100 wrestlers of all-time in our state. We will start our 2018-19 paid content this coming Sunday with the release of the annual Elite 30 Seniors, which honors the very best in the Class of 2019. After that, coaches will be receiving their preseason forms next week and we’ll have an entire month of features that take us up to the start of the season in exactly one month. In between, we’re still looking at episodes of the Big Mat Show where we should be able to bring in some coaches and wrestlers from around the state to interview and talk with.
A few notes on renewals: As long as you use your same email address when you pay through Paypal, the system will automatically update your subscription with another 12 months and you can login with the same username and password as before. Please check your spam filter for login information as many times, the confirmation emails end up in spam. I probably get a million emails a year asking for login when the information ended up in spam. I’d also recommend just emailing me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org), instead of using the Contact Us form on the site, as sometimes that also causes emails to go into my own spam folder. Or you can just message me on Twitter as well.
I look forward to another season of promoting these great dedicated athletes, entertaining the wonderful fans that follow our sport and watching so many of the wrestlers achieve their dreams. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions-I look forward to meeting many of you over the next 4 months! See you soon.
Blair, NE USA