Just when Omaha Burke appeared to be making a charge, Grand Island Senior High’s lower weight classes came through in a big way.
Juan Pedro (113 pounds), Blake Cushing (126), Brody Arrants (138) and Tyler Salpas (145) gave the Islanders four consecutive wins in finals as they went on to capture the Class A, District 2 title by fending off the Bulldogs 189.5-179 on Saturday at GISH.
Grand Island, which qualified 11 for next week’s state tournament in Omaha, finished 4-3 in championship matches — good enough for a district title.
“It feels really good because we work our butts off and we all want the same thing,” said Pedro, who improved to 29-5 on the season and is rated No. 2 in Class A at 113 by NEwrestle.com. “We just have to stay hungry. It’s not over.
“We feel like what we did today sets us up really well for state, but we’ve got to go and finish it.”
After watching teammate Ein Obermiller drop a 2-0 decision to Omaha Burke’s Julio Reyes in the championship at 106, Pedro turned the tide by winning a 9-1 major decision over Landan McLaughlin of Lincoln Southeast. Cushing then came through with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over North Platte’s Jaylan Ruffin at 126.
“When we got to the finals, it almost felt like it was a dual meet between us and Omaha Burke,” said Cushing, who is 35-4 and rated second in Class A. “I really felt like coming out right away and setting the tone was important. I think our performance today really gives us a lot of confidence for state.”
Grand Island assistant coach Zack Hawkins said starting 4-1 in the championship round was huge. Arrants pinned Gretna’s Luke Figi in 5:48 and Salpas won by fall over Raymen Riley of North Platte in 1:52, completing the Islanders’ four-win run in title matches.
“Burke was making it really tight and they’re a really outstanding team, so to have some of the guys in the lower weight classes come out and get some big wins and pins in the finals was big,” Hawkins said. “They really set the tone for our team.”
Grand Island won the district title without its head coach in attendance. Islanders’ mentor Joey Morrison, who was selected as the A-2 district coach of the year, was home ill.
Hawkins said Morrison would have been proud of the way his team competed in his absence.
“To be able to win a district title here in our own gym was really special for this group of kids,” Hawkins said. “They’ve been together for a long time and they’ve worked hard for this.”
Joining Grand Island’s four district champions at state will be Obermiller, Kolby Lukasiewicz (160) and Alex Rodriguez (220), who all finished second. Rogelio Ruiz (120), Kael Kingery (132) and Michael Isele (285) all qualified for state with third-place performances along with fourth-place finisher Izaiah Deras (170).
“Every single guy who comes out here and competes wants to be a district champ, but it takes a lot of heart and guts when you lose one to come back and battle on the back side of the bracket,” Hawkins said. “We had a lot of guys do that today and that showed in the team race. They helped the team and they put themselves in a better position to achieve what they want at state.”
Hawkins said the Islanders, who are rated No. 8 in Class A, have positioned themselves nicely for next weekend. The state wrestling tournament’s three-day run starts Thursday at the CHI Health Center in Omaha.
“Obviously, we always hope to qualify every guy that we enter, but we have set ourselves up to make a really good run at the state tournament,” Hawkins said. “By qualifying 11, I think we set ourselves up pretty good and got ourselves some good seeds.”