During his sophomore year at Fremont Bergan, Taylor Escamilla lost 9-3 to Steven Bazata of Howells in the Class D 275-pound championship match at the state wrestling tournament.
The standout for the Knights from 2003-2007 never lost a match again during his prep career.
Escamilla, who went on to compete in wrestling at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, was inducted Friday night into the St. Patrick’s-Archbishop Bergan Athletic Hall of Fame. Also inducted were record-setting softball pitcher Tammy Nielsen-Winkler, who competed from 1997-2001, and the Knights’ 1979 mile relay state championship team of Nadine Cerny, Tami Leise, Deb Schmidt and Diane Wiesen.
“Getting into (the Hall of Fame) is really special to me because sports were really important to me and always have been,” Escamilla said. “All of my teammates and the people I played with were like family to me. Honoring that time in my life with an award like this is pretty special to me.”
Escamilla said the loss to Bazata didn’t serve as any extra motivation into his junior year.
“I was just trying to better myself whenever I was working out or practicing,” he said. “I was constantly trying to improve. There was no big turning point moment for me, like ‘I shouldn’t have lost this one or that one.’ I just kept working to improve and things turned out the way that they did.”
Escamilla compiled a career record of 130-17 and qualified for state all four seasons. He is the school record holder for consecutive wins (75), career pins (99), season pins (33) and career team points (945).
As a junior, he pinned Patrick Fletcher of Shelton in 1:35 to win the Class D 275-pound state title. He capped his senior year with a pin of Ben Ayala of Sutton in 4:46 for another title.
Escamilla earned Class C-2 all-state honors as defensive lineman as a senior. He went on to play in the Shrine Bowl. After walking on to the Nebraska football team in the fall of 2007, he decided to transfer to UNO and compete in wrestling. He helped the Mavericks win three consecutive NCAA Division II titles and earned All-American honors at 285 pounds by placing sixth in 2011.
“That was a lot of fun,” Escamilla said. “My teammates and especially Coach Mike Denney made that place feel like a family. He is just a great guy and what he has been able to do at Maryville (University) has been amazing. That was a great experience. I got sixth at nationals, but then they canceled the program and I kind of left amateur sports at that point.”
Escamilla said it was difficult when the Mavericks ended their program.
“It was pretty devastating,” he said. “I was expecting to get to spend another year with a lot of the people that had become like my best friends in a way. My coaches and mentors were leaving and it was tough knowing that my athletic career was cut short as well.”
Denney was just one of the coaches who had an impact of Escamilla.
“I’ve had a lot of good coaches in wrestling and football through the years, but a lot of instruction came from my dad (Dan),” he said. “He always wanted me to do well in athletics. He would do research on his own and come up with new ideas and ways for me to get better. He would find techniques the pros were using and things like that. He would find workouts to help improve my strength and agility.”
Nielsen-Winkler at one time held the record for career 3-point baskets made for the Bergan girls basketball team, but it was in softball where she really excelled.
Competing in a co-op with Fremont High School, Nielsen-Winkler is first on the Nebraska all-time prep charts for all-class career wins (115) and all-class career strikeus (1,548). She threw 20 no-hitters and holds the Class record for consecutive strikeouts (18).
She went on to standout career at Creighton University where she was named the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2004. She holds the Bluejays’ single-game record for strikeouts (19). She is also the only pitcher in MVC history to record two seasons of 300 strikeouts or more.
Cerny, Leise, Schmidt and Wiesen won the Class C gold medal in 4:15.3. Members of the team were responsible for setting eight school records at the time. The foursome still owns the second-fastest mile relay in school history.