Fremont Bergan made the most of its opportunity to host the Class D-3 district wrestling meet on Friday and Saturday at Midland University.
The Knights won their first district championship in school history and qualified eight wrestlers for the state tournament scheduled for Thursday-Saturday in Omaha.
“We maybe would’ve liked to have pulled one more kid through (to state), but we won the district title, had six kids in the finals with four winning championships,” Bergan coach Curtis Marolf said. “We got eight to state. If a person can’t be happy about all of that, there is probably something wrong with them.”
There was nothing wrong with the Knights, who finished with 173 points to outdistance runner-up Thayer Central by 17. Howells Dodge was third with 101.5 while Shelton was fourth with 76.
Caden Arps (113 pounds), Zach Hamilton (120), Jacob Johnson (145) and Peyton Cone (220) won championships for the Knights. Johnson also became the school’s career leader in wins with 142.
Arps opened with a bye before pinning Michael Polivka of East Butler (3:03) and Logan Peterson of South Loup (2:59). He then beat Brenner McLaughlin of Thayer Central 8-2 in the finals.
“He has been our sparkplug and I told him before the final round that he could set the tone for the whole team and get the ball rolling for us,” Marolf said. “He is battle-tested and doesn’t get worried if he is in a tough spot. He just keeps executing his game plan.”
Marolf is eager to see what the freshman can accomplish this weekend.
“He is a hammer,” he said. “I think he is the best in the state and I can’t wait to see him compete because has great potential to do amazing things in this sport.”
Hamilton, the 113-pound Class D champion in 2018, won all three of his matches by pins.
“I wouldn’t want to be on his side of the bracket at state,” Marolf said.
Hamilton pinned Carson Gruntorad of Elm Creek (2:13), Doug Rainey of Southern (1:18) and Koby Smith of Elm Creek (3:21). The latter lost of Hamilton in the state semifinals last year.
“I saw a different Zach Hamilton this weekend than I have all season,” Marolf said. “He has always been good, but he was physical, aggressive and relentless. He was as dominant as he’s been in his two years with us.”
Johnson, a Midland University football recruit, pinned Gabe Trampe of Elm Creek (:40), Levi Belina of Howells-Dodge (1:57) and JD Kuhlman of Creighton (1:42). In the finals, he earned an 8-2 decision over Alex Schmit of Randolph.
Johnson broke Bernie Nicola’s school mark of 140 wins with the pin of Kuhlman.
“It is a nice accomplishment for him,” Marolf said. “He had a good tournament for us.”
Cone improved his record to 36-9. He opened with pins over Evan Hopkins of Southern (1:29) and Alex Slagle of Shelton (5:04). He then earned a 37-9 decision over Carter Throener of Howells-Dodge.
“I can’t say enough good things about the way Peyton has developed and grown as a wrestler,” Marolf said. “He is so coachable and absolutely focused. He has wrestled really well this season. I think he a tremendous opportunity to reach the state finals.”
Ethan Villwok (182) and Eli Simonson (285) finished second in their respective divisions.
Villwok won two matches before losing 5-2 to Dylan Horejsi of Howells-Dodge in the finals.
“It is usually a tough, all-out brawl with those two,” Marolf said, noting that the two have faced each other several times this season. “It was a physical and close match. Hopefully we’ll get in a position to see him again.”
Simonson pinned Jesse Connell of South Loup in :49 and Kyle Pickhinke of Howells-Dodge in 1:24. He then lost a 12-7 decision to Kien Martin of Overton.
“I don’t remember the last time I saw that many points in a heavyweight match,” Marolf said. “Eli just got caught in a bad position and it cost him the match. ... I think he can make a run at the podium (at state).”
Cal Janke (126) and Koa McIntyre (160) also earned state berths.
Janke won two matches before losing 7-0 to Ruger Reimers of Palmer. Janke rebounded with a 3-0 win over Colby Harney of Clarkson-Leigh before beating Cole Reedy of Tri County 5-3 in the third-place match.
McIntyre finished 4-2 during the tournament. He was pinned by Wyatt Hegemann of Howells-Dodge in 4:25 of the third-place match.
“Cal was in a tough weight class, but he competed well and he has been steady for us,” Marolf said. “Koa had a loss on Friday night that we didn’t expect, but he batted back well in the heartbreak round.”
The Knights will compete at 9:30 Thursday morning in the opening round of the state tournament at the CHI Health Center Omaha.
“Our goal from the beginning of the year was to win a state title,” Marolf said. “It is not hyperbole, we really believe we have the horses to win the state title. We have several kids capable of making the finals and scoring big points down there.”
Team Standings — Fremont Bergan 173, Thayer Central 156, Howells-Dodge 101.5, Shelton 76, Elm Creek 74, Tri County 73, Nebraska Christian 72.5, East Butler 71, Palmer 68, Randolph 65.5, South Loup (Callaway/Arnold) 62, Creighton 59, Overton 32, Clarkson-Leigh 25, St. Mary’s 20, Southern 16, Scribner-Snyder 11, Dorchester 3.