The Neligh-Oakdale Invite is a busy one, no doubt, but it can also be a bit of a preview of state wrestling.
That may sound a bit like hyperbole, but hear me out. Last year, 21 teams went to battle in Neligh for the annual meet, including teams from as far away as Amherst and Franklin. Just a few weeks after the invite, a number of those competitors took to the mat in Omaha for state. By the time the weekend was over, 26 wrestlers that took part in the Neligh-Oakdale invite earned a medal at state. On top of that, a number of wrestlers that sat out in Neligh due to injury medaled at state as well.
This year, the competition was even more intense, with three more teams joining the fray in Neligh. Returning medalists Dillon Stewart, Darren Stewart, Josh McFarland, Cameron Wilkinson and Andrew Herley all lived up to expectations, taking championships in their respective classes. They’ll surely be back at state this year. The question is just who will join them. I’ve got a simple formula for you. Pay attention to the medalists.
In particular, the top three in each class. If that theory holds, that means Shawn Klinetobe can expect a return trip and Adam Miller and Hunter Bennett will join him from Elkhorn Valley. Brock Kester and Jayden Arehart would have a spot in that case as well. That would also mean Tommie Peed and Donaven Nolze would have a spot.
It wouldn’t surprise me for all of those to punch their ticket at districts, along with a few others. I could see a few more surprise competitors making it. Now we just wait and see.
Omaha Skutt. Amherst. Millard South.
Once December hits, those teams are synonymous with winning - at least on the wrestling mat. After the results put up by Elkhorn Valley the past three years, I think its time to start putting them into the conversation of top programs in the state.
The Falcon wrestlers have owned nearly every meet against similar competition the past three and a half years. To win team titles in the smaller classes, it takes a mixture of depth and talent, and Elkhorn Valley has plenty of it. Few schools in Class D can boast as many stud wrestlers as the Falcons, let alone as many with state experience.
The Stewart twins have been incredible throughout their entire careers, including last year when Dillon Stewart took home Elkhorn Valley’s third ever state championship and Darren finished fourth. Josh McFarland is just a junior but has 100 wins and two state tournaments under his belt. Prestin Vondra, Brock Schaecher and Shawn Klinetobe have all been under the lights in Omaha. At the rate everything is going, Adam Miller, Hunter Bennett and Mitchell Petersen could easily join them this year.
The Falcons have finished in the top 15 in the team title the past three years, including third in 2016 and fifth last year. From last year’s strong squad, Elkhorn Valley lost just one senior state qualifier.
Districts are just a month away from this week. Elkhorn Valley could well win the D-2 district. If you ask me, they will be in the conversation for the state title come February 17, as well.
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